Adams v Hitchens (third party Bunyip)

A brief update on my previous brief post about Christopher Hitchens’ demolition of the increasingly self-parodying Phillip Adams. Professor Bunyip has skillfully dispatched Adams’ ridiculous reply to the Hitchens article over the square leg boundary. A welcome return to top form.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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David Tiley
2022 years ago

“And finally, words having failed him yet again, Adams embraces obscenity. “…the West … might have exaggerated the number of Saddam’s victims”. Where have we heard that line before? Ah, yes, David Irving, who has argued that Hitler could not have killed the full Six Million, as nowhere near that number of bodies has never been found and, in any case, it would have taken too much coal to fire up the crematoria.”

I love it. Ask for some evidence for a claim, and Bunyip says: You are like David Irving. Surely that is grotesque.

On a more realistic level, I can’t be bothered reading Adams, but I am not agitated by his presence. He is like many an institutionalised columnist, exhausted and beyond new ideas, with a style that worked in about 1989 when he allegedly dictated his columns into a tape recorder on his farm and had them transcribed. There’s one of the origins of his sloppiness.

I think he is a treasure on the radio. This particular article is a classic example of the confusion between radio Phil and print Adams. One is confidential, equal, egomassaging, spontaneous. Talking about friends lost over Iraq works, is an insight into the life of someone like Hitchins who has shotgunned so many sacred cows. In print, who cares?

But floating around in the Adams egocentric verbiage are a couple of substantive points. The connections between al Quaida and the Iraq government as revealed in the report are not the stuff of an invasion, and different from the prewar claims.

And I too wonder now about the scale of Saddam’s nastiness. The word of various governments on Iraq has been degraded. You’d be a mug to trust them now. That is why propaganda as a weapon of war is potentially counterproductive.

I have to produce the motherhood statement here of course that I too know that Saddam gassed the Kurds and provoked a ruinous war with Iran and conscripted his subjects and had people tortured in his prisons. But the attempt has been made to assert that he was uniquely awful in the present day.

And Hitchen’s trip to Iraq, on which he relies as a source of facts in his rants, is hardly a substantial fact finding mission. He was inside the government bubble; Bunyip is misreporting Adam’s objection to say it is about the helicopter.

Speaking of blogbile (TM) moments, there is a wonderfully elegant rant on Crooked Timber about wine. A very superior snit IMHO, though it may not have the particular duke-em-down and kick their nuts blood-hungriness of the true award recipient.

Al Bundy
Al Bundy
2022 years ago

And I too wonder now about the scale of Saddam’s nastiness…

…I too know that Saddam gassed the Kurds and provoked a ruinous war with Iran and conscripted his subjects and had people tortured in his prisons.

I give up, I just can’t get my head around the way the Left thinks.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

David

I’m a bit puzzled by the obsession with Adams on the part of RWDBs like Blair and Bunyip. He really isn’t very important, and I suspect that few (even with broadly similar viewpoints) bother these days to do any more than glance at his columns.

But I agree with Al Bundy’s reaction to your comment about Saddam’s record. If you don’t want to believe western governments, how about groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch?? They documented Saddam’s bloody record in considerable detail. I really do think Bunyip’s David Irving analogy is well made in this respect. Saddam’s butchery shouldn’t be minimised, even by opponents of US actions.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2022 years ago

I agree it’s a mistake to minimise Saddam’s crimes, most of all that of starting the war with Iran, but also the war with Kuwait and the civil war against the Kurds. But it is a reasonable question whether, in the recent past, these crimes been on such a scale that starting a war which has killed many thousands of people (around 1000 coalition soldiers, up to 20 000 Iraqi soldiers, 5-10 000 Iraqi civilians in the invasion, many thousands subsequently) was justified.

In this context, the fact that Blair has made false claims about mass graves and so on is relevant. If Saddam was killing tens of thousands of people every year (as implied by Blair’s claim of 400 000 graves) then stopping him was a matter of urgency, even if some innocent people died so that others might be saved. If, as seems more likely, the regime was executing/disappearing around 1000 people a year, the war has cost more lives than it has saved.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

John

I agree with your points. But if we assume (not unreasonably) that Saddam would have remained in power but for US/UK/Aus intercession, then that 1000 per year death toll would have continued indefinitely, so the body count should eventually end up in favour of intervention. Of course, that assumes that car bombings etc will eventually tail off when we have an elected Iraqi government and security forces, and a much less visible US presence.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Let’s be clear. David Irving has spent his whole life denying the Holocaust – the calculated murder of twelve million people. He has done this again and again, even though he is continually presented with the evidence. (let’s not go into the detail of this – it is not central to our particular topic.)

This is what we are discussing in the original article:

“Blair’s repeated claims that “400,000 bodies have been found in Iraqi mass graves”. He said that in November last year and repeated it in December. Yet only 5000 corpses have been uncovered. Yes, that’s 5000 too many, but 395,000 short of Blair’s body count.

Of course, the other 395,000 might turn up, like those missing weapons. But to say that they’ve already been discovered is just the latest in the litany of lies.”

That doesn’t enable us to compare Adams with David Irving.

But Adams does go further to say this:

“It seems that all the figures that have been thrown around about Saddam’s killing fields have been grossly inflated. Even Human Rights Watch, responsible for some of the more shocking estimates, concedes it may have been misled, by orders of magnitude.”

I don’t know what Adams is referring to in the Human Rights Watch material; it is fair to presume it does exist but it is not easily available on the website. He is claiming “gross” inflation of the figures, involving an “order of magnitude.” And takes a significant logical step at that point which I wouldn’t have made.

But it is still not the same as a lifetime of fanatical holocaust denial. I don’t think it is “obscene” as the Bunyip does.

ALSO: There are two claims being made. Saddam behaved abominably. We have many accounts of this. It was totally unacceptable. His population lived in terror. But that does not mean we can’t discuss the scale of the event – the numbers involved – when they are put in the public record by our leaders.

Isn’t that fair Al?

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Ken:

This kind of post does you no credit.

If your opinion in this particular case had any surprise value, you might convince some readers of Adams’ error by the sheer weight of your authority. But it’s not as though you’re building on a history of fair-minded and generous criticism of Adams. On the contrary, you’ve been expending your highest level of invective on him for so long that it’s totally degraded currency.

So it serves no purpose except to remind us for the hundredth time that you hate Adams as obsessively as Bunyip and Blair. Furthermore, when you use their style of cheap invective, you signal that you’re uninterested in rational debate. To venture a contrary opinion is as tempting as diving into a river full of piranhas or, worse, Blair’s comments box.

But actually I don’t see much to disagree with in Adams’ original column. Iraq had no WMDs and no Al Quaida connection. Saddam flouted numerous UN resolutions, but only a small minority of experts seem to think this made the invasion legal. The regime was a sadistic despotism, but there are dozens of those in the world, and many of the others could be removed at much less cost. The only justification for an illegal war, therefore, is that the regime not only was brutal but was in a category of its own, to the extent that the benefit of removing it clearly outweighed the cost in lives, damage to UN mechanisms, and the future security of Iraqis. Since it boils down to cost-benefit accounting, it makes good sense to ask just how many people Saddam did murder. And since information from our governments has been unreliable on other aspects of the regime, we need to be sceptical about estimates on deaths.

As for Hitchens, I admire him for having the courage of his convictions, and resisting what he calls the voyeurism and apathy of the left. But he was so strident, so confident of total vindication, and so dismissive of his adversaries, that now – now that it seems he got it wrong – he has nowhere to go. He has been reduced to fits of hyperbole and exasperation, and Adams just happens to be his latest target. Once you get past the scorn, it’s clear he doesn’t have any argument of substance.

Mork
Mork
2022 years ago

Not entirely on topic, but stepping out of Fahrenheit 9/11, it struck me that Michael Moore is really the cinematic version of Christopher Hitchens: both are brilliant and passionate, but unreliable. (And I say that as a qualified admirer of both).

It amuses me that their reaction to the comparison would also be identical.

bushie
bushie
2022 years ago

From my reading it seems the approximate proveable numbers of Iraqi civilians killed will be:
by Saddam 5,000
by George Bush 20,000

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Saddam killed hundreds of thousands in the 80s and early 90s, and was killing 1000 or more every single year on an ongoing basis (on Human Rights Watch figures, and as John Quiggin observes). So a statement that Saddam killed 5,000 is just plain silly. As for posts (or comments) doing anyone “no credit”, as far as I’m concerned anyone who seeks to minimise the horrendousness of Saddam’s regime (and that goes for David Tiley as much as Adams) does themselves no credit. If you think otherwise, then I’m afraid there is simply no common ground between us that would enable a civil debate to take place, so we’ll just have to agree to differ and move on.

John Quiggin
John Quiggin
2022 years ago

Ken,

I don’t think the “pre-emptive humanitarian” case for war stands up well to scrutiny. It amounts to killing lots of (mostly innocent) people now in the hope of saving lives in the future. We don’t know that the situation will stabilise. Equally, it’s perfectly possible that Saddam might have died, or been assassinated or even (like Gaddafi) become less murderous, if we’d waited. What we did know for sure was that going to war would kill a lot of people.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

John

I’m not arguing that the pre-emptive humanitarian justification stands up on its own. I’m not attempting to re-argue the interminable “justified or not” debate at all. I’m just saying that Saddam apologetics make me puke. One can surely make a good case for opposing American actions without being an apologist for Saddam.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

What you are saying is that you get a real kick out of saying Phillip Adams makes you puke. And any excuse will do. If he says, quoting the Guardian, that 5,000 corpses rather than 400,000 as claimed by the British PM, have been uncovered, and you can possibly construe that to mean ‘Saddam only killed 5000’, then you will gleefully do so no matter how unfair it is.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

James

Can you actually read? I was replying to “Bushie’s” comment imediately above mine. I don’t feel even slightly civil towards people with abusive, ignorant attitdues like yours, so this comment thread is now closed.

trackback
2022 years ago

Godwin’s Law

Wikipedia
states:

Godwin’s Law (also Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies) is an adage in Internet culture that was originated by Mike Godwin in 1990. The law states that: