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This 2002 PBS debate over the Iraq War is both weirdly prescient and totally bonkers

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Apropos of very little, besides perhaps the fact that DC is once again weighing the merits of a ground invasion in Mesopotamia, here is a video of Michael Walzer and Christopher Hitchens in 2002 arguing over whether Marxists should support the Iraq War:

Except that's only the tail end of the Charlie Rose program of December 13, 2002. The rest of it is also bananas and deserving of your attention. It is one of my favorite videos available on the internet. It's hard to know where to begin in extolling the episode's virtues, but here goes:

  • When Walzer invokes a classic Marxist slogan — "the liberation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself" — Hitchens, by this time far removed from his '70s heyday as a Trotskyist, doesn't laugh it off. He decides instead to have a debate about whether Karl Marx personally would have supported the Iraq War. (Hitchens says he would have because he supported the Union in the Civil War, and those two wars are definitely the same thing.)
  • Hitchens's performance is a perfect distillation of just how wildly ludicrous and irresponsible the discussion of the Iraq War was in 2002. His entire argument is premised on the idea that the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime was imminent and that of course the US would have to intervene to clean up the mess at some point, and so might as well get it over with. Once Walzer pointed out that this is a great argument against intervention — if Hussein will fall anyway, why invade? — Hitchens is reduced to arguing that in his made-up collapse scenario, more people would die without US troops on the ground. He provides precisely zero evidence for this proposition.
  • Walzer and David Rieff, by contrast, aren't really representative of the debate as it occurred then, mostly because thoughtful, nuanced criticism of the case for war wasn't given a lot of voice in most media outlets. Walzer rightly notes that the war would require a huge occupying force and cost a fortune, at a time when conservative pundits were predicting the war would be a "cakewalk" and administration officials were saying it would be so cheap it could be paid for with Iraq's own oil revenue. Rieff predicts the "fragmentation of Iraq, a war between Shia and Sunni" with eerie prescience.
  • Harold Koh mostly avoids saying much of substance, instead just reiterating that multilateralism and diplomacy are good. This on its own is dull, but Hitchens's enraged reaction ("Who are you disagreeing with?!?!?!") is outstanding.
  • Charlie Rose gets wonderfully pissed off at the contradiction between Hitchens's opposition to the first Gulf War and his support of the second: "Is this somehow, you looked at a conclusion and you backed up to find reasons you arrived at that conclusion?"
  • At about 10:30, Hitchens refers to women as "those of the feminine gender." He could have just said "women." He did not.
  • This is the sum total of Hitchens's rebuttal to arguments that nation building in Iraq will be difficult if not impossible: "To say that there will be innumerable difficulties here, as there are in Afghanistan, strikes me as no more than trite."
  • Walzer's line 32 minutes in after making a reference to the "Arab street" ("it seems only the Arabs have a street") is an odd but delightful tangent.

Watch the whole thing. Really. It's worth it.