A version of this was first posted at my blog at www.davidcorn.com....
I told readers of my regular blog that I would eventually get to Christopher Hitchens and his claims that Iraq had indeed sought uranium in Niger and that the Plame leak was not connected to a White House vendetta against Joe Wilson (and that I had promoted this "delusion.") Today's Slate contains a lengthy response from me that contends that Hitchens' Niger theorizing is contradicted by various facts he conveniently ignores. (These facts are covered at great length in the new book I wrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.) The piece also reminds (or, attempts to remind) Hitchens of other facts he never references when he writes about the Plame case: namely, that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were out to undermine Wilson and in doing so leaked classified information about his wife's CIA employment. If you're interested in the details, you can go to the piece. Here's the finale:
For more than two decades, I have seen Hitchens weave facts and assertions into stylistically brilliant copy as he attempts to intuit great truths. But when he comes to believe that he can outthink the facts, he ends up enwrapped in creative conspiratorial fantasies. This past February, I participated in a radio debate with him on whether the Bush administration had misguided the nation into war. Hitchens largely avoided the question at hand and instead argued the necessity of the invasion. When he did address the issue of the absent WMDs in Iraq, he took a strange turn. "Doesn't anything ever strike you as odd," he said, "about the figure of zero for [WMD] deposits found in Iraq?...Isn't it odd that none after all this? None? Doesn't that suggest a crime scene that has been pretty well dusted in advance, the fingerprints wiped? Well, it does to me." Read that quote carefully. It is revealing. Hitchens was saying that the fact that no weapons had been uncovered in Iraq (after nearly three years of searching) was evidence that there had been weapons. How can one argue with a person of such intellectual prowess that he can turn absence into presence by mere deduction?
On the Niger and Plame matters, his accounts rely on the same conceit: that his deductions, as Byzantine as they might be, trump the known facts. In this manner, Hitchens has become a full-fledged ally of the reality-defying advocates of the Iraq invasion. I sadly count that as another casualty of the war.
Hitchens, of course, replied--mainly be repeating his previous assertions, without addressing the inconvenient facts I presented. As might be expected, he offers a caricature of my original argument, claiming that I adhere to a "simple-minded presumption of Iraqi innocence" on the matter of its alleged pursuit of uranium in Niger. He did not read my response carefully enough. I did not state that Iraq was innocent because it claimed to be. I pointed out that the facts--those developed primarily by Charles Duelfer and his Iraq Survey Group (and recently endorsed by the Republican-controlled Senate intelligence committee)--contradict Hitchens' charges. He wisely avoids that reality and instead swings his scythe at a straw man of his own construction.
Hitchens also belittles the work of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. But here he again ducks a significant slice of reality, such as Libby's alleged lying to the FBI and the grand jury. Does Hitchens, a crusader for the (that is, his) truth, believe that government officials who lie to federal prosecutors deserve a pass?
As for the missing WMDs, Hitchens writes,
Corn seems to believe that the dictator who not only acquired and concealed them, but who actually used them, must be granted the benefit of the doubt.
Why does such a brilliant man have such a difficult time with a simple concept? I do not grant Saddam any benefit. Nor did Duelfer or David Kay, his predecessor as ISG chief. I merely cite the conclusions of their investigations. If these two men--who both supported the war and believed there were WMDs in Iraq--determined there were no unconventional weapons (or WMD programs) in Iraq after 1991, then Hitchens must bring more to the table than his presumptions. Accepting the findings of Duelfer and Kay (as even George W. Bush reluctantly did; though I'm not sure about Dick Cheney) is not a sign of softness on Saddam. By conflating the two, Hitchens is resorting to disingenuous wordplay. It is a rhetorical tactic he should not have to resort to--unless he is on the ropes.
All in all, Hitchens' reply was in keeping with the columns that prompted my article. He still believes his deduction and analysis can trump the facts. That places him in fine company, for it was just that sort of thinking that landed the United States in the mess in Iraq.
For information on Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War, click here.