Some interesting right-wing defections from support of the war in Iraq...Opinions?
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/print ... 98,00.html
Sunday, Mar. 05, 2006
What I Got Wrong About the War
As conservatives pour out their regrets, I have a few of my own to confess
By ANDREW SULLIVAN
Was I wrong to support the war in Iraq? SeveralÂ conservatives and neoconservatives have begun to renounce the decision to topple Saddam Hussein three years ago. William F. Buckley Jr., as close to a conservative icon as America has, recently wrote that "one can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed." George F. Will has been a moderate skeptic throughout. Neoconservative scholar Francis Fukuyama has just produced a book renouncing his previous support. The specter of Iraq teetering closer to civil war and disintegration has forced a reckoning.
In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors. The first was to overestimate the competence of government, especially in very tricky areas like WMD intelligence. The shock of 9/11 provoked an overestimation of the risks we faced. And our fear forced errors into a deeply fallible system. When doubts were raised, they were far too swiftly dismissed. The result was the WMD intelligence debacle, something that did far more damage to the war's legitimacy and fate than many have yet absorbed.
Fukuyama's sharpest insight here is how the miraculously peaceful end of the cold war lulled many of us into overconfidence about the inevitability of democratic change, and its ease. We got cocky. We should have known better. The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that hegemony always provokes. Those resentments are often as deep among our global friends as among our enemies--and make alliances as hard as they are important. That is not to say we should never act unilaterally. Sometimes the right thing to do will spawn backlash, and we should do it anyway. But that makes it all the more imperative that when we do go out on a limb, we get things right. In those instances, we need to make our margin of error as small as humanly possible. Too many in the Bush Administration, alas, did the opposite. They sent far too few troops, were reckless in postinvasion planning and turned a deaf ear to constructive criticism, even from within their own ranks. Their abdication of the moral high ground, by allowing the abuse and torture of military detainees, is repellent. Their incompetence and misjudgments might be forgiven. Their arrogance and obstinacy remain inexcusable.
The final error was not taking culture seriously enough. There is a large discrepancy between neoconservatism's skepticism of government's ability to change culture at home and its naivetÃ© when it comes to complex, tribal, sectarian cultures abroad.
We have learned a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response to that is not more spin but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by writers like me. All this is true, and it needs to be faced. But it is also true that we are where we are. And true that there was no easy alternative three years ago. You'd like Saddam still in power, with our sanctions starving millions while U.N. funds lined the pockets of crooks and criminals? At some point the wreckage that is and was Iraq would have had to be dealt with. If we hadn't invaded, at some point in the death spiral of Saddam's disintegrating Iraq, others would. It is also true that it is far too soon to know the ultimate outcome of our gamble.
What we do know is that for all our mistakes, free elections have been held in a largely Arab Muslim country. We know that the Kurds in the north enjoy freedoms and a nascent civil society that is a huge improvement on the past. We know that the culture of the marsh Arabs in the south is beginning to revive. We know that we have given Iraqis a chance to decide their own destiny through politics rather than murder and that civil war is still avoidable. We know that the enemies of democracy in Iraq will not stop there if they succeed. And we know that no perfect war has ever been fought, and no victory ever won, without the risk of defeat. Despair, in other words, is too easy now. And it too is a form of irresponsibility.
Regrets? Yes. But the certainty of some today that we have failed is as dubious as the callow triumphalism of yesterday. War is always, in the end, a matter of flexibility and will. And sometimes the darkest days are inevitable--even necessary--before the sky ultimately clears.
Visit Andrew Sullivan's blog, the Daily Dish, at time.com
The New York Times, March 10, 2006
The Conservative Epiphany
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Bruce Bartlett, the author of "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted
America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," is an angry man. At a recent
book forum at the Cato Institute, he declared that the Bush
administration is "unconscionable," "irresponsible," "vindictive" and
It's no wonder, then, that one commentator wrote of Mr. Bartlett that
"if he were a cartoon character, he would probably look like Donald
Duck during one of his famous tirades, with steam pouring out of his
Oh, wait. That's not what somebody wrote about Mr. Bartlett. It's what
Mr. Bartlett wrote about me in September 2003, when I was saying pretty
much what he's saying now.
Human nature being what it is, I don't expect Mr. Bartlett to
acknowledge his about-face. Nor do I expect any expressions of remorse
from Andrew Sullivan, the conservative Time.com blogger who also spoke
at the Cato forum. Mr. Sullivan used to specialize in denouncing the
patriotism and character of anyone who dared to criticize President
Bush, whom he lionized. Now he himself has become a critic, not just of
Mr. Bush's policies, but of his personal qualities, too.
Never mind; better late than never. We should welcome the recent
epiphanies by conservative commentators who have finally realized that
the Bush administration isn't trustworthy. But we should guard against
a conventional wisdom that seems to be taking hold in some quarters,
which says there's something praiseworthy about having initially been
taken in by Mr. Bush's deceptions, even though the administration's
mendacity was obvious from the beginning.
According to this view, if you're a former Bush supporter who now says,
as Mr. Bartlett did at the Cato event, that "the administration lies
about budget numbers," you're a brave truth-teller. But if you've been
saying that since the early days of the Bush administration, you were
Similarly, if you're a former worshipful admirer of George W. Bush who
now says, as Mr. Sullivan did at Cato, that "the people in this
administration have no principles," you're taking a courageous stand.
If you said the same thing back when Mr. Bush had an 80 percent
approval rating, you were blinded by Bush-hatred.
And if you're a former hawk who now concedes that the administration
exaggerated the threat from Iraq, you're to be applauded for your
open-mindedness. But if you warned three years ago that the
administration was hyping the case for war, you were a conspiracy
The truth is that everything the new wave of Bush critics has to say
was obvious long ago to any commentator who was willing to look at the
Mr. Bartlett's book is mainly a critique of the Bush administration's
fiscal policy. Well, the administration's pattern of fiscal dishonesty
and irresponsibility was clear right from the start to anyone who
understands budget arithmetic. The chicanery that took place during the
selling of the 2001 tax cut - obviously fraudulent budget
projections, transparently deceptive advertising about who would
benefit and the use of blatant accounting gimmicks to conceal the
plan's true cost - was as bad as anything that followed.
The false selling of the Iraq war was almost as easy to spot. All the
supposed evidence for an Iraqi nuclear program was discredited before
the war - and it was the threat of nukes, not lesser W.M.D., that
stampeded Congress into authorizing Mr. Bush to go to war. The
administration's nonsensical but insistent rhetorical linkage of Iraq
and 9/11 was also a dead giveaway that we were being railroaded into an
The point is that pundits who failed to notice the administration's
mendacity a long time ago either weren't doing their homework, or
deliberately turned a blind eye to the evidence.
But as I said, better late than never. Born-again Bush-bashers like Mr.
Bartlett and Mr. Sullivan, however churlish, are intellectually and
morally superior to the Bushist dead-enders who still insist that
Saddam was allied with Al Qaeda, and will soon be claiming that we lost
the war in Iraq because the liberal media stabbed the troops in the
back. And reporters understandably consider it newsworthy that some
conservative voices are now echoing longstanding liberal critiques of
the Bush administration.
It's still fair, however, to ask people like Mr. Bartlett the obvious
question: What took you so long?
Sullivan in response to Krugman :
10 Mar 2006 12:49 pm
With his usual accuracy and fairness, Paul Krugman smears yours truly today. Since he's too important to have his columns available to non-subscribers, I can't link. He has one decent point: yes, I lionized George W. Bush for a while after 9/11, and, in retrospect, my attempt to place trust in him at a time of national peril was a misjudgment. But then, in times of peril, some of us feel that supporting the president, whoever he is, and hoping he gets things right, are not contemptible impulses. I should have been more skeptical. In less dire circumstances, I might have been. But some of us, in the days after 9/11, did not immediately go into partisan mode, put aside some of our other objections (like the fiscal mess and the anti-gay policies), and rallied behind a president at war.
And yes, I criticized many whose knee-jerk response immediately after 9/11 was to blame America, and whose partisanship, like Krugman's, was so intense they had already deemed Bush a failure before he even had a chance. But it is a gross exaggeration to say, as Krugman sweepingly does, that "I used to specialize in denouncing the patriotism and character of anyone who dared to criticize president Bush." Five days after 9/11, in an aside in a long essay, I predicted that a small cadre of decadent leftists in enclaves in coastal universities would instinctively side with America's enemies. They did. Some still do. (Go read the piece to see whether you think the accusations against me are fair.) And yes, I should have been more attuned to the pragmatic arguments of those who opposed the Iraq war for prudential, not partisan, reasons: people like Scowcroft, not Krugman (who would have opposed anything this president did, regardless of its merits). But Krugman's sweeping charge against me is unfair. Long-time readers will know this. And the record is out there.
He is also grossly distorting the historical record in my criticism of the president. I am not a "born-again" Bush-basher, suddenly seeing the light. My criticisms of the Bush fiscal policy began very early and were very strong, although I supported the tax cuts (still do) and my focus was entirely on spending. My worries about war conduct began almost immediately after the Iraq invasion; my opposition to the federal marriage amendment was instant and scathing; my horror at Abu Ghraib and what it revealed was also contemporaneous with the available information, and I have kept the administration to account ever since. I opposed entitlement expansion. I supported a gas tax; and defended the estate tax. And, as Krugman somehow fails to point out, I endorsed John Kerry last time around. To accuse me of silence until now is absurd. To say that he expects no "statements of remorse" is also a little off. Does this count:
"We have learned a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response to that is not more spin but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by writers like me."
Sometimes, you can't win.
But this much is also true: I want to win the war, and we have this president for the next three years. If he does good things, he still deserves our support; and so do the people of Iraq. He has made some constructive changes these past few months in Iraq, and I'm not going to give up hope now. Maybe I should have appreciated that the Bush administration's "mendacity was obvious from the beginning." We can't all be as clairvoyant as Krugman. But I gave them a chance. When America was attacked, I rallied behind them and hoped for the best. If a similar thing happened again, regardless of who was president, Democrat or Republican, I hope I would do exactly the same. My principle was "trust but verify." Maybe I was wrong to trust. But no one can fairly accuse me of not verifying.