Hard News by Russell Brown

When Linda met Chris

I know what it's like trying to manage a radio interview: one eye on the clock, the other on your questions, trying to balance interrogation with elicitation. And then there's always someone emailing to tell you what you ought to have done and said.

But the fact is, Christopher Hitchens, who must spend half his life doing this, ran right over Linda Clark on National Radio yesterday. He interrupted her, patronised her and ignored the questions he didn't wish to answer. I like Linda Clark, but on this occasion she was under-briefed for what was always going to be a demanding interview.

Even when he's right, Hitchens has always appeared to be a little too much in love with his own iconoclasm. He told and re-told his j'accuse story about Mother Theresa. He was eternally available to express his vaguely unhinged distaste for the Clintons. He has a sound knowledge of the geopolitics of the Middle East, which he likes to use to intimidate those interviewing him. Trouble is, for all the chest beating, he doesn't always make sense and sometimes he goes right off the radar. So, here are some questions that Linda might have asked Chris:

    In May 2001 you described the US as a "rogue nation", which was arrogant and contemptuous of international co-operation, reluctant to ratify human rights accords and a malign actor at the United Nations. You said that "the United States reserves the right to act only in its own interests, to do so with overwhelming force, and to disregard any tedious legalisms that might stand in its way." Why do you reserve such scorn for those who say much the same now, less than two years later?

    If, as you say, "we all know" what the French are like as a consequence of the Rainbow Warrior bombing, could you explain why you are so confident in the motives of an American administration that recently tried to appoint Dr Henry Kissinger - a man you still wish to see tried for war crimes - to head the arguably the most important investigation ever commissioned by a US government?

    You say you "know" that Al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government have a relationship so close as to be akin to the Hitler-Stalin pact in World War 2. What evidence is there of such massive co-operation? Why have the US and UK been unable to present it?

    How does this view tally with your statement in your column for The Nation in August last year that Iraq only "had indirect contact with Al Qaeda"?

    In the same month, in a column for The Observer you said that what you and your Iraqi opposition contacts fear was "a heavy-handed US attack which results in an Iraqi puppet government that is designed to placate the Saudis and the Turks." What makes you think that won't happen?

    Is Al-Qaeda's connection with the Iraqi government greater than that with the ruling elites of, say, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen?

    it trouble you that the British "dossier" on Iraq has been shown to be a rather shoddy work of plagiarism? If the evidence of imminent threat is so compelling and plentiful, why do you believe British government officials felt compelled to top up their dossier with uncredited extracts from a 1991 PhD student's thesis?

    Do you subscribe to the view expressed by Admiral Poindexter and others that the most likely result of a three to six year armed occupation of Iraq will be a spontaneous move to democratise on the part of surrounding countries?

    If so, what makes you believe that when another armed occupation - that of the Palestinian territories - appears to be the single greatest cause of unrest in the Middle East region? And when the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia appears to have provided such a powerful recruiting incentive for Al-Qaeda?

    What makes you believe Iraq won't turn into another Lebanon, where the liberator soon came to be regarded as the oppressor?

    If, as you say, the Iraqi regime is crumbling like that of Ceaucescu in Romania, why would we wade into that?

    How many Iraqi civilians and army conscripts would you expect to die in a war? What number of these casualties would have to be suffered before the return on war was outweighed by such loss of life?

    So what are drugs like, then? (Whoops, sorry, that was actually a Chad Taylor question …)

Oh, and here's that Rogue Nation column from May 2001. Priceless.