Letters from an old contrarian

Christopher Hitchens defends Karl Rove and trashes Joseph Wilson.

Published July 20, 2005 10:39PM (EDT)

It's clear by now that Christopher Hitchens would rather skin himself alive than admit that invading Iraq was a bad idea. With his latest article for Slate, in which he defends Karl Rove's role in the Valerie Plame affair, Hitchens has reached the point where he's not just carrying water for the Bush administration, he's manning the Gatorade tubs and stretching their hamstrings, too.

Calling Joseph Wilson "a man whose word is effectively worthless," Hitchens defends the Bush administration's decision to attack his wife. "What do you do, if you work for the Bush administration, when a man of such quality is being lionized by an anti-war press?" Hitchens asks. "Well, you can fold your tent and let them print the legend. Or you can say that the word of a mediocre political malcontent who is at a loose end, and who is picking up side work from a wife who works at the anti-regime-change CIA, may not be as objective as it looks."

Besides which, Hitchens argues, the Intelligence Identities Protection Act that Karl Rove and others may have broken is "one of the most repressive and absurd pieces of legislation on our statute book." And since to violate that statute one must "knowingly" divulge sensitive information, "it seems quite clear that nobody has broken even that arbitrary element of this silly law."

Maybe Hitchens didn't get the memo about the memo. It revealed Plame's identity, but the section of it that did so was tagged as confidential and not to be shared. That there were administration officials who knew Plame's identity should not be disclosed is bolstered by this 2004 story from American Prospect reporter Murray Waas. Then there's the question of perjury and obstruction of justice charges. But regardless of whether Rove's actions were legal, they were cheap and unpatriotic. A new letter from a group of former CIA analysts testifies to the damage the leak may have caused.

Hitchens goes on to challenge the information that started this whole mess -- Wilson's assertion in a New York Times Op-Ed that Iraq did not attempt to purchase uranium from Africa -- straying dangerously into the territory of Stephen Hayes, the Weekly Standard writer whose role is to make Iraq's al-Qaida contacts seem like active participation in Islamic terrorism. But if the administration was so sure about its uranium claims, why did it back away from them in the wake of Wilson's article? (Josh Marshall takes on Hitchens' "yellowcake" argument here.)

On his way out the door, Hitchens gets in one more stab at Wilson and his wife, referring to them as a "publicity-starved husband-and-wife" team. Is he actually saying that a CIA agent was hungry for publicity? Until the administration outed her, the opposite certainly seemed to be true.

Hitchens' embarrassingly shrill attack on Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" last year -- replete with a challenge to a debate "any time" and "any place" -- left no doubt that he has invested a great deal of his emotion and pride in President Bush's Iraq misadventure. It's time for him to divest.

By Aaron Kinney

Aaron Kinney is a writer in San Francisco. He has a blog.

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