Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Critique of Christopher Hitchens's answer to Jon Stewart

PREFACE: Columbia University and University of Texas law professor Philip Bobbitt thought I'd enjoy journalist Christopher Hitchens's argument for the Iraq intervention on the August 25, 2005 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. My critique of Hitchens's answer to Stewart is adapted from my response to Professor Bobbitt.

Christopher Hitchens's answer to Jon Stewart makes for a good teaching example because, one, it's popularly considered a model defense of the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) regime change, yet two, Hitchens's answer was critically flawed. Watch it, then read my critique:

Did I enjoy Hitchens's response? Well, I appreciate that Hitchens put forth the public effort that's needed from like-minded pundits to set the record straight on OIF.

However, I'm critical of the argument he made. If Hitchens were still alive, I'd convey my work to him to shore up his presentation. Hitchens's answer wasn't wrong per se, but his unanchored if scholarly take on the Iraq issue is better suited to an academic discussion in a collegial setting. Whereas the political forum in which Hitchens answered Stewart is more like the adversarial settings in which I've honed my legally based take on the Iraq issue.

The critical flaw in Hitchens's answer is he neglected to establish the contextual frame with the operative thread that's needed to properly evaluate his points and tie them together: namely, that President Bush's decision on Iraq fundamentally upheld the US-led, UN-mandated compliance enforcement of the Gulf War ceasefire terms purpose-designed to resolve Iraq's Gulf War-established manifold threat.

To set the proper frame with the operative context, Hitchens should have opened his answer with 'Saddam breached the Gulf War ceasefire in his final opportunity to comply'. Once the operative context is established, then everything else can be placed in proper order and effectively brought to bear to clarify the Iraq issue.

For example, in the operative context:

Hitchens should have grounded his main argument for the Iraqi regime change by noting that his criterions for loss of sovereignty — i.e., genocide, harboring "gangsters"/terrorists, violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, and/or aggression — were in fact manifested in the Gulf War ceasefire mandates. UNSCRs 687, 688, and 949 explicitly covered Hitchens's criterions and were featured as such in Public Law 107-243.

If he had established the operative context properly, Hitchens could have proffered the same essential viewpoint but elevated his argument from a personally preferred policy theory referring to general international norms to the actual Iraq-specific enforcement procedure for the "governing standard of Iraqi compliance" (UNSCR 1441) defined by the concrete law, policy, and precedent that President Bush carried forward from Presidents HW Bush and Clinton and faithfully upheld in his Office.

Hitchens should have corrected Stewart's mischaracterization in detail, e.g., contra Stewart, President Bush's decisions with Iraq tracked the US laws and UNSC resolutions that defined the Gulf War ceasefire enforcement.

Hitchens should have explained that the Gulf War ceasefire compliance enforcement assigned Saddam a probationary status and threat evaluation that distinguished Iraq from the other international bad actors that Stewart named. (Note that Stewart's "What about ..." is a typical anti-war rhetorical tactic.) The ceasefire mandates provided for a procedural measurement of Saddam's outstanding threat. Iraqi noncompliance equated to Iraqi threat, and it's confirmed that Saddam's threatening breach of the ceasefire terms was categorical.

Hitchens should have clarified that President HW Bush didn't simply leave Saddam in power in 1991. Rather, the Gulf War was suspended with a comprehensive set of reformative conditions that Iraq was obligated to fulfill in order to make the ceasefire permanent. In fact, by May 1991 at the latest, President HW Bush had an active regime change policy versus the noncompliant Saddam regime. The regime change policy was carried forward and progressed under President Clinton.

Hitchens should have shown that the interval between Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom was not a flat delay. Rather, it involved a progression that exhausted the lesser compliance enforcement measures against Saddam's intransigence. Operation Desert Fox (ODF) in 1998 was the penultimate military enforcement action in the continuum. The stopgap, last measure before Iraq's "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) was the post-ODF ad hoc 'containment', which Saddam and his accomplices had broken by 2000-2001. The ultimate military enforcement action, the OIF regime change that responded to Saddam's failed "final opportunity to comply" (UNSCR 1441) in order to “bring Iraq into compliance with its international obligations” (P.L. 105-235), was the coda of the progression.

Clarifying that OIF was the coda of a progression engages President Clinton's preceding enforcement with Iraq. If Hitchens had made the ceasefire enforcement connection, he could have cited Presidents Clinton and Bush together to correct Stewart's mischaracterization.

As it was, Hitchens should have corrected Stewart by at least clarifying President Bush's compliance-based case against Saddam, which carried forward President Clinton's compliance-based case against Saddam. Bush's case against Saddam was really Clinton's case against Saddam, updated from 9/11, and Bush's enforcement procedure for OIF carried forward Clinton's enforcement procedure for ODF. Clinton's decision for ODF completed the operative set of law, policy, and precedent that set the stage for OIF.

Hitchens should have clarified the OIF regime change was fundamentally a compliance enforcement measure. Public Law 105-338 legislated the regime change solution for the noncompliant-Saddam problem that was already a long active executive policy. The preamble for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 was about Saddam's noncompliance with the ceasefire mandates. P.L. 105-338 paired with P.L. 105-235, which mandated the President to bring Iraq into its mandated compliance.

The Gulf War ceasefire mandates included Iraq renouncing terrorism in view of Saddam's terrorist threat in the Gulf War. Citing to paragraph 32 of UNSCR 687 would have provided a stronger frame for Hitchens's description of Saddam's terrorism.

Consider the difference between opinion and correction, then compare the construction of Hitchens's argument to the dialectical structure of the OIF FAQ, and imagine the ways that setting a proper frame with the operative context would have helped Hitchens answer Stewart and clarify the Iraq issue for the public.

Related: Regarding pundits and David Brooks's "Saving the System".




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