Messy Valentines: Rumsfeld and Franks on Intrepid; Hitchens, the Barstool Bombardier; Bérubé, Horowitz and David Duke

by Alexander Cockburn

Dissident Voice

February 20, 2003


How seriously does the government take its own terror alerts? St Valentine's Day saw Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and Army General Tommy Franks, two top players in the scheduled onslaught on Iraq, plus a passel of other notables, all floating on the Hudson, aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid.


Franks, who won it last year, was giving Rumsfeld the Intrepid Freedom Award, for overall services to liberty and the western way of life. As a semi-public event it sounds like a snoozer. These days we don't take awards or prize givings seriously unless it involves someone being handed a cheque worth the annual GNP of Brazil for winning a superlotto.


All it would have taken was four more Martyrs for Allah with a boatload of high explosive and it could have made the attack on the Cole look like chickenfeed.


Under the very eyes of the Navy and Coastguard? Why not? Look at what happened a few days earlier in Key West, the actual day Ashcroft and Riggs announced we're One Nation Under Orange. I noted it here over the weekend, remember. You don't? Four uniformed fugitives from Cuba's navy patrol made landfall on the Homeland, passing undetected by southern Florida's vast flotillas of Coastguard and Navy vessels.


The four tied up their 32-foot fiber-glass cigarette boat (sporting the Cuban flag and containing two AK-47s, 8 loaded magazines and a GPS finder tuned to the coordinates of the US Coastguard station) on the southern shore of Key West, at the Hyatt Resort dock.


Then, clad in their Cuban army fatigues (one had a Chinese made handgun strapped to his hip) they wondered about, marveling at the serene emptiness of the evening streets, (so unlike bustling Havana, their leader said later) looking for a police station where they could turn themselves in. Had they been Terrorists there were plenty of rewarding targets within a strolling distance, including a major surveillance center for the Caribbean and Latin America, run by US Southern Command, also a US Navy base, plus of course Key West's extensive literary colony.


Maybe the Masters of Terror feel Rumsfeld is worth more to them alive than dead. After all, the Soviet Union tried to split NATO for forty years without success. Rumsfeld and his commander in chief have done the job in barely more than a couple of years, as Senator Bobby Byrd pointed out in a great speech on the Hill February 12.


The Barstool Bombardier


Those, like Christopher Hitchens, who have argued that a US attack on Iraq will bring democracy in its wake, plus long- term security for the Kurds should take a close look at my brother Patrick Cockburn's recent report from the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. Patrick quotes Kurdish leaders as furious about their recent conversations with US commanders, in which the latter indicated that "regime change" would amount to nothing more than replacement of Saddam and his senior lieutenants by US officers.


The Kurds also suspect that the US, desperate to assuage Turkey, has given the Turks the green light to move into the Kurdish enclaves in northern Iraq. They fear that the US has decided to undercut all efforts to form a democratic Iraq in which the Shi'a would have a far stronger role, since they are the most populous component in Iraq's mix of Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds.


After a meeting with US officials in Ankara earlier this month and citing recent public declarations by US officials. Hoshyar Zebari, a veteran Kurdish leader, told Patrick "If the US wants to impose its own government, regardless of the ethnic and religious composition of Iraq, there is going to be a backlash. This is to give the government on a platter to the second line of Ba'athists [the ruling party." The Kurds, Patrick wrote, "fear that a US-led war against President Saddam might be the occasion for a Turkish effort to end the de facto independence enjoyed by Iraqi Kurds for more than a decade. One Kurdish leader said: 'Turkey has made up its mind that it will intervene in northern Iraq in order to destroy us.'"


Hitchens, the barstool warrior, devotes his column in the current Vanity Fair to the beneficial properties of booze, citing his own superb mental powers and physical condition as irrefutable evidence.


I offer the following commentary as a public service for impressionable youth, who otherwise might take Hitchens at his word and assume that one can drink like a fish and still can row safely to journalistic fortune with mind and body unimpaired. At least in the old Bohemian days, as I saw them in Dublin and London in the late Fifties, many writers were drunks, without maintaining the illusion that booze would carry them into clear-eyed, keen-brained old age.


The nature of his relationship to alcoholic beverages has clearly been preying on Hitchens. Not long ago he accused me in an email of putting about stories that he's a drunk. I responded that given his tempestuous appearances on TV, the matter of his drinking hadn't required my agency to become known to the American people.


In Vanity Fair he triumphantly cites a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine to the effect that a glass or two of wine, beer or any other kind of alcohol every day can significantly reduce the risk of suffering a heart attack.


Thus buttressed, Hitchens says that his own rigorous regime of drinking, begun at the age of 15 and continuing to his present age of 53, has enabled him to work prodigiously "while still retaining my own hair and teeth and a near-godlike physique which is the envy of many of my juniors".


He offers tips on how to make drink your servant, not your master. "On the whole, observe the same rule about gin martinis--and all gin drinks--that you would in judging female breasts: one is far too few and three is one too many. When you get the shudders even slightly it's definitely time to seek help"


Let me pass lightly over the portly scribbler that I observed just over a year ago experiencing some difficulty bringing a lighted match and the first cigarette of the morning into productive contact, also over the math about the gins. As far as dry martinis go, there's been sound evidence in the past to take him as a six-breast guy.


The more troubling thing I've noted in recent years is Hitchens' odd excursions from reality. I refer here not to the nonsense he quite often writes, but quite simply a level of fantasy in his perceptions and recollections.


Not so long ago I got a peremptory email from him, written late a night, demanding I rescind a vile slur made against him on the CounterPunch website edited by Jeffrey St Clair and myself.


I wrote back, pointing out that a retraction was unnecessary, because no such slur had been made. After a few days, during which I assumed he'd re-read my item and realized his mistake, he sent another e-mail, demanding a retraction once more.


An acquaintance of mine, no fan of Hitchens, remarked to me last week that he reckons the man to be a victim of "early Korsakoff's Syndrome". What's that, I asked.


Back came his answer promptly: "KORSAKOFF's Syndrome (from K, a Russian neurologist) an organic brain psychosis. A severe neurological disorder brought on by years of heavy alcohol abuse, compounded in turn, by vitamin deficiencies caused by self-neglect. It's characterized by disorientation, a variety of neuro deficits and complaints, and, most significantly, a memory loss of a unique kind that is the signal feature of the disease: sufferers tend to confabulate. That is, when asked a question they cannot answer based on memory, they just ad lib stories to fill in the gaps---often at great and garrulous length---providing detailed information the patient genuinely believes to be true but is wholly fictitious."


The exact quality of Hitchens' memory will become highly germane some time in the medium future. Sidney Blumenthal is scheduled to publish his memoir of the Clinton years, and he is devoting some pages to the manner in which his erstwhile buddy Hitchens tried to get him put away for lying to Congress.


At issue is precisely what Hitchens remembers Blumenthal as saying about Monica Lewinsky in their notorious lunch at the Occidental in downtown DC. Last year Hitchens told an English interviewer that he is ready to remember even more disobliging material from that lunch, in the event Blumenthal takes after him in the upcoming memoir. Some would call this Tactical Korsakoffism.


Alas, Korsakoff is not available for comment on Hitchens as a possible advertisement of his diagnosis. He died in 1900, at the age of 47.


Bérubé, Horowitz and David Duke


Our chronology of the Lerner flap has Michael Berube in a twitch. He says we charged him with being in league with David Horowitz because he partook in debate on the latter's site. There's a lot of frothing about Stalin and Milosevic and guilt by association.


We find it pretty ripe that Berube should whine about guilt by association after he and Cooper and Corn have spent months smearing the peace movement because the Workers World Party and ANSWER have been organizing demonstrations. So far as David Horowitz's site is concerned, we take the same view of anyone discussing the peace movement on it as we would someone spending time on David Duke's site "debating" Aryan genetic superiority. Duke isn't interested in "debate" on that issue, any more than Horowitz is. It's like Michael Lerner finally taking his case to the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which only gave him space because the mad-dog editors wouldn't pass up any chance to smear the peace movement.


Please note, we thought the organizers should have given Lerner a chance to make an ass of himself, even for 15 minutes. Come to think of it, we also don't think much of the agreement among the four organizing groups that criticism of any one of these groups disqualified any prospective speaker, such as Lerner. ANSWER obviously stood to gain most from this, because more people want to criticize it. Rules about "no criticism" shouldn't be part of the Left Organizer's Toolkit.


Last word (at least for the time being) on the rabbi. Michael Taylor writes to us that "My own Lerner story from around 1969 at an anti-war conference in Ann Arbor Michigan: I am standing in a cafeteria on University of Michigan campus getting breakfast, conversing with Lerner as he is holding a piece of toast at a rakish angle, honey dripping unceremoniously to the floor, the guy completely oblivious to the mess he is creating."


Tear him for his honey-dripping!


Alexander Cockburn is the author The Golden Age is In Us (Verso, 1995) and 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (Verso, 2000) with Jeffrey St. Clair. Cockburn and St. Clair are the editors of CounterPunch, the nation’s best political newsletter, where this article first appeared.



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