Friday, February 11, 2005

Michael J. Totten: Drinking with Christopher Hitchens and the Iraqis

We went to The Palm in downtown Washington. "We" included the following big-shots, along with little-shot me: Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist, and cantankerous polemicist; Andrew Apostolou, Director of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Ahman Al Rikaby, former Director of Radio Free Iraq and current Director of Iraq's Radio Dijla; Entifadh Qanbar, Special Envoy from the Iraqi National Alliance; Ghassan Atiyyah, Director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy; and Hassan Mneimneh, Director of the Iraq Memory Foundation.

Only by blogging can you get this kind of stuff. It's a very real look at the way things work. Reading Totten's anecdote is almost like being there. Whether or not it is perfectly accurate in every detail is beside the point. The fact is, this evening out for a few Iraqis with Hitchens and Totten illustrates in microcosm what is really happening in Iraq. The comments thread is equally revealing.

There was so much yelling and interrupting and cross-talk going on I’m not sure Mneimneh heard even half of what I said. Nor do I remember what he said next. But I do remember that his facial expression and body language softened dramatically. Something I said must have got through to him, and thank God for that. He and I – truly – were on the same side. I knew it, and I’m pretty certain he knew it too. I did not want to fight with him, and I don’t think he enjoyed the experience any more than I did.

I looked over at Hitchens, who was sitting right next to me. He wasn’t rattled at all. He sat with his arms crossed and his legs sticking straight out in front of him, still battling it out with Dr. Atiyyah. He literally, physically, dug his heels into the floor.

"If you wanted more Iraqi support," Atiyyah bellowed at Hitchens," you should have given us more money and food once you got there!"

"So you’re saying, sir, that you can be bought," Hitchens shot back.

I put my face in my hands. None of this was what I wanted to hear, and it dragged on longer than I’m making it seem in the re-telling.

The road ahead in Iraq looks to be rougher than the road we have traveled so far.

No comments: