Commentary Magazine


A Little Revisionism

In his most recent response to John Podhoretz, Andrew Sullivan, in analyzing his own mistakes on Iraq, admits:

I clearly believed there were WMD stockpiles in Iraq before the war, and also believed that the Bush administration had the capacity to pull off a very ambitious invasion/occupation. On all this, I was wrong. Then I was wrong again in thinking that the metrics Petraeus laid out for the surge wouldn’t work (by his own Balkan measurements) and that cutting our losses in 2007 was the least worst option. I was not alone in this and it was an honest error, but born out of a desire to mitigate what I saw as a very, very bleak future. It even forced me to consider whether there was some Western interest in a wider Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East . From the still-fragile consensus of today, that too seems too bleak, although the future remains unknowable.

On the positive side, Sullivan writes:

I did, however, get some things right: there were not enough troops after the invasion, as I worried…

Actually, that’s not quite right. If you check Andrew’s blog entries during April 2003 — a month after the war began — you’ll find things like this (from April 9, 2003):

VICTORY: The quibblers, the carpers, the second-guessers, the cynics, and the isolationists on right and left now have to read paragraphs like this:

In Firdos Square in central Baghdad , a group of Iraqi men climbed up the pedestal of a 20-foot statue of Mr. Hussein and smacked it with a sledgehammer. Then they put a chain around the neck of the statue and tied it to an armored American military vehicle. The crowd then cheered and clapped as the vehicle pulled away, toppling the statue. Several Iraqis danced and jumped on the fallen statue. Elsewhere in Baghdad , the American military emptied jails overnight, releasing their prisoners. In the neighborhood called Saddam City, a densely populated Shiite area, crowds of men shouted and waved their arms in jubilation. Some carried makeshift flags. One middle-aged man held up a huge portrait of Mr. Hussein, and in the middle of the street used his shoe to beat the face of the Iraqi leader, a particular insult. “This man has killed two million of us,” he yelled as bystanders milled around approvingly.

This is an amazing victory, a victory over a monster who gassed civilians, jailed children, sent millions into fruitless wars, harbored poisonous weapons to threaten free peoples, tortured thousands, and made alliances with every two-bit opportunist on the planet. It’s a victory over those who marched in the millions to stop this liberation, over the endless media cynics, over the hate-America crowd, and the armchair generals. It’s a victory for the two countries in the world that have always made freedom possible and who have now brought it to another corner of the world made dark by terror. It’s a victory for the extraordinary servicemen and women who performed this task with such skill, cool, courage and restraint. It’s a victory for optimism over pessimism, the righting of past wrongs, the assertion of universal truths against postmodern excuses, and of political leadership over appeasement. Celebrate it. Don’t let the whiners take this away from you or from the people of Iraq.

The next day Sullivan wrote this:

THE COMING SPIN: You can see it now. Chaos. Looting. Disorder. Losing the peace. It’s not that there won’t be some truth to these stories; and real cause for concern. The pent-up fury, frustration and sheer anger of three decades is a powerful thing, probably impossible to stop immediately without too much force. And the last thing we want is fire-power directed toward the celebrating masses. The trouble is that they could become the narrative of the story, especially among the usual media suspects, and erode the impact and power of April 9. By Sunday, or sooner, you-know-who will probably have a front-page “news analysis” that will describe the joy of liberation being transformed into the nightmare of a Hobbesian quicksand of ever-looming cliches. [emphasis added]

On April 21, 2003, we read this:

THE GOOD NEWS: I was heartened to read Kanan Makiya’s latest missive in the New Republic . There are some memes in the liberal media I just don’t buy — i.e. all exiles are bad; Islam will destroy Iraqi democracy; we’ll be hated soon; we’re hated already, etc., etc. Kristof has absorbed, as usual, all the defeatist talking points, but at least he has conceded he got almost everything wrong last year. In contrast, here’s the money Makiya quote:

Garner was an enormous hit with the Iraqis present at the meeting. He wisely stayed very much in the background, judging that the key task at hand was having Iraqis speak to one another, rather than having them hear speeches from representatives of the U.S.-led coalition. When Garner did finally speak, it was to make a direct, honest, straight-from-the-heart appeal to the participants that won them over instantly. He said, simply, that his role was to support Iraqis in the reconstruction of their country, and that he plans on leaving as soon as Iraqis themselves find it appropriate. “He really means it,” a businessman from Mosul said to me after the conference. “This man is the genuine article.”

I remain an optimist about the Iraqi future — and America ‘s critical role in it. Yes, there have been some obvious screw-ups — the failure to protect Baghdad ‘s museums strikes me as damn-near indefensible. But the direction is clear. And if the U.N. is successfully kept at the margins, we can work this out.

And here’s one from May 4:

HAWKS, SCHMAWKS: One of the more irritating memes of the foreign policy debate is that the world is divided between hawks, who favor military action, and doves, who favor diplomacy. Of course this has always been a crude simplification. But our current world shows something that Machiavelli understood well: that being a hawk sometimes is the only means of being an effective dove. Why have Syria and North Korea become — even temporarily — more compliant with U.S. diplomatic entreaties? Because they’re scared of us. Being feared is sometimes much more important than being loved. In the Middle East it’s almost always more important. The critical facet of the current president’s superb foreign policy has been his inclusion of Powell and Rumsfeld on the same team (with Rice operating as go-between). It has given him more credibility and flexibility than any recent president, except Reagan. And what was Reagan’s signal achievement? Bringing about the peaceful collapse of the evil empire in part by scaring the world to death. Now, we even see signs of Paris supporting U.S. pressure on Syria . From Le Parisien this weekend:

The thing is sufficiently rare to be remarked: Paris and Washington find themselves, on the subject of Syria , following a common line. On his return from the Middle East , Dominique de Villepin used, in effect, an unusually firm tone vis-a-vis the regime of Bachar el-Assad. In a press conference, he first urged the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon … In his speech, Villepin [also] urged Damascus to ‘moderate’ its support of ‘politico-military’ organizations operating against Israel from Lebanese soil. His target: Hezbollah, the Shiite group also supported by Teheran. In plain language: viewed from the French foreign ministry, Hezbollah, which has a main office in Beirut , can continue its political activities, but must stop its attacks on Israel . For Paris , a notable turn: we remember what happened to Lionel Jospin in February 2000 when, at the time Prime Minister, he called Hezbollah a ‘terrorist movement.’ This comment resulted in a ‘convocation’ with the President. But why this sharp turn [in French policy]? What’s at stake, explains one diplomat, is the seller’s bonanza that’s developing in the Middle East . The Americans, after their ‘victory’ in Iraq , are next going to tackle the Israel-Arab dossier. Thus France , marginalized because of its opposition to the US , wants nonetheless to have influence in the region.

Isn’t victory sweet? Just remember who got us here and who opposed it.

There were, in other words, no expressions of concern by Andrew that we did not have enough troops soon after the invasion began.

I have written before that everybody got something wrong about Iraq, so I don’t think perfection should be the standard, in this instance or in any other. But if you’re going to claim credit for having been right about some aspects of the Iraq war, it probably strengthens your case if what you claim you said at the time is accurate, as opposed to very nearly the opposite of what you claim.

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