OxBlog

Thursday, August 02, 2007

# Posted 11:34 AM by Patrick Porter  

THE PASSION OF THE CONVERTED: Apologies for the lack of links in this post, am having issues with the computer here in the hotel.

Two pundits whose writing I respect - conservative Andrew Sullivan and socialist Johann Hari - have changed their minds radically over the Iraq war.

But as well as changing their minds over an issue, an entirely legitimate thing to do, they have shifted their anger and their targets.

After 9/11, Andrew Sullivan described critics who blamed America as contemptible 'fifth-columnists' guilty of 'appeasement' etc, and scolded the Spanish electorate for voting out their government after the Madrid bombing. Now his blog site runs 'neo-con jokes', and accuses rightist supporters of General Petraeus, such as Hugh Hewitt or Bill Kristol, of being unhinged denialists peddling a Weimar stab-in-the-back myth.

For his part, Johann Hari was a passionate supporter of the war as a humanitarian cause removing a military tyrant. He once said the job of the left was
'to try to steer this colossus towards spreading the values of its own American revolution: the overthrow of tyranny and the birth of democracy.' Having signed up to this most idealistic project, he now attends the annual cruise of the National Review to laugh in print at the reptilian and reactionary neo-cons on board.

To be fair, both Sullivan and Hari have issued their mea culpas and admitted where they believe they were wrong about the war and about the government that executed it.
But its almost as though having cleaned the slate, they feel free to turn their fire and opprobrium on others who have not dramatically altered their position.

None of this is too surprising or unusual. War stands on the extremes of human experience, its disillusionments and disappointments are gutting, particularly when one has openly and noisly supported it. Hari for his part has put himself in the firing line in Gaza to examine the Arab-Israeli conflict and expose the dangers of radical Islam. And we've all made the error of being overzealous in the way we argue about these issues.

However, there is one danger. By going further than merely arguing, by seeking out an entirely new cast of monsters to mock, by treating a mea culpa as a licence to hurl aggressive accusations at anyone at all, Andrew and Johann may reach a point in the debate where there are few participants they haven't derided.
(28) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
there is also a feeling in certain quarters that ever having supported the war is a kind of thought crime and those guilty of it have given up their right to be listened to to on all and any other subjects until they recant.
 
Sullivan's change of heart can be dated to his annoyance at the Republicans over same sex marriage.
 
Given how wrong Kristol, and other neo-cons have been about the war from the very begining, I think they deserve all the derision that comes their way.

Certainly, Sullivan is no more dismissive of the war supporters than are the neo-cons of those who oppose the conflict.
 
More, and all relevant:

link

link

link

link
 
"Sullivan's change of heart can be dated to his annoyance at the Republicans over same sex marriage.

Glad to see you've stuck to your guns, sweetie. :)
 
I thought the whole "neo-con" joke thing was a little silly and it showed him indulging in some rhetoric that I find annoying. The term "neo-con" is now bandied about endlessly and meaninglessly these days. Sullivan usually steers clear of such cliche, and it's particularly grating given that Sullivan knows that the roots of the "neo-conservative" movement were intellectually rich, and that it gained ground in our politics because of some serious failings of liberal isolationism's unwillingness to assert American values abroad and conservative "realism's" willingness not to criticize unsavory "allies."

However, I can also understand that Sullivan's anger is different and maybe more intense than those who were always against the war, and this is understandable. Many on the left were disgusted by Abu Grhab and every other scandal associated with this war (and rightfully so), but I get the sense that they aren't all that surprised. They never believed that American power could dovetail with spread of human rights and democracy. Sullivan did. And what he, and we all got was something just the opposite. And to watch former allies on the right, who used the liberal arguments to support the war not seem all that bothered about torture by the American military is infuriating.

Whereas the left takes the war as vindication, Sullivan feels foolish and pissed off. I know because that's how I feel too.

Chris Williams
 
Sullivan was never that incisive to begin with.

I was a supporter of the war. As Eamonn rightly says, it does now seem like a 'thought crime' to have ever been a proponent of regime change or an advocate of invasion.

But it would be false to claim that we all didn't roll around in glee in the Spring of 2003. Because we did. From Thomas Friedman down to Patrick and David, I think we forget how pleased we were with ourselves.

And now all us fervent supporters are falling all over ourselves. It's predictable.

We all ''hurled aggressive accusations'' in the beginning, too.


T
(Sorry for the Anon)
 
But as well as changing their minds over an issue, an entirely legitimate thing to do, they have shifted their anger and their targets.

Anyone who will hurl abuse at one enemy, will hurl it at another.
 
anonymous 3:39pm

Personally I think there is a little too much derision in the air.

But if those who were wrong about the war deserve it, that includes a lot more folk than just the neocons.

As Charles Krauthammer notes:

'Outside of government, the case for war was made not just by the neoconservative Weekly Standard but -- to select almost randomly -- the traditionally conservative National Review, the liberal New Republic and the center-right Economist. Of course, most neoconservatives supported the war, the case for which was also being made by journalists and scholars from every point on the political spectrum -- from the leftist Christopher Hitchens to the liberal Tom Friedman to the centrist Fareed Zakaria to the center-right Michael Kelly to the Tory Andrew Sullivan. And the most influential tome on behalf of war was written not by any conservative, let alone neoconservative, but by Kenneth Pollack, Clinton's top Near East official on the National Security Council. The title: "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq."

This was not just the pet project of a neocon cabal. It was widely supported across the spectrum and both political parties, and those who did support it should take responsibility instead of trying to deflect everything back on a small group of intellectuals.

Now, when it comes to being wrong, lets talk about those who opposed the successful intervention in the Balkans, Kuwait, Sierra Leone...
 
"On the latter, if you can tell me how sending 150,000 ill trained and unprepared (for a decade-long nation building project) troops into the heart of the middle east with the long term ambition of democratizing an entire region through the use of force is not both utopian and militaristic, then I am all ears. While your choice of Kagan is interesting, yes, I would also include him in this group, if somewhat on the periphery."

Taylor,

What a reductionist caricature of neocons!
1. I'm glad you noted correctly that the hope for democracy was a long-term ambition. That makes all the difference, because long-term ambitions for a democratic middle east are not all that utopian, unless you want to take the eurocentric line that the Arab world is somehow unfit for democracy. "militaristic," however, is an improper adjective to describe the effort. There is nothing "militaristic" about the long-term effort as a whole when the entire purpose of the invasion was to set a model of emulation and inspiration for peaceful democratization. Never was there this intention of uprooting every dictatorship by force, one by one, with guns and missiles. And it is neither militaristic nor utopian to think that, had a stable fledgling democracy been achieved in Iraq, that there wouldn't be some significant movements within the Arab world, notably in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Shiite rival Iran, towards democratic reform.

2. On the 150,000: I'm not exactly what you mean by the exact numbers. Are you implying that they weren't enough for a 10-year project? If so, many neocons agreed with you. Neocons like the Kagans, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, and Richard Perle all called for a larger post-war force from the beginning. The Standard was calling for troop increases beginning in 2004, along with increased pressure to for Rumsfeld's head (and his "light footprint" strategy). Nor was this view utopian: the very generals who rebelled against Rumsfeld had all believed in a larger occupying force, and many military experts believe that if the surge fails today, it will be because we didn't implement it when we had the chance - notably 2004-2005.

3. The fundamental flaw you can ascribe to the neocons is perhaps their overinvested faith in the Bush administration. But in general, why do we view and judge an entire school of thought by the standard of Iraq? Is that fair? One can argue that the realists under Bush Pere got Gulf War I terribly wrong when they left a murderous and dangerous dictator back into power, and when they opposed many successful humanitarian interventions in Sierra Leone and Kosovo (just as the neocons, along with liberals, supported these efforts). And yet we don't measure realist success or failure as an ideology because of these blunders, nor do we dismiss their opinion leaders because of these past failures. Let's apply the same standard, then, to neocons.
 
oops! Wrong post.

I'll pull a John Kerry and just say that I was against the war before I was for it. Now I find myself to be the biggest defender of neoconservatives. But back in my leftist days, there was a real sense that the entirety of mainstream opinion, from the hawkish fringes of the left to the centre to the neoconservative right all supported the war with much glee. Even the realists, in whom we invest so much faith now, were largely supportive of the effort.
 
Even the realists, in whom we invest so much faith now, were largely supportive of the effort.

If we realists were, and we weren't, it was largely because of a intentional disinformation campaign ranging from Nigerian yellowcake being FedExed to Baghdad, to biological laden UAVs parked off the Atlantic coast.

At the time, the Inner Party had their terror message (Threat Level Yellow, I can go shopping) and their freedom narrative (the Purple Fingers of Victory). But things haven't worked out quite the way they wanted, so their Ministry of Truth is a little busy these days. The Converted need to be marginalized and purged.

Of course, Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

But you already know this.
 
Sullivan is basically tedious and overwrought. It seems to me only bloggers bother to read him. But his change of heart got him a gig at the Atlantic, so good for him.
 
anon 2:32,

what I actually criticised was not the fact that people changed their minds.

it was this: having derided many who disagreed with them, they issued their mea culpa and proceeded to dish out aggressive dismissal against folk whose views they once shared.

At this point, their derision starts to look ridiculous.

On your rather dramatic Orwellian argument, it was widely agreed by nations and intelligence agencies that Saddam was in serious breach of UN resolutions, committed genocide and had pursued WMD before and was doing so again. What's more, even Saddam's generals thought he had an arsenal of WMDs.

It would have to be a pretty impressive conspiracy to get the French, Russian and Chinese, and Baath party senior figures, to collaborate to deceive the poor realists.

So realists who supported the war, and there were many, should stop playing victim and take some responsibility.
 
posted by Anonymous : 2:32 PM:

Stop reading the conspiracy manual.

Porter, in his 12:56 am post is correct. Supporters of the war should stop apologizing.

This war was one of the few times in recent history where all the elements to justify a war were in place and a war did in fact take place. Most times countries are allowed to burble on with their transgressions as the international community "negotiates" itself another meaningless agreement while people die.

We have now reached a turningpoint where the talkers (State and the Baker people) are in the ascendancy. We are back to renouncing the opposition in Syria and Iran and speaking to our avowed (they said it) enemies. Will this achieve anything, time will tell. It may bur Iran and Syria the time they need to do what they want.
 
Patrick

there was at the time widespread disagreement within the Intelligence Community about the war's casus belli. Tenet was telling Bush not to use the Niger documents since they knew they were known to be forgeries. Powell and Clarke were sharply critical. The Downing Street memos were saying that the British thought the Americans were fixing the intelligence:

"Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

The WMD evidence was either non-existent or fabricated, and WMDs was the casus belli. Then there was the forever shifting reasons, democracy, al Qaeda, ....

It would have to be a pretty impressive conspiracy to get the French, Russian and Chinese, and Baath party senior figures, to collaborate to deceive the poor realists.

Oddly, with the Niger forgeries, the Downing Street memos, and the lack of on the ground evidence both before the invasion and afterwards, I'm forced to admit that it was a pretty impressive conspiracy.

By the way, I never thought of Sullivan as a realist. Or Hari. I think the comments have veered into that direction. Certainly there have been many initially pro-war commenters who have changed their opinions when faced with reality, but I can't think of any stone cold realists who were pro-invasion. Powell, more a military professional than a realist, had his famous Pottery Barn analogy, you break it, you own it. That's pretty realistic.
 
anon,

the downing street memos do not prove duplicity. taken in conjunction with other relevant documents, it is clear that the Blair government sincerely believed that Saddam was developing a WMD programme or might even have an arsenal, even while some feared that the intelligence itself was 'poor.' that may be poor thinking and justification, but its not lying.

on the grounds for war itself, WMD was not the only casus belli. the US senate proclaimed 23 writs for regime change, such as Saddam's proven and repeated violations of international accords and human rights violations.

so I'm afraid you haven't made the case that this was simply a big swindle.
 
What the Downing Street memos do show is that the Brits thought the Bushies were ginning the intelligence. "But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." That is duplicity -- deceitfulness or double-dealing. And this wasn't Socrates' noble lie either. After 9/11 with all evidence pointing at al Qaeda, Clarke had to explain to Bush that it wasn't Saddam. Bush wanted this war.

Next, the Joint Resolution itself was a product of the ginned intelligence, an effect. So quoting that at this point means nothing.

While Saddam was a certifiable bad guy, was a modern crusade the best way to get rid of him? Why didn't Turkey sign on? Why did Saudi Arabia kick us out of their country before the start of the war?
 
I'm confused: do you mean by duplicity that Bush and Blair knew they were making assertions about Saddam & WMD that were untrue? Or are you saying that they presumed it was true and went searching for evidence in a self-fulfilling way?

And are you saying that the intelligence agencies around the world that concurred on this point believed it because they were deceived by British and American intelligence?

as to your other point, I'm not sure that there was no other way of removing Saddam from power, unless you'd care to name how continued economic sanctions might have proceeded to succeed after fifteen years of starving his country and strengthening his domestic rule?
 
The Downing Street memos say pretty clearly that Bush was saying things he knew were untrue at the time. No, I don't think he believed that he was doing the right thing. I think he did what he wanted to do, and as the memos and others have said, fit the facts to his policies. Hence, the forever shifting rationales.

As for a better approach, Clinton was already partitioning off the Kurds. Finishing that would have been a simpler and better approach. Granted the Turks wouldn't have been happy, but they're not exactly pleased having a basket case for a neighbor as it is.

But really, looking backwards and sifting out everything we now know was true and false, yeah he violated human rights, but was that worth the war? And if we couldn't get the broad coalition necessary particularly with Arab support, was a victory ever possible?

Realists thought not at the time.
 
[quote]But really, looking backwards and sifting out everything we now know was true and false, yeah he violated human rights, but was that worth the war?
[/quote]

Well, I suspect you and I have a very different set of "everything we know as true and false", but on the "...violated human rights..."

Yes.

Until the souls of little brown masses on the other side of the world mean as much to you as the souls of the rest of the people in your "theories of literature" class, then no one knows liberty.

Or to put it another way, as long as one man is in chains, no man is free.

And yes, *I* put my money where my mouth is--I re-enlisted in 2004 after a big break in service. I've tried to volunteer for Iraq among other places.

[quote]
And if we couldn't get the broad coalition necessary particularly with Arab support, was a victory ever possible?
[/quote]

We can't even get a broad coalition of American Politicans behind the effort.

Which is 60% of the problem.

The other 40% is "old Europe".

We thought we could go in with 100k ground troops, win the war, and then the Europeans (mostly France and Germany) would accept the fait accompli and step up to assist in the post-war reconstruction.

They didn't have the sack, so we were stuck.

Oh, and as for "On the latter, if you can tell me how sending 150,000 ill trained and unprepared (for a decade-long nation building project) troops" my first reaction is not the sort an intellectual would be proud of. But then very few have every mistaken me for an intellectual.

I've worked with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines through three decades now, and if it's humanly possible to do it, the American Military can "get 'er done", from relief efforts in Indonesia to going tooth and nail through Falluja.

But we have to have direction, supplies, and leadership--leadership that understands what war is, and is willing to do that.

Unfortunately half the democratic leadership in this country don't understand war, and the other half want Bush to lose.
 
Billy

Saudi Arabia, Iraq's neighbor, asked the US to leave in April 2003 before the start of the war. Saudis are now funding the Sunni half of the insurgency.

Turkey similarly declined to participate. They're now battling the Kurds.

Your blame Old Europe is similarly off. Ask the Italians, the Spanish, the Dutch and the Brits about the blood of their sons shed in vain. Yeah, the Germans and the French were smart enough to sit this out. Lucky them.

Next comes your typical 'blame the Democrats' rhetoric despite the Republicans having had the Presidency, Senate and House, and the Federal Courts.

Unfortunately half the democratic leadership in this country don't understand war, and the other half want Bush to lose.

If there were ever two guys who didn't understand war, they would have to be Cheney and Bush. And lastly, Bush doesn't lose, America loses. Bush retires to his ranch.
 
such as Saddam's proven and repeated violations of international accords and human rights violations.

Patrick, how long Israel repeated violations of international accords and human rights violations?

Can you ansewer this from me?

Truth
 
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