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Christopher Hitchens, Literary Agent Provocateur

Once a literary lion of the left, Christopher Hitchens (shown here in 2004) surprised and dismayed many with his strong support of U.S. efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East.
Once a literary lion of the left, Christopher Hitchens (shown here in 2004) surprised and dismayed many with his strong support of U.S. efforts to spread democracy in the Middle East.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, many writers and intellectuals offered their prescriptions for how the United States should respond.

Prominent among those intellectuals is British writer Christopher Hitchens. His byline was synonymous with the left, and Hitchens was a longtime columnist for the left-wing magazine, The Nation.

But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hitchens surprised many of his comrades on the left with his robust support for the Bush administration's war on terrorism. It is a journey that has cost Hitchens friends and allies, and left others wondering how it all happened.

Hitchens is known for his love of cigarettes and alcohol -- and his prodigious literary output. Among his many books and pamphlets, he's written on George Orwell, Marcel Proust, Thomas Jefferson and others.

But he's best known for focusing his unforgiving pen on the likes of Henry Kissinger ("war criminal, liar without conscience, pseudo-scholar, pseudo-academic, pitiless sponsor of dictators abroad"); Mother Teresa ("friend of poverty, enemy of the poor, fundamentalist fanatic"); and Bill Clinton ("a man who was in politics for therapy who wasted eight years of America's time").

Despite the abundance of his copy, his prose usually sparkles, infuriates -- or both. And though he objects to the label, he's often called a contrarian.

For most of his adult life, Hitchens was the designated hitter of the far-left. In 1991, he warned against launching the first Gulf War. No more.

"We now know we're at war today and so do they and they will pay and pay and pay for it," Hitchens says of proponents of what he calls nihilistic Islamism. "They will rue the day when they decided to challenge civilization and democracy and attempt to replace it with theocracy and barbarism."

The pantheon of the living and dead left-intellectuals -- Noam Chomsky, Gore Vidal, Edward Said and others -- found itself in strident disagreement with a former ally.

"It came to a point where it wasn't a difference of emphasis but a real difference of principle," Hitchens says. "I thought the United States should be defended from nihilistic Islamism and they thought it should be criticized for it, and it had brought it on itself. And that's a difference you cannot split."

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