It's amazing when you compare an essay like this one from Andrew Sullivan with one by fellow conservative Victor Davis Hanson. Both are excellent writers of course. What sets them apart is that AS actually takes an honest interest in describing the actual state of affairs in Iraq, no matter how painful it may be and can admit obvious mistakes without abandoning his faith in the mission. VDH, on the other hand, is clearly more interested in becoming the next Thucydides writing the official history of the Peloponnesian war of our times. He, like so many of my now estranged conservative brothers choose instead to play the role of propagandist and perky cheerleader convinced that this war is like many other great ones before it, that it does not in any way resemble. It's sad what happens when good people confuse giving up with necessary self criticism; the kind of criticism that is absolutely necessary when mistakes are made and things don't go as planned. It becomes downright self-destructive when good people become more concerned with how their political enemies will benefit by such criticism than trying to better the situation they themselves got us all into. We need more like Andrew Sullivan on our side. To the VDH's out there: wake up! Self Criticism is good, macho even, and much easier than trying to convince us that the Emperor is sporting his best Hugo Boss.
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
Mar. 13, 2006
Was I wrong to support the war in Iraq? Several 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 naiveté 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
From VDH - Take Your pick