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October 08, 2004

Missing From Andrew Sullivan's Critiques: "I Was Wrong"

In the run-up to the war, there were in fact a number of reasonable, and yet partisan, Democrat war-supporters who advocated for the removal of Saddam Hussein while simultaneously blasting Bush for agitating to do so. They didn't object to Bush's plan to oust Saddam in principle; no, it was always this detail or that they found wanting.

They were quite transparent about the fact that they thought war was the right policy and yet, being partisan Democrats, they needed Bush to be wrong in every detail of that policy. They had to slice the salami pretty thin to make the case that Bush lied, and yet people under Saddam died.

Andrew Sullivan has of course long since joined the ranks of partisan Democrats against Bush. And he has been particularly blatant about criticising every single aspect of the war -- its justification, its theory, its execution -- without ever really acknowleging any personal fault. He makes a quasi-Kerry case against the war -- not enough trooops, "arrogance," not enough allies, general incompetence -- but he's very careful to avoid any suggestion that he, personally, was wrong about any of this.

The argument that "Bush made mistakes in the conduct of the war" only gets one so far. Bush has, of course, made mistakes in conducting the war, which is to be expected and also to be noted for the historical and political records. But the biggest "mistakes" of the war -- and I do think they were mistakes -- were mistakes that Andrew Sullivan is equally guilty of. And yet no clear expression of sorrow for his own mistakes, even while catigating Bush for his failure to apologize.

Liberal proponents of the war -- a category which must contain Andrew Sullivan -- were especially keen on the Wilsonian, "people want to be free"/"they will greet us as liberators" type of arguments for the war. Sullivan was especially strident and, to be fair, sometimes quite eloquent addressing this point. Now, the Bush Administration was/is also a big proponent of this neo-Wilsonianism-- and it is certainly fair at this point to wonder about the naivete of the pure Wilsonian position.

FWIW, I was also a believer, despite my reservations, in the Wilsonian justification for war; to the extent this justification is wrong, so was I. I'm not certain this position is wrong, although I have to say the evidence thusfar suggests that perhaps it was. But I'll say this: If it does turn out to be wrong, then I personally was wrong, and I can't blame Bush for "misleading" me or for botching the conduct of the war. If the idea that Iraqis actually want to be free, more-or-less democratic citizens of a modern, normal state, and will take steps to make that come to pass, turns out to be a wrong idea, then I was entirely wrong about that assumption.

Bush was wrong, yes. Wolfowitz was wrong, certainly. But I was wrong too, independently of either man. I cannot pass off my own error (if it is in fact error) on the "misleading" statements of Bush or the decision to fire the standing Iraqi army. If this key assumption, criticial to the path to success in Iraq, turns out to be wrong, then I turned out to be wrong, too.

And, of course, Sullivan would be quite wrong too-- enormously wrong, since so much of his passionate prose was dedicated to the idea that Iraqis craved a better, more decent nation. But note that Sullivan doesn't seem eager to examine this key assumption This assumption was either right or wrong from the get-go; it's hard to argue that some error of Bush's caused this assumption to go from true to false over the course of a year.

Sullivan neatly avoids any reconsideration of, or even any discussion of, the areas in which he may be a "failure" in this business. This seems strange. Sullivan is forever praising himself as an "independent," and someone courageous enough to challenge conventional thinking (and suffer the associated "heart-ache," of course).

And yet, for all his, ahem, intellectual courage, he seems to conveniently avoid scrutinizing his own possibly-erroneous contributions to the case for war. With all due respect, I suppose it does take some degree of intellectual courage to challenge a like-minded partisan. It takes very little courage at all to challenge someone to whom you're strongly politically opposed (as Sullivan is strongly politically opposed to Bush, and has been for some time).

The real test of intellectual courage and intellectual honesty is to unflinchingly examine one's own failings. One cannot simply attack a political opponents in a conveniently-partisan manner and be considered a serious and thoughtful analysis; if one could, I'd be considered such a serious thinker, which I'm not.

One of these days Andrew Sullivan will examine his own error in making the case for Saddam's possession of, and desire to use, WMD's; of the various claims that the Iraq War would be just as easy as the Gulf War (or Afghanistan); of the belief that he great majority of Iraqis would not only welcome a regime change (even a violent one) but would gladly take up arms side by side with our troops in order to accomplish it.

But until he says three simple words -- "I was wrong" -- I think it's entirely appropriate to dismiss him as a partisan hack on this issue, no more serious about analyzing what went wrong in the war than Howard Dean.

Or, for that matter, John Kerry.

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posted by Ace at 09:24 AM

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