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2005-09-16

George Galloway vs. Christopher Hitchens on the Bush Administration Response to Hurricane Katrina

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We play an excerpt of a fiery debate Wednesday between British antiwar MP George Galloway and columnist and author Christopher Hitchens discussing the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. [includes rush transcript]

Amy Goodman hosted a fiery debate Wednesday between British antiwar MP George Galloway and columnist and author Christopher Hitchens in a public duel over the war in Iraq. It was held at the Baruch College performing arts center in Manhattan. Speaking before a sold-out crowd, both men battled it out for over two hours. We play an excerpt of the debate that centers on Hurricane Katrina.

  • Christopher Hitchens, writer and columnist. He is author of numerous book, including "Thomas Jefferson: Author of America."
  • George Galloway, British antiwar MP. For information on his speaking tour: MrGallowayGoesToWashington.com

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we thought, on this special that we’re doing with Pacifica Radio stations around the country that we’re broadcasting on over 350 radio and TV stations, we would play an excerpt of the debate that related to hurricane Katrina. They were speaking before a sold out crowd of more than 1,000 people. I asked them about the impact of Iraq on New Orleans. Christopher Hitchens responded first, but this was the question:

AMY GOODMAN: Christopher Hitchens, what about the cost of this war at home? I have just come from New Orleans. Across the political spectrum, you’re hearing more and more dissent and criticism of what’s happening in Iraq because of what didn’t happen in New Orleans, lack of National Guard in Mississippi and Louisiana, the weapons, rather the vehicles that were needed that weren’t there. So two questions on that — what about the cost here at home with the hurricane Katrina and the lack of response. We see clearly, because the reporters are un-embedded here, the troops weren’t in New Orleans, and they really presented the pictures, we see clearly the way the U.S. responded here in terms of rebuilding or not, what makes you think the U.S. is any better in Iraq?

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, I would caution people from adopting a zero sum mentality in this respect. I had the opportunity to speak with a close associate of lieutenant general Steve Plum some time ago. He said that he had, before the situation became as dire as it did, had been able to call up the secretary of defense and say, I have 200,000 troops that you can have any time. The question is where is the order going to come from. The president can’t, as you know Amy, cannot order American troops into action in the state of the union. He has to be asked by the governor for this to happen. The governor has to admit. I’m sorry, it is in the Constitution. I’m sorry, it is in the Constitution.

Unless you want to invoke the Insurrection Act, which hasn’t been, I think, invoked since the Civil War. So, the fact of the matter is, there were more than enough soldiers. They just weren’t given the orders in time, and that’s a matter for you — but as soon as they made their appearance, didn’t everything start to look a lot better? Aren’t you proud of General Honore? Are you not proud? Are you not proud that a man born — that a man born into segregation and discrimination is leading really hard professional, tough, generous, brave men and women in uniform for the recovery of New Orleans and all the time has a son in Fallujah and seems to think he can manage both? I think it’s hugely to the credit of the United States armed forces that they would consider it ignoble to abandon their commitments in Sadr City and in Halabja and elsewhere. Ignoble and parochial and provincial. Now, Mr. Galloway, came a little near the knuckle a moment ago and I decided to overlook it. He said what I said was bordering on racist. I really feel I’m entitled to ask him to withdraw that imputation. I think that’s an opprobious thing to say but I will have to add for people to start pumping out propaganda before the bodies have even been uncovered in New Orleans staying and to make points, demagogic of, and saying they wouldn’t be dead if they weren’t black. People haven’t been identified yet. Whose parents don’t know where they are, and to say this wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t wasting money on Arabs? That, that is an appeal to the most base, provincial, isolationist, and chauvinist mentality.

[Boos]

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: You’re on TV.

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Galloway.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: You’re all on TV.

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Amy, I’m so glad Mr. Hitchens gave that answer. You see, this is where it ends, isn’t it? You start off being the liberal mouthpiece of one of the most reactionary governments this country has ever seen on the subject of war. You say you have got your own liberal reasons for doing so, and you end up on apologist and a mouthpiece for those miserable, malevolent incompetents who could even not pick up the bodies of their own citizens in New Orleans in the aftermath of a hurricane. That’s where it ends, Hitchens. That’s where it ends. You end up a mouthpiece and an apologist for the Bush family, whose matriarch— you want to talk about racism? What about Barbara Bush— what about Barbara Bush, who took a look at the poor, huddled masses in the Astrodome and told us they never had it so good? Who told us they were better off than they had ever been, underprivileged people, now in an Astrodome, the only problem, with whom, she said, was that so many of them wanted to stay in Texas. You know, Hitchens, you’re a court jester. You’re a court jester, not at Camelot, like other ridiculous former liberals before you, but at the court of the Bourbon Bushes. Barbara Bush, the Marie Antoinette of modern day American politics.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Well, I think I have to say a quick word, Amy, if I may. This is all good knock about stuff, I must say, Mrs. Bush senior does remind me of, I think it was Lady Diana Cooper who was once stopped outside Claridges Hotel in London as she was waiting under the umbrella for the car to be brought around after a ball. A ragged man approached her and said, ma’am, I haven’t eaten for three days. She said, you’re very foolish then, you must try, if necessary. You must force yourself, if necessary. It’s called a tumbril remark in some circles. I don’t know where the Marie Antoinette cake shop was in the Astrodome. But if you notice, I didn’t say that I defended the president’s record on this, I have written critically about for all of you to read already in Slate Magazine. What I would not have said — what I will not have said is that we should go to a refugee woman in Biloxi and say to her, do you realize the Arabs have stolen the money that should have come you to? We have no right to pit the poor against each other in that way and to betray our internationalism. And we have no right whatever to insult the tremendous performance of the United States armed forces once they’re put into action. I will add one more thing. The 82nd airborne and first air cavalry so far from being distracted by Iraq, have learned in Iraq matters of civil reconstruction, water distribution, purification, that have been extremely useful to them in New Orleans. The case — the case, don’t — I would advise you not to jeer at these men and women while you’re being televised, ladies and gentlemen. I would advise you not to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Vanity fair writer, Christopher Hitchens debating British MP George Galloway. George Galloway’s new book that he has come to tour the United States with is called Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington. You can find out more about his tour around the country, at mrgallowaygoestowashington.com. He’s headed to Toronto, Madison, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, he will end up in Washington D.C. for the big anti-war march on September 24th. This is Democracy Now!.

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