Unmoved by the current tidal wave of hatred directed towards the former President, Hitchens begins:
The general thrust of the lack of his regret is that nobody can say, hand on heart, things would have been better without Bush. It’s not intended as an actual defence, merely an appeal for honesty when those reviewing his record take it as Gospel truth that the alternatives would have been better. Why does he want such honesty (other than for its own sake)? He concludes:“…on the last day of his presidency, I want to say why I still do not wish that Al Gore had beaten George W. Bush in 2000 or that John Kerry had emerged the victor in 2004.
“We are never invited to ask ourselves [in Oliver Stone’s W.] what would have happened if the Democrats had been in power that fall. But it might be worth speculating for a second. The Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act, rushed through both Houses by Bill Clinton after the relative pin prick of the Oklahoma City bombing, was correctly described by the American Civil Liberties Union as the worst possible setback for the cause of citizens' rights. Given that precedent and multiplying it for the sake of proportion, I think we can be pretty sure that wiretapping and water-boarding would have become household words, perhaps even more quickly than they did, and that we might even have heard a few more liberal defenses of the practice. I don't know if Gore-Lieberman would have thought of using Guantanamo Bay, but that, of course, raises the interesting question—now to be faced by a new administration—of where exactly you do keep such actually or potentially dangerous customers, especially since you are not supposed to "rendition" them. There would have been a nasty prison somewhere or a lot of prisoners un-taken on the battlefield, you can depend on that.
“We might have avoided the Iraq war, even though both Bill Clinton and Al Gore had repeatedly and publicly said that another and conclusive round with Saddam Hussein was, given his flagrant defiance of all the relevant U.N. resolutions, unavoidably in our future. And the inconvenient downside to avoiding the Iraq intervention is that a choke point of the world economy would still be controlled by a psychopathic crime family that kept a staff of WMD experts on hand and that paid for jihadist suicide bombers around the region. In his farewell interviews, President Bush hasn't been able to find much to say for himself on this point, but I think it's a certainty that historians will not conclude that the removal of Saddam Hussein was something that the international community ought to have postponed any further. (Indeed, if there is a disgrace, it is that previous administrations left the responsibility undischarged.)
“…And the collapse of our financial system has its roots in a long-ago attempt, not disgraceful in and of itself, to put home ownership within reach even of the least affluent. So the old question "compared to what?" does not allow too much glibness.”
"Inescapable as it is, "compared to what?" isn't much of a defense. And nor has this column been intended exactly as a defense, either. It's just that there's an element of hubris in all this current hope-mongering and that I am beginning to be a little bit afraid to think of what Wednesday morning will feel like."