Agam's Gecko
Thursday, September 22, 2005

ast week was certainly one for high-profile debates, though it was a shame that they both took place on the same night. I'd almost given up on hearing or seeing a recording of the Victor Davis Hanson -- Arianna Huffington match-up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. But a few days ago I found a page for the Hauenstein Center host of the event, which contained a link to the whole debate in Real Media format. It's about 1 hour 50 minutes long, and very worthwhile watching. There is also a photo gallery and other materials linked on the Hauenstein Center's page (scroll down a bit).

This event seemed much closer to a classic debate than the Hitchens - Galloway free-for-all, which let's be honest here, was a rational debate from one side and blather and slogans from the other. With Hanson - Huffington, the proposition on the floor was, "America is an empire." Hanson is a historian and a classicist who has written extensively on the military histories of western civilisations. Huffington ran for governor of California, and is a Greek by heritage. I think she also starred with Eddie Arnold in Green Acres many years ago, but I'm not positive about that. The format gave each an opening 25 minute argument for or against the proposition, then each had a 15 minute rebuttal, followed by questions from the house.

Hanson opened the debate after a coin toss decision, and made the case that America does not resemble any classic definition of an empire, giving examples of the behavior and qualities of past empires, noting that in practically every respect, America uses its power and exerts its influence in precisely opposite ways from empires past. I don't intend to get into a point by point analysis here, this is dense stuff and really requires a careful listening which I would encourage anyone with a couple of spare hours to do. Suffice to say that Victor made a very strong case, and he sat down to await Arianna's case for the affirmative.

But she seemed a bit unclear on the concept, and did not use her 25 minutes to make the affirmative case -- she'd been taking notes of Victor's presentation, and used her time for a rebuttal of that. Actually it mainly consisted of the usual canards about the Iraq war, how Iraq is now an absolute disaster, a quagmire with no redeeming features, nothing positive is happening (or has happened since March 2003), Iraqis hate us, their progress toward democracy is a joke, and on and on. She flitted from one MoveOn or Mother Sheehan-like talking point to the next, never stitching them together to actually make any sort of general thesis or logical argument. The one thing she mostly didn't do, was to make her case in favour of America being an empire -- apart from just saying it a few times during her harangue of Bush, Cheney, Haliburton, Rumsfeld, neo-cons, Rove, corporations, Katrina, and so on (I really liked it when she talked about "Paully Vooolfovitz," listen for it). Hanson noted the departure from agreed format following her performance, to the effect that, "I wasn't really expecting the rebuttal in your first segment, but if you'd prefer to just debate Iraq instead, it's alright with me."

The spectacle of Miss Arianna telling Victor Hanson that if he was more (something) or less (something else), he could learn to understand things as well as she does, was pretty entertaining in itself. I must say though, she did much better than George Galloway did, in that she had a couple of more effective arguments than what he came up with. And of course, she was less of a target herself, not having spent time consorting with dictators, thugs and murderers like the gruesome one himself enjoys doing. Hanson was a gentleman, and having no reason to attack her personally, he didn't. She did indulge in personal attack though, which seemed to quite surprise Hanson who quipped that he hadn't realised this was Crossfire. Her main problem seemed to be lack of close attention. She several times attacked him precisely for what he didn't say, and he needed to remind her that his point had actually been the opposite of what she was railing on about. But again, this event is worth watching while the video is still available, which it may not be indefinitely.


K, OK, so I've been going on too much with these debates. So sue me. I have a few more links to throw at you on Galloway and Hitchens, and so I shall do.

Firstly, I thought these two post-game assessments were pretty good: from the Left in the Guardian, and from the Right in the American Enterprise. From my vantage point, admittedly favouring the affirmative side of the argument ("The Iraq war was both just and necessary."), the Guardian piece is much less reflective of what actually transpired (closing by giving the win to Galloway, "on points" -- get real!) while TAE's piece describes much more closely what I actually saw and heard.

I had archived the sound files, and have gone through them listening to some parts several times for clarity. Over the weekend, I caught the C-SPAN live stream as well (I don't get C-SPAN 2 over here on the satellite, only C-SPAN 1 intermitently). I'd been curious if the camerawork would be different from the video file offered by Democracy Now -- which should still be available for viewing here: Hitchens - Galloway debate. It was. The Democracy Now cameraperson (or maybe it was the Stop the War Coalition camerahuman - they being the event's producer) did not show the audience at all. But as you will see or hear, Hitchens repeatedly admonished the predominately zoo-like crowd as they tried to shout him down, that their mothers might be watching. "I'm on C-SPAN, comrades, and all they can hear is your braying -- they can make me out just fine." And yes, the C-SPAN videographers did show the zoo many times, and it was fun to try to see closely the astonished faces of the "progressive left" as some of them tried to decide what to do with their hands while he elucidated on the hypocrisy of their revolutionary credentials. I actually saw one fellow lean forward in his chair and put his face into both hands (in despair? I'd like to think so).

I've just checked again on the BookTV site, and it will be shown again this weekend, on Sunday, September 25 at 10:00 pm EDT. Which again, translated for international internet viewers, is Monday, September 26 at 0200 GMT. But wait! On this page, they offer a link to the video which works now. So in addition to the Democracy Now video link above, we have the C-SPAN recording available right here.

The Galloway Goes to Washington Book Signing Tour continues across the continent and two countries, and even has its own tour blog, which is quite entertaining in itself. The night after the Clash of the Titans in Manhattan, he apparently jammed out of an appearance in Toronto due to "not feeling well." (heh, I wouldn't either, if I'd been him). But he has since appeared at a rally in the Great White North, as guest of one of our Islamic activist organisations as I recall. I'm sure he'd have found ample supply of anti-American partisans for his crusade -- after all, anti-Americanism has become an apparently indispensible part of our national identity (long live the refuseniks!). I wonder if Jane Fonda made it too. She had announced in early summer that she was embarking on a cross country anti-war tour with her vegetable oil powered bus, but recently ditched that idea in favour of joining Galloway on his own Flying Circus. But a few days after his battering in New York (which certainly included much of his background and history that is little known outside his own country), Fonda pulled out of his planned tour as well. I heard that she would make two appearances with him only.

Some of the pro-regime change attendees in New York were apparently helping Hitch to relive his misspent days as a Trotskyist pamphleteer (as he characterised it) out on the hot Manhattan sidewalks before the event. Some of the inhabitants of Harry's Place (a UK blog by ethical leftish writers which I've mentioned previously) had prepared a handout of Galloway's more notable quotes, which local sympathisers ran off and distributed to the arriving throng that night. Michael Totten copied the material into his blog, in an article entitled Gruesome George in His Own Words, which I gratefully copy below:
George Galloway: No Hero for the Democratic Left

"If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life."

--George Galloway (The Guardian, 9/16/02)

"In poor third world countries like Pakistan, politics is too important to be left to petty squabbling politicians. Pakistan is always on the brink of breaking apart into its widely disparate components. Only the armed forces can really be counted on to hold such a country together... Democracy is a means, not an end in itself."

--George Galloway on General Musharraf's coup against the elected government in Pakistan (The Mail on Sunday, 10/17/99)

"I'm no friend of the Syrian regime, but Syrian troops in Lebanon maintain stability and protect the country from Israel. Lebanon is an Arab country with a border with the Zionist state and that is a very dangerous place."

--George Galloway, defending Syria's occupation of Lebanon less than five months before it ended (The Lebanon Daily Star, 12/7/04)

"Syria is exposed to foreign pressure because she represents the last castle of the Arab dignity and the Arab rights."

--George Galloway on the dictatorial regime of Bashar al-Assad (Arabicnews.com, 7/25/05)

"Actually, the Iraqi resistance does not target its own civilians. But the people that are being fought by the resistance in Iraq are the people that are working for the occupation."

--George Galloway (BBC Newsnight, 1/18/05). Three days later a suicide car bomber killed 14 Shiite worshippers as they left a Baghdad mosque (The Scotsman, 1/22/05)

"I thought the President would appreciate to know that even today, three years after the war, I still meet families who are calling their newborn sons Saddam...Sir, I salute your courage, your strength your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory until Jerusalem."

--George Galloway, flattering the mass murderer Saddam Hussein in person (The Times of London, 1/20/94)

"Mr. Tariq Aziz and thousands of political prisoners are still held illegally as hostages by the occupation authorities...He is viewed with high esteem worldwide by... international figures who have valued his counsel, met him, discussed and negotiated with him."

--George Galloway (The Evening Standard, 4/18/05).

The UK human rights group Indict provides testimony from witnesses who saw Tariq Aziz shoot people at close range, and who report Aziz had advance knowledge of the 1988 gas attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja (www.indict.org.uk). Galloway has written of being on "the crowded dance floor of a North African nightclub... dancing with Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister of Iraq." (The New Republic Online, 4/22/05)

"A civil war with massive violence on both sides."

--George Galloway describing Saddam Hussein's genocidal assaults on Kurds, democrats and Marsh Arabs in 1991 ("I'm Not the Only One," Penguin Books Ltd, 2005)

"Just as Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraq's own Great Leap Forward. He managed to keep his country together until 1991. Indeed, he is likely to have been the leader in history who came closest to creating a truly Iraqi national identity, and he developed Iraq and the living, health, social and education standards of his own people."

--George Galloway ("I'm Not the Only One," 2005)

"The courts killed this woman and I don't think there can be any justification for it."

--George Galloway on the death of Terri Schiavo (BBC Question Time, 3/31/05)

"A party trick."

--George Galloway on Iraqi trade unionists' tearful recollections of torture at the hands of Ba'athists (The Independent, 1/7/05)

"A very, very profound connection."
--George Galloway, describing his admiration for the Confederate Civil War general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who fought to preserve slavery, which he considered ordained by God (The Sunday Herald of Scotland, 8/7/05)
Speaking of Harry's Place, I must wai in their general direction for the link to this surprising debut piece by a brand new Guardian writer, Norman Johnson. A short quote:
If there's one thing I've learned in the past three years, it's this: the left hasn't just lost its way in this country, it's now so bereft of any sense of direction that it's gone blundering off after George Galloway, down the corpse-stinking ditch that ends in tyranny.
In the Guardian? Maybe there's hope yet.

Finally, I draw your attention to Hitchens' own post-game summary at the Telegraph. It's really very good, and he reiterates his pledge to both the zoo in attendance last Wednesday night, and to the larger interested audience, that his challenges to Galloway still stand, and he will not get off his case but will hound him at every turn. The challenges that went unanswered but by "sinister piffle" last week will follow Galloway until he comes clean (should such a thing even be possible), preferably with a sworn statement which can be put beside the sworn statements and evidence that he received oil vouchers from Saddam Hussein. A rather concise description of the mechanics of the debate, in Hitchens' words:
So there we were. Obviously I am suspect as a juror in my own cause, but put yourself the following hypothetical case. Mr A challenges Mr B, saying that he appears on the available evidence to be a handmaiden to dictators and a recipient of their hospitality. Mr B replies that Mr A is a piece of ordure, or some other unmentionable substance. The riposte is hailed as a tremendous piece of repartee, as well as a full and complete answer to the challenge. Perhaps my own professional journalistic colleagues do not wish to seem to favour one of their own, but I have always had difficulty in seeing the pith or brilliance of this.
Read it all. And now indeed, you may read the entire debate if you choose -- there's plenty of highly quotable material. The SEIXON blog has done a great service to preserve this event for posterity, and has transcribed the entire thing. Bravo!

One more thing: Christopher talked several times that night about the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, as a man whom any nation would be proud to have as President -- and not just by the "comparisons which could be made" within the region. An Iraqi Kurd from Kirkuk, he had devoted his life in the service of achieving a pluralistic, tolerant, secular and democratic system for his country. Two weeks ago, I was able to see a press conference with this man just after his arrival for the UN meeting. He made no prepared speech, but immediately threw it open for questions from the press. It was the first time I'd heard him in such an extended manner, and I was extremely impressed by him. If more people could have seen this, and heard his deep committment to his country and his descriptions of what is presently going on there, surely there would be fewer people who could be taken in by the received wisdom proffered by the media and anti-liberation partisans that Iraq is simply a horrible disaster going over the cliff. Do yourself a favour, and listen to someone who understands this country, who is representing the bulk of his citizens by being openly grateful for their liberation, and yet can't seem to get much attention or airtime when he comes to visit (except on C-SPAN). This interview should be seen by everyone, pro or con, and you can see it by simply going to this page, and pick it out of the list (Title: Press Conference with Jalal Talabani, President of Iraq).

Note: I'd hoped to have another article finished tonight, but I won't get it done now. So I'll post this and finish the other tomorrow.

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