Thursday, May 11, 2006

What Andrew Got Wrong About Being Wrong About The War

Andrew Sullivan posted this juicy mea culpa about his support for the war at Time Magazine back in March.

In it, he explains three things he got wrong about his support for the war:

1. Overestimating the power of government to assess intelligence and successfully oust a dictator and reconstruct a country.
2. Blindness to international resentments of the U.S.
3. Not taking the culture of Iraq seriously enough.

To which I say - Andrew, this is hogwash. He is couching these failures all as intrinsic philosophical necessities (i.e., anyone would have had these problems, which I should have foreseen from the start). They aren't. They are specific failings of this administration that just about any other American administration would have overcome with ease.

Let's recount.

1. The power of government to assess intelligence and oust a dictator? How about Bosnia. How about World War II? The problem here isn't that government can't do this. It can and it does, often quite well. (Yes, we may delay getting into the act - but generally, such delay is a good thing.) The problem isn't even that we can't get good intelligence. Again, we can and we did. The problem is the stupid people who stovepiped the intelligence to justify a war they wanted whether the facts justified it or not, and then conducted the war "on the cheap." Prevarication and incompetence isn't a general symptom of government Andrew: it's just the signature of this Administration. To couch this as "government incompetence" is just a flimsy way for neo-cons to push a philosophy of government minimalism and avoid the true problem for our failure: incompetent Republicans.

2. Blindness to international resentment? As I recall, we had world-wide sympathies on September 12th, 2001. We could have easily harnessed this into a coalition of the willing: willing to truly combat terrorism and inculcate democracies. What happened was that Bush, Cheney, and Rove quickly squandered such good-will through their doctrine of pre-emptive action and go-it-aloneness. Once again, Andrew, the problem is not in our friends and allies - the problem is in ourselves, and the Administration's lack of any diplomatic skills.

3. Government should try to change culture, especially difficult, sectarian cultures abroad. But Andrew - if we can't change cultures, how could we ever hope to bring democracy to the world in the first place? Tyrannies can only become democracies through cultural change, as both Russia and China are learning. The problem isn't that government can't change culture - it's that you can't change culture at the point of a gun, or by telling people that "stuff happens." Cultural change requires moral leadership, something that this Administration has lacked completely, but that in the past, American's have been rather good at.

Would Clinton, or Carter, or Bush I for that matter have had more success in Iraq? We don't know. All leaders make strategic miscalculations. But the miscalculations and mistakes in this war have been so numerous and obvious: not lining up international support, not providing enough troops, not setting a moral example, not providing security, not even attempting to influence the culture - all obvious errors even to neo-cons like Andrew - that it's hard not to believe that in this war, we have turned potential victory into disaster over and over and over again.

So let's review. When faced with this obvious boondoggle of a war, Andrew says that he shouldn't have supported the war because government is incompetent, our allies resent us, and government is ineffectual. All which is rather convenient if you're trying to justify continued support for conservative principles in the face of the Bush administration's obvious failures.

But if you're like most of the rest of us, you know that the conservative movement has already had it's chance to dismantle the government, and what it's produced is the Bush years: incompetence, international resentment, and ineffectuality (not to mention corruptions and moral depravity), and this war is its most prima fascia result. Maybe then, Andrew, what went wrong with the war wasn't strong government, but weak leaders.