Bully Book Review: Christopher Hitchens' A Long Short War

By Kevin R. Kosar

Christopher Hitchens
A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq
Slate Books, 2003, 104 pages
Published April 15, 2004.


This little book is a collection of Hitchens' essays produced for Slate.com in the months leading up to and during the war. A year has passed since the Bush administration moved on Iraq. The war is long done but the occupation continues with no end in sight. Thus, reading this book one feels as if what Hitchens was confronting happened all so long ago.

This book is interesting to me on two counts. First, when Hitchens writes, I read. His work is inevitably engaging, impish, and fun. His command of the English language is superb; his ability to make others look like imbeciles is impressive. This latter talent is on full display in this book. Much of it is devoted to flogging those who objected to the war in Iraq.

Which brings me to my second reason for reading this book. As Hitchens makes painfully clear, the Far Left currently suffers from intellectual bankruptcy. When communism imploded and the Great Society failed, the Far Left found itself unmoored. Some floated off into radical multiculturalism; others keep croaking out dreadfully dated platitudes ("Schools not bombs"). Those who once seized the moral high ground and occupied the highest echelons of power now find themselves relegated to university classrooms and largely ignored forums like The Utne Reader and The Nation. Occasionally they emerge from these dark places, taking to the streets and waving signs. Mostly, though, they are irrelevant.

That this is so was on full display last year. Thousands and thousands of Leftists marched, yowled, and waved signs. In the end, they changed mothing. One might chalk this up to the hard head of the current occupant of the White House. Perhaps. But some of the Left's impotence on the war in Iraq is a function of the Left's lack of anything to say. No blood for oil? War is not an answer? Give peace a chance? Multilateralism not unilateralism?

Hitchens A Long Short War takes the ideas lobbed up by the Left and blows them from the sky like clay pigeons. In a sense, he does to the Left what Socrates did to young Athenians: show that for all their pious posing they really had little logical to say. Without hurling the word "treason" about as a looney tune like Ann Coulter does, Hitchens does illuminate the Left's penchant for accentuating the shortcomings of America and turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of other nation states. This too makes his book valuable.

On the downside, Hitchens arguments in favor of the war are not persuasive. He mentions weapons of mass destruction, the cruelty of Saddam Hussein to his people and the Kurds, Hussein's flaunting of the U.N., and so forth. But one does not come away with any sort of theory for conducting foreign policy. The reasons used to justify an invasion of Iraq could be used to justify invasions of a number of other nation states (North Korea? Cuba?)

Worse, Hitchens' pro-war argument does not weigh the costs of doing so or the probability of success. Knocking off Saddam Hussein was easy, but reconstructing Iraq into a viable democratic republic is a huge task fraught with peril. No doubt Hitchens, if asked, would concede that point, and in doing so would be obliged to backoff his pro-war position.