They’ve lost Andrew Sullivan

by Ted on May 10, 2004

It’s Dylan-goes-electric time over at

The question I have asked myself in the wake of Abu Ghraib is simply the following: if I knew before the war what I know now, would I still have supported it? I cannot deny that the terrible mismanagement of the post-war – something that no reasonable person can now ignore – has, perhaps fatally, wrecked the mission. But does it make the case for war in retrospect invalid? My tentative answer – and this is a blog, written day by day and hour by hour, not a carefully collected summary of my views – is yes, I still would have supported the war. But only just. And whether the “just” turns into a “no” depends on how we deal with the huge challenge now in front of us….

The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong.….

By refusing to hold anyone accountable, the president has also shown he is not really in control. We are at war; and our war leaders have given the enemy their biggest propaganda coup imaginable, while refusing to acknowledge their own palpable errors and misjudgments. They have, alas, scant credibility left and must be called to account. Shock has now led – and should lead – to anger. And those of us who support the war should, in many ways, be angrier than those who opposed it.

(emphasis added) He ends with a call to win, I should point out. Nonetheless, when this Administration has lost Sully, they’ve done very badly indeed. More to come.



David W. 05.10.04 at 3:48 pm

Sullivan protests too much. The news that the Bush administration was arrogant and incompetent in it’s pursuit of a war against Iraq was there for all to see months before hostilities commenced. The laughably feeble presentation of alledged WMD evidence by Powell at the U.S. was a farce that even a bit of skepticism on his part would have revealed to him. Instead, Sullivan merely hacked on in support of Bush as his self-assumed role of conservative pundit dictated.

Instead of prattling on about how those who supported the war should be even angrier than those who opposed it (what chutzpah!), Sullivan should simply do what needs to be done and state his support for John Kerry as the next President of the United States. However, as class seems to trumps all for Sullivan, I won’t be holding my breath. I’m sure he’ll find a way to rationalize how Our President of Lowered Expectations can learn from his mistakes and win in Iraq. It’s what Sullivan does best, after all.


P O'Neill 05.10.04 at 4:04 pm

It’s a poor choice of words, but Sully is a drama queen. He has played this game before — there were some feints towards Dean when he was running strong last year. He’s setting himself up for 6 months of public anguish about who to endorse in November, but then will “relucantly” return to the Dubya fold, citing some combination of Kaus and Hitch as having convinced him.


Zizka 05.10.04 at 4:14 pm

At the time the Iraq war started, George W. Bush had never satisfactorily completed any difficult task whatsoever. Gentleman’s C’s at school, easy National Guard service, silent partner (selling access) on a pro baseball team, a few fake, unsuccessful energy companies funded by family friends, two political campaigns managed by Rove and Hughes, and a term as governor (with lots of expert help) in a weak-governor state.

There was no real reason to think of his character as good either. After decades of partying, he cleaned up his act and started talking about Jesus a lot. A very minimal sort of rehab Christianity.

Basically no knowledge or experience of foreign relations except hanging out with Bandar.

Even without the Iraq war, the guy was scarcely even minimally qualified for the job. When the big challenge came, people just kept had to on pretending the way they already had been. But instead of pretending that he was minimally competent, they started pretending that he was a strong leader.

NOTHING has changed. No consequences. People who were right about Bush and the Iraq war are still marginalized, and people who were wrong are still the opinion leaders. Half of them haven’t even bothered to acknowledge reality yet. (Krauthammer and Safire come to mind in recent days).

With the same opinion-leaders, we’ll have more of the same shit. They’re making only the minimum adjustments necessary and are continuing to strut around explaining How It Is.


asdf 05.10.04 at 4:20 pm

Ignore him. He and Kaus are furiously scanning the web right now for a nugget from Kerry’s distant past or a recent soundbite that will force them to reluctantly conclude that he is unfit to be commander in chief.

Do not feed the beast.


Dreth 05.10.04 at 4:39 pm

since when does anyone need a nugget from the past to conclude that they don’t want a president who stands for both sides of every issue?


Thorley Winston 05.10.04 at 4:42 pm

Ted Barlowe wrote:

I should point out. Nonetheless, when this Administration has lost Sully, they’ve done very badly indeed.

So who ever believed that Sullivan was a solid Bush supporter or that his “support” should be seen as some sort of barometer of political support? As P O’Neil correctly pointed out, Sullivan was on the Dean bandwagon for a while (actually endorsing a Dean-Clark ticket) and was pretty much in the Clinton camp during the 1990’s. Frankly I expect him to “reluctantly” endorse Kerry over Bush under some justification of the panacea of “divided government” or the theory that a Kerry administration would not significantly deviate from the Bush administration on foreign policy and is therefore “safe.”


dreth II 05.10.04 at 4:43 pm

dreth: Better both sides of every issue than everytime the wrong side. With the first method, at least you’re right half the time.


robbo 05.10.04 at 4:55 pm

This is the arrogant person’s “apology.” Nuanced and finely reasoned to give himself maximum benefit of the doubt, without admitting that the whole concept of Iraq War II was plainly and heinously wrong — criminally wrong — on multiple accounts. Bush tried to bomb them into democracy based on a number of transparent falsehoods while simultaneously coddling Israel and making frequent references to his born-again Christianity. Bush’s fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, combined with Carl Rove’s finely tuned understanding of political manipulations, have brought our country to its lowest point in my lifetime. This crisis calls for outrage, not a nuanced evaluation of the strong and weak points of one’s pre-war position.

Were Sullivan serious about his misgivings about Bush he’d follow Howard Stern’s lead and throw his weight behind Kerry. Anything less is an empty gesture.


yabonn 05.10.04 at 5:37 pm

The warblogger’s complaint :

“Hey this isn’t what is had signed for! Where’s my kindler, gentler war?”

Funny all these soo warlike bloggers running for intellectual cover.


pepi 05.10.04 at 5:43 pm

Well, maybe he’s just being an opportunist again, but I don’t think he’s the only one to have come to that very same conclusion.


Amardeep Singh 05.10.04 at 5:53 pm

I think all his noise about whether retrospectively the war was justified or not is irrelevant. In a way it’s blogger opportunism, a way to get people like us interested in what he’s saying again.

If he wants to be anything more than that, what he needs to deal with is the future, specifically the prospect that Abu Ghraib torture images will undermine any political authority the Americans or their proxies will have, permanently. Proof of torture destroys, preemptively as it were, any *future* American-supported government in Iraq.
We are way beyond ‘damage control’ here…

Sullivan isn’t taking the possibility of determinate failure seriously at all.


harry 05.10.04 at 6:34 pm

bq. Were Sullivan serious about his misgivings about Bush he’d follow Howard Stern’s lead..

Howard Stern? A Freudian slip, no? Or am I missing something?


jdw 05.10.04 at 7:19 pm

I guess I don’t totally doubt the sincerity of Sullivan’s misgivings, but I’m finding it a little difficult to believe that he’d be making them public (particularly the bits about the arrogance and incompetence of the administration) if the Bushies hadn’t taken a hard line against gay marriage.


Matt Weiner 05.10.04 at 7:33 pm

Harry–Here’s Stern’s page of anti-Bush links, and a couple of Salon stories (yan, tan) apparently about how Stern has been going after Bush heavily and blames this (rather than indecency) for Clear Channel’s decision to drop his show.
(I say “apparently” because I am too lazy to do the day pass right now.)


Rascalnikov 05.10.04 at 7:37 pm

What remains amazing from Sullivan and the other hard-core rationalists at the Volokh Conspiracy (for example) is their inability to admit to their lack of predictive powers. It isnt that a gross miscalculation was made as to the feasibility of achieving peace, democracy, etc., merely that we employed the wrong people to do it. To me it is plainly an extension of the finger pointing going on in the white house.


Sigivald 05.10.04 at 7:47 pm

Didn’t the administration “lose” Sullivan over gay marriage already?

A “drama queen” assessment seems a bit harsh, but Mr. Sullivan hasn’t exactly been Bush All The Way, and his reactions seem more emotional than rational. (Which is fine, and human, and understandable, but which counts against such reactions being a weathervane.)

This rejoicing sounds an awful lot like wishful thinking to my ears.


Fred Woolsey 05.10.04 at 7:58 pm

All this talk of “winning” has me confused. Didn’t we already win? Or was I hallucinating when I saw that big “Mission Accomplished” banner at the flight suit photo-op?

I thought we were bringing democracy to the Iraqi people, not targeting them as the next enemy in the “War on Terror.” So if we win, who will we have beaten? Saddam is already in the slammer; Qusay and Odai are fertilizer. Can it be that this obsession with winning belies a maybe not so unconscious calculus, i.e., terroristOsamaArabIraqi?


W. Kiernan 05.10.04 at 8:10 pm

So now big Saddam-hater Andrew Sullivan has finally signed on to the Daniel Davies point-of-view. Far too late, of course. If the opportunity ever comes your way again, Andrew, pay close attention to the wisdom of JSM right away.


Doug 05.10.04 at 8:17 pm

If Sullivan comes over to Kerry, great. (Although I gather that he votes in the District, where Gore won in 2000 by a 40% margin, so it’s not like his vote will tip a swing state.) If he brings more with him, either through agonized public introspection, or a Stern-like conversion, even better. I don’t care, really, how he gets where we are all going: toward a new occupant in the White House come January 2005. The other side can have the ideological purity. If they want “Who isn’t with me is against me,” I’ll be heaps more than happy to take “Who isn’t against me is with me.”


Avedon 05.10.04 at 8:23 pm

Anyone who noticed the way he got bored with Afghanistan without finishing the job and wandered off to attack Iraq already knew Bush would screw up on Iraq. And anyone who didn’t notice was never qualified to comment.


IXLNXS 05.10.04 at 8:40 pm

15 of 19 highjackers from Saudi Arabia. None from Iraq.

No WMD found in Iraq. No Yellow Cake Uranium. No hidden stashes of Anthrax.

How could anyone think for a second attacking Iraq was a good idea?

If the answer is to protect human life from evil dictator like rulers then why has nothing been done, or mentioned of the Sudan? Why have we ignored the deaths in Africa?

The war in Iraq was never justified. The run up was hyped with lies by the administration, and the press became tools of the propaganda machine.

Support attacking the real enemy. Saudi Arabia. Then ask why is it we allowed the Bin Ladens to be flown out without questioning, and allowed a Saudi Arabian Prince to sit in on our war plans to attack Iraq.

Seems alot of folks are forgetting that Aid and Comfort to the enemy is treason. That Saudi Arabia was much more our enemy through the evidence at hand, and that our president and his family have had extensive ties with the Saudi royal house.

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”


Walt Pohl 05.10.04 at 8:48 pm

Avedon, I have to disagree with you. While I knew that Bush was incompetent, what I didn’t know was that the neocons were incompetent (except at bureaucratic infighting). Since the neocons regarded Afghanistan as a sideshow, and Iraq as the main event, I thought they would do whatever it took in Iraq to succeed. Since Iraq was a totally optional war, unlike Afghanistan, the risks to their position were so great that they would do whatever it took to succeed. What I didn’t grasp at the time, but is painfully clear now, is that they are a bunch of bookish intellectuals who knew nothing about how the world really works, and let themselves be taken in by a conman.


megapotamus 05.10.04 at 9:51 pm

All these declarations of defeat are quite premature. All these bald protestations that the war is “illegal” are intentionally ignorant of recent history. All these malefections on George Bush are equally juvenile, malign and unjust. The rightness of the war will be in a new Iraq. Piss on it, if you will but spare us the faux moral indignation that finds nothing objectionable in Saddam’s utopia.


eyespy 05.10.04 at 10:23 pm

Sully is just pissed that the army hosted a naked-man pile-up and he didn’t get invited.


schwa 05.10.04 at 10:47 pm

I must congratulate some of the commenters on this thread. They’ve achieved what I never thought possible and put me on Andrew Sullivan’s side. If this juvenile smugness is representative of the quality of anti-war argument before the invasion (and it is) then it’s no wonder we didn’t convince anybody.


pepi 05.11.04 at 12:01 am

schwa: maybe if you weren’t that prone to sweeping generalisations, you’d have realised there’s all sorts of reasons why people are being “smug” towards Sullivan. Reasons to be found more in his style than his shifting political positions. And it’s not the fact he shifts them. It’s how.

It’s good to change ideas and be open and reconsider your opinions. It doesn’t make such a good impression when you do it just cos you’re stuck in a corner and want to save face.

I don’t have a problem in appreciating the kind of conclusion he draws there. I’ve heard it from other people too. I think it’s only normal for many who were convinced, may be still convinced, of the larger plan, but not of the ways it’s been implemented. OK. Fair enough.

But is this Sullivan the same guy who treated everyone who expressed the slightest doubt on the war plans as an anti-American potential terrorist-supporter idiot with no clue? is he? The guy for whom no one could possibily be simultaneously sane and unwilling to support Bush in his mighty war on terror? A simple “oops, I was wrong” and voilà, he never was that pretentious to consider his opinion the one and only that made absolute sense, nah. A simple “oh yes, there was an argument that actually made sense (I just never bothered with it til now that I’m forced to by those pictures on the front pages everywhere)” – and he’s back with something more to write on, from a morally clean position.

Impressive. Reminds me of Rumsfeld really. Give the man a carpet and he’ll sweep anything under it.


robbo 05.11.04 at 12:21 am

…spare us the faux moral indignation that finds nothing objectionable in Saddam’s utopia.

There it is, the ultimate straw man: Anyone opposed to this war is a Saddam-lover. This is the level of thinking that led us to this sorry point. Talk about “intentionally ignorant.”

And schwa, what’s your point? Most Americans continue to believe justifications for this war that were proven false months ago. All emotion aside, we’re a demonstrably ignorant society with regard to world events. As a people, we largely formed our pro-war opinions about “pre-emptive war” based on easily manipulated emotions and a belief in the honesty of people like Bush, Cheney, and Powell — not by examining the available facts. Yet you seem to think that war protesters could have succeeded if we adopted a different tone, or better arguments. I think you’re wrong.

Or is your point that we should now refrain from finger-pointing? Sorry, but I remember how those who supported the war simultaneously marginalized the dissenters. They ridiculed our views back when having this debate would have mattered, yet now they’re adopting measured, nuanced versions of the same arguments. I’m sorry that you’re offended by my pointing out how pathetic this is.

Anyway, the only thing that still matters is wresting the reins out of Bush’s hands. Sullivan, Will, and the rest of them can show they learned the Iraq lesson by calling for regime change here at home. Until then, it’s all just CYA to me. Anyway, have fun reading Crazy Andy — hope he makes you feel better.


marty 05.11.04 at 2:27 am

For those who opposed the war, the feebleness of the current command and arrogance of war-mongers is something to laugh at, but also for reflection as well. Those who have been proved right by events also have a lot of learning to do.

Opponents of war were unable to convincingly make their case because the general public were bullied into a fear that avoidance of war would lead to another attack like 9/11 because of WMD. The average voter went along with this on the basis of “better be safe than sorry”, despite the lack of evidence. This is a failure of argument.

For the failure of policy, in future when foreign policy decisions are discussed and made, is there a formal PROCEDURE-based analysis that could be followed to scientifically find out and then evaluate the options available? And be auditable!
Would the current debacle be avoided in the future? Is there a way to avoid being blackmailed in the future into incorrect foreign policy decisions? A process that the average voter would be happy with?

To put 100% of the blame on the current situation on foolish leadership is to bring into question the current institutional structure of the government. We cannot guarantee that fools will not be elected again. Constitutionally, acts of war are primarily a congressional matter, though the president is a short-term emergency leader. Given that the Iraq situation has been bubbling under for many years, perhaps the President should have deferred to Congress. Is this a failure of the institution?


asdf 05.11.04 at 3:18 am

Oh, we are so mean and the war is FUBAR that we are making Andrew Sullivan give up blogging.

As America’s self-appointed moral leader, the great Joseph “Mentum” Lieberman would say, “Shame on us.”


Rajeev Advani 05.11.04 at 6:26 am

Andrew Sullivan is a very capable and eloquent blogger who — unlike the partisans I see on this comment thread — is willing to at least acknowledge and discuss the contradictions roiling about in his mind. I don’t agree with him, as I’ve written elsewhere about the failures of the so-called Anti-This-War-Now argument. But I at least respect the fact that Sullivan, an important pro-war intellectual, is willing to turn against Bush as soon as ideals and practicalities require it.

Most of the criticisms of Sullivan I’ve read on this comment thread fall into one of two categories: caricature or cherry-picking. Defacing someone’s writing takes a bit more than that.


asdf 05.11.04 at 6:51 am

Sorry, the man defaces his own writing.

He’s been a jerk about this whole war thing for well over a year, blathering and blathering and smearing anyone who disagreed with him.

I shed no tears for the guy.


pepi 05.11.04 at 8:06 am

But I at least respect the fact that Sullivan, an important pro-war intellectual, is willing to turn against Bush as soon as ideals and practicalities require it.

rajeev, that’s not why people don’t trust him.

Shifting your approval based on considered reasoning on precise issues and facts on which you may have doubts would indeed be the ideal situation of any voter.

But Sullivan is neither any voter, nor “an important intellectual”. He’s a paid PR man.

And he didn’t just change his position based on facts and issues and ideals. He went from total disregard and trivialization and misrepresentation of any position other than 100% faith in Bush on the war issue, to back-pedalling just because the shit hits the fan.

Now that those photos are everywhere, he admits he “dismissed as facile Bush-bashing” the *core* argument of those who _didn’t have 100% faith in Bush on the war issue_!

Maybe you think he should be patted on the back for that. Ok. Opinions, tastes, etc. I just happen to think, “the fucking nerve”.


asdf 05.11.04 at 2:26 pm

It should be noted that now that he can’t bear to write any obviously false nonsense about how well everything is going, he’s printing emails from readers complimenting him and telling him to “buck up.”


Thorley Winston 05.11.04 at 3:36 pm

Schwa wrote:

I must congratulate some of the commenters on this thread. They’ve achieved what I never thought possible and put me on Andrew Sullivan’s side. If this juvenile smugness is representative of the quality of anti-war argument before the invasion (and it is) then it’s no wonder we didn’t convince anybody.

Well that and contradictory positions such as:

If we attack Iraq they will use chemical and biological weapons on our troops (but now we’re told that everyone knew that there never were any WMDs in Iraq despite the fact that pretty much every major intelligence service in the World and both parties agreed that he did have them).

If we attack Iraq, the Arab street will rise up against us (but now we’re told by the “anti-war” Left that there was “absolutely no connection” between Saddam Hussein and terrorism).

It’s all about oil for the United States (but we’re supposed to follow the more altruistic leadership of the United Nations, France, Germany, and Russia).

If we attack, we will kill thousands of noncombatants (who were dying by the tens of thousands already due to the previous regime and the UN sanctions).

It was Bush 41’s fault for not finishing the job in 1991 (so naturally we must oppose Bush 43 for finishing it in 2003).

We cannot be “unilateral” and “go it alone” (even though we had about as large of a coalition as we could have every expected to have given the geopolitical relationships of other governments to that region and the available troops).

It isn’t just that those who opposed the Iraqi phase in the war were juvenile in their behavior (and remain so judging by the comments on this forum), it’s more that they were and remain less intellectually honest in their arguments than those who favored going in. The arguments in favor of liberation (concerns over unaccounted for WMD’s, the previous regimes sponsorship and harboring of terrorism, changing the paradigm in the region, humanitarian concerns, etc.) each stood or not on their own merits whereas the arguments against liberation often contradicted each other (even though many who opposed the war have quickly shifted their arguments against as previous arguments have been discredited). Despite the cries of “moving the goalposts” as we have changed tactics (e.g. troop levels) in response to the changing situation, the public believes (correctly) that the overall strategy (remove Saddam, give the Iraqi people a chance at self-government, find out what was going on for the last decade with WMD’s, put pressure on neighboring regimes to reform, etc.) and objectives are the same because that is what is driven by the reasons for liberation. Those who opposed the liberation of Iraq, lost the argument because they failed to make a coherent case for a more plausible alternative.


Rascalnikov 05.11.04 at 4:01 pm

It seems a short comment i made on this thread (above) has prompted Jacob Levy at the Volokh Conspiracy to justify his previous post.

I do believe this endeavour was doomed at the outset. As a matter of fact i would love to receive information from anyone as to when in recent history a military incursion against a dictatorial (or otherwise) state, which has not committed a direct act of aggression against the invading state or one of its allies, has been successful in establishing democracy?

Here’s a short list of candidates: Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, ex-Yugoslavia, Afghanistan or Somalia. To my recollection those military incursions never yielded, the intended democractic result. Instead it yielded the same number of, and perhaps even a greater number, of wasted human lives. As a matter of fact the one time we actually caused a democratic transition was using diplomatic and economic policies against the USSR (thus explaining the current approach with China for example).

The simple morality that removing a brutal and arbitrary dictatorial regime is a worthy or ‘good’ aim is undeniable; thus it would be moral to instore a democratic regime in North Korea, in China, in Uzbekistan and a variety of other such states, obviously. Yet an ethical call for war based upon the simple democratic morality cannot be detached from the practicality of achieving it. If the theory of our ability to achieve democracy through war is to be plausible, there has to be some practical evidence of it.

On the list of examples above, the record is pretty weak. So yes, i do believe that ‘the ex-ante expected value was negative regardless of competence of implementation’. It is a simple premise, war is chaos, until someone develops a reliable theory of chaos, I am unable and unwilling to admit, that ANYONE regardless of competence can ever remotly predict the outcome of war, other than … chaos.


Rascalnikov 05.11.04 at 4:29 pm

So we’re ‘juvenile’ in our argumentation against war. Yet you are ‘adults’ in your argumentation endorsing war. Until recently i thought that only bullies and children resorted to violence when they ran out of arguments?


BP 05.11.04 at 4:40 pm

Ah yes.
but now we’re told that everyone knew that there never were any WMDs in Iraq despite the fact that pretty much every major intelligence service in the World and both parties agreed that he did have them

Chemical and biological weapons are not WMDs. Nukes are WMDs. Saddam had no nukes. Every intelligence agency knew that. That Saddam didn’t even have mustard shells, not even I suspected, but then again the conflation of chemical weapons with WMD was a maneuver designed to fool dimwits, of which there were enough, apparently.

If we attack Iraq, the Arab street will rise up against us

Naah, every one knows fighting stopped last year.

(but now we’re told by the “anti-war” Left that there was “absolutely no connection” between Saddam Hussein and terrorism).


If we attack, we will kill thousands of noncombatants (who were dying by the tens of thousands already due to the previous regime and the UN sanctions).

And since hospitals were looted empty, electricity, water etc are not yet at pre-war levels i.e. material living conditions are worse than during the sanctions regime, there are less people dying?

it’s more that they were and remain less intellectually honest in their arguments than those who favored going in.

Takes some chutzpah to say that after the miserable collection of strawmen and weak-assed arguments you presented earlier.

Takes even more chutzpah to say that while the team you cheerleaded is fucking up every which way.


Russell L. Carter 05.11.04 at 4:48 pm

Thorley Winston forgets, if he ever learned, the multitude of lessons history has taught us beginning oh about the time of Victor Hansen’s War about the dangers of hubris as a motivating force in international relations. Those lesson’s aren’t intellectually honest, I guess. For many of us who thought the war was a collosal mistake from the beginning, it all starts there. Thorley, just about every one of your “serious” arguments is based on hubris, which you must now acknowledge.

There’s a bit of a tone of triumphalism among the antiwar crowd, in which I am firmly encamped, which I find depressing. The political forces that accomplished this magnificent disaster remain firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of the people, not to mention all three branches of government, and I don’t see much of a chance of that changing, beyond a possible razor thin Kerry victory which, at best, leads to paralysis.


Thorley Winston 05.11.04 at 7:07 pm

BP wrote:

Chemical and biological weapons are not WMDs.

Not according to both US Law (1) and the United Nations (2) which both define Weapons of Mass Destruction to include nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. There have been some attempts to expand the definition of WMD’s to include radiological weapons or some conventional weapons such as landmines and small arms (which would make it a meaningless term IMO) but the consensus is unquestionably that WMD’s include nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

(1) Section 2332a. Use of certain weapons of mass destruction

(2) United Nations Security Council Resolution 687


yabonn 05.11.04 at 8:50 pm

The political forces that accomplished this magnificent disaster remain firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of the people


Of the causes of the neocons success promotion of the war in irak, everything remains, apart maybe the shock of immediate after 9/11.

Big media is apparently unmoved by the fact the u.s. people believe the plane were full of irakis. And only remotely related to the drum-beating of the immediate pre-war (but hey! look at how high the heads roll with the jayson blair thing!)

Politician voted it, all of them, or so. No stone throwing, no boat shaking. Let’s talk vietnam instead.

Neocons see the Shapeable Masses growling a bit. Entomologically predictable anyways. Enter dicrete mode for a little while. Conservative think tanks funds still flowing? Check.

Nowhere, apart from the slightly repulsive “oh how i was wrong” remorse filled individuals, one ounce of self reflection. Guess “how did we come to that” will begin to be a relevant question in twenty years, when it’s safe for everyone, and without any consequences whatsoever.

Till then, it’s urgent to do nothing. And make everything ready for the Next Big Fuckup.

Grmbl. I shouldn’t get all red in the face like that. Not even my president for chrissakes.


robbo 05.11.04 at 10:36 pm

Someone in the Bush administration was clever enough to seize on the “official” definition of WMD — which includes chemical weapons that Saddam was likely to posses but that didn’t threaten America — and to assemble America’s military response as though WMD referred to a credible nuclear threat. Either Thorley hasn’t figured this out yet or isn’t as intellectually honest as he’d like us to believe.

Intellectual honesty: GW Bush on 8 October 2002: “…we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud” (

And Dr. Rice on 10 January 2003: “…we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” (

Russell, can you expand a little on the tone of “triumphalism” you perceive here? What, exactly, do you mean? Naturally there’s some “I-told-you-so-ism” but I, for one, believe that this country’s shifted so far to the right that it may take decades just to get back to the sort of centrist policies we had in the 1990s. Honestly, what is the proper tone to adopt in the face of the right’s ceaseless claims of moral and intellectual superiority, which are so clearly at odds with observable reality?


Thorley Winston 05.11.04 at 11:11 pm

Robb Hamilton wrote:

Someone in the Bush administration was clever enough to seize on the “official” definition of WMD — which includes chemical weapons that Saddam was likely to posses but that didn’t threaten America — and to assemble America’s military response as though WMD referred to a credible nuclear threat. Either Thorley hasn’t figured this out yet or isn’t as intellectually honest as he’d like us to believe.

Or more than likely I actually paid attention to the debate which how I know that when the POTUS spoke about WMD’s he was speaking about the chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear. But don’t take my word for it, let’s look at the link that Robb Hamilton was kind enough to provide:

From the POTUS’ October 8, 2002 speech

In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq’s military industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and is capable of killing millions.

We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, and VX nerve gas. Saddam Hussein also has experience in using chemical weapons. He has ordered chemical attacks on Iran, and on more than forty villages in his own country. These actions killed or injured at least 20,000 people, more than six times the number of people who died in the attacks of September 11.
. . .. .
Yet Saddam Hussein has chosen to build and keep these weapons, despite international sanctions, U.N. demands, and isolation from the civilized world. Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles — far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, and other nations — in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work.
. . .
And, of course, sophisticated delivery systems are not required for a chemical or biological attack — all that might be required are a small container and one terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it.

These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We have learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb making, poisons, and deadly gases.
And we know that after September 11, Saddam Hussein’s regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America. Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.

It seems pretty clear from this that the POTUS was arguing about a perceived danger of Iraq still having chemical and biological weapons (which the inspectors agreed were unaccounted for) and possibly using them to attack Americans in the region or being able to slip them into the United States either with an agent or through a proxy. Whether the inspectors were correct or not in their assessment of Iraq’s capabilities, the fact remains that Bush when talking about WMD’s was clearly talking about the risks of chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear.

As far intellectual honesty goes Robbo, if you are going to be so dishonest as try and mislead people into thinking that Bush was not talking about the threat of chemical and biological weapons as well as nuclear when he spoke about WMDs, you should as least not be so stupid as to provide a source which contradicts the thesis of your argument.


robbo 05.12.04 at 12:51 am

Thorley, you shouldn’t be so credulous as to believe everything Dear Leader tells you. One can concoct arguments about the lethality of anything. I’m sure there’s enough steel in Iraq to kill every living American through blunt-force trauma. And don’t look too closely into how Saddam obtained those awful weapons way back in the late 1980s — you might see the fingerprints of your Republican heros in Washington.

The questions were (a) whether Iraq posed an immediate and credible threat to America, and (b) if so, what was the wise response to that threat? The all-out invasion plan didn’t work out as billed and is costing our country dearly in every conceivable way.

Save some of your venom for the people in power who take you for a rube and lie to your face.


Rajeev Advani 05.12.04 at 1:48 pm

Pepi, again:

You are correct Sullivan shouldn’t have dismissed the incompetency argument so trivially. However, over the past year he has brought the incompetency issue up to his audience more than any other conservative reporter. For this reason I call most of the criticisms of his work cherry-picking; anyone who regularly read his site, who experienced his vacillations from issue to issue, would readily acknowledge this.

And where do you get off calling him a paid PR man? Have you read his site? He is by far the most reluctant Bush supporter I’ve ever read. If you’re looking for paid PR men, turn on conservative radio, and if you’re looking to deface a writer without reading his words, please preface your comments with that admission.


pepi 05.12.04 at 4:42 pm

Rajeev, you ask, where do I get off calling Sullivan a paid PR man. Well let me ask you in turn: doesn’t Sullivan a) get paid and b) write for the Washington Times? I rest my case…

And yes, I have read his writing, oh yes, sir.

He is by far the most reluctant Bush supporter I’ve ever read.

The fact he always underscored how he was so not with Bush on gay marriage or the Christian right or anything else that doesn’t make him wear a Republican badge has not kept him from the most incredible sycopantic endorsement of what Bush et al were doing in Iraq, and that’s ok, but see, since that enthusiasm of his led him to deride anything and anyone who’d disagree or have the slightest doubts on the Bush management of the war, well, maybe that’s what makes his very timely and convenient realisation that there were indeed legitimate doubts and legitimate criticism a bit too unbelievable.


Nat Whilk 05.12.04 at 5:37 pm

“Rajeev, you ask, where do I get off calling Sullivan a paid PR man. Well let me ask you in turn: doesn’t Sullivan a) get paid and b) write for the Washington Times? I rest my case…”

Is everyone who gets paid to write for a newspaper a paid PR man, or only people you don’t like who write for newspapers you don’t like?


pepi 05.12.04 at 5:41 pm

No, only Andrew Sullivan.


Sean 05.12.04 at 8:46 pm

What is Sullivan saying that is any different from what Kerry says? Bush F’d it up. The cause was just, but Bush didn’t have what it takes to stear the ship properly. Sullivan had no more faith in Bush’s ability than Kerry himself. I’m not sure if this is an argument for a Kerry president or not. I’ll probably vote for him, but just barely.


Rajeev Advani 05.13.04 at 1:40 am


Andrew Sullivan has not been sycophantic about the Bush administration on Iraq. Again and again and again he has derided Bush and Rumsfeld for their troop mismanagement, their failure to focus on the ideological aspects of the war, the torture scandals, their actions in Fallujah, their election strategies, and more. He has linked to scores of critiques of America’s performance in Iraq as well — the Paul Berman critique written a few months ago for the NY Times comes to mind. I just don’t see where you’re coming from Pepi; if it was up to me, more conservative writers would be as flexible and thoughtful as Sullivan.


pepi 05.13.04 at 8:44 am

rajeev: well, I guess Andrew Sullivan has been such an expert at sneaking in and out of any possible position at the most convenient of times that he might have been both sycophantic, and not sycophantic, depending on the date or passage quoted.

But he was explicitely urging for support for Bush because – despite his gay marriage stance, Christian right freak friends, poor delivery of speeches, poor management of international relations, poor management of taxes, and anything else you may find in the archive – he thought Bush was the one and only to guarantee toughness against the “Islamofascists”.

All those despite’s were dismissed by that kind of absolute faith that, in the war on terror, after 9/11, this was the right man, the right administration. Fair enough! That’s ok! that’s a legitimate position as any.

But point is, Sullivan did not think there were any other legitimate positions at all.

He is now coming up with a one-line apology to the very criticism of the Bush policy on terrorism that he so grossly dismissed, and not just that, but also painted with large brushes as being anti-american, pro-islamofascist, a threat to the western civilisation, and so on…

Yourself, rajeev, did acknowledge he dismissed “so trivially” a rather big argument. I happen to think he also dismissed his own acknowledgement of that very trivially. You can’t spend four years and hundreds of paragraphs deriding anyone who criticises Bush _on anti-terrorism_ and then just, oops, sorry, there were actually solid reasons for perplexity there. That’s not “changing your mind”. That’s sweeping under the rug a rather bad case of sycophancy on your part. Yes, sycophancy. What else is it, when you write things like this:

…the loathed president Bush performed quite well in the aftermath, won a war and saw his ratings jump. Patriotism – the display of which nauseates large parts of the left-wing intelligentsia – proliferated from suburb to inner city. Military budgets went up – and presidential speeches became rallying cries again. And all this happened just when the left was licking its chops at the prospect of eviscerating a man they regarded as an illegitimate, unelected, moronic puppet of evil corporate interests.

Here’s the “opposition to Bush = American-haters” pearl:

Some left-wingers went under-cover; others blurted out what they truly felt – that America deserved to get bloodied – only to find public derision and dismay so intense they retreated to their bunkers. (Yes, Ms. Sontag, that includes you.) And then a happy few decided – what the hell? – that with little to lose, they might as well go even further in their opposition and not only call Bush illegitimate, but the entire war on terror a convenient excuse to ratchet up defense spending, rape the environment, and give Donald Rumsfeld the political version of a Viagra.

He spent YEARS writing this crap in the most rhetorical language, ugly even by speech-writing standards.

Now one-line of half-assed apology should be enough to what, pretend he never wrote any of that?

And since he wrote this:

Before the war, it was inexcusable but not that damning for the mainstream left merely to ignore the rabid, immoral anti-American rhetoric of some of their allies. But during a war, ignoring it is no longer an option. In fact, the mainstream left has a current obligation to declare its renunciation of what amounts to a grotesque moral inversion, to disavow the sentiments that were cheered at Columbia University.

Shouldn’t he be asking the right to overtly disown the statements of Mr “true American patriot” Rush Limbaugh, and assume, in the absence of a public denounciation, that those ideas Limbaugh expressed on torture are, like he says, what the whole right and the President himself thinks too but can’t say in public?


CincyDemo 05.13.04 at 2:38 pm

What Sullivan is saying is that he believed in an impossible vision: Bush’s so-called democratic imperium, where slaves embrace their masters. Bush’s failed Iraq war proves (one could even say empirically) that no amount of money, bombs and blood can produce their impossible vision.

Bush is still in denial about this, but what’s Sullivan’s reaction? He renounces his hero instead of their tragic vision.

Outside of Sullivan’s own personal S&M fantasy world, slaves never willingly embrace their cruel masters. That’s the reason why one of the halves even comic book fantasy S&M scenes has to bring along his credit card. It takes the skills of a paid professional actor trick even a willing rube into buying the fantasy. But I have the feeling Sullivan’s known that for a long, long time.


Rajeev Advani 05.13.04 at 3:21 pm

Pepi, I think we can reach some agreement on this one. When you end up thinking someone is both a sycophant and not a sycophant it means you’re barking up the wrong tree. Sullivan’s problem is not that he worships Bush — far from it, as my examples showed. His problem is that he conflates the radical left with the soft left, and in doing so trivializes the valid arguments of the latter. This is why the whole incompetency argument got overshadowed beneath a debate between the right and the radical left over liberation or fascism. Your snippets above show this well.

I hold that one of the most important traits that a political writer must have is the ability to properly categorize those who dissent from him/her. Sullivan has failed in this regard in favor of weighty rhetoric. For that reason I understand why you’re upset at him. But that doesn’t make him a Bush sycophant per se.


pepi 05.13.04 at 3:30 pm

sorry to keep piling up, but I just checked your man’s website and had to stop at this before I threw up:

Let’s start an internet campaign to insist that the major media – including the New Yorker, the networks, the major newsweeklies, and every major paper – run a picture of Zarqawi holding up Nick Berg’s severed head. It’s time to release the Pearl video and stills too. *Enough with the double standards*.

Let’s treat Al Qaeda and the Bush administration as institutions of equal standing and with equal degrees of legality and accountability, is that what he’s saying? Noooo…

The media were absolutely right to show the abuse photos. But they are only part of the story. It’s about time the media gave us all of it, however harrowing it is.

So after a brief stunt of pretending to be outraged only because the Abu Ghraib photos were out, he smelled the wind again and saw it blew in the direction of Werenotasbadandthisiswhatwereupagainstshire, and saw it was a good thing.

WHERE IS THE WEBSITE? The mainstream media is driving me bonkers. They keep referring to an al Qaeda website that carries the video of the beheading of Nick Berg. But they won’t tell us the name of the website! Not only will they not show what al Qaeda really is, they won’t even allow us to know how to find it. If anyone out there has a link, please let me know. We can get around the Washington Post, which has a “slideshow” of American abuse but won’t even provide a link to the horrors perpetrated by the enemy.

So, dear Sullivan readers, you are now informed, that you do not know what al Qaeda really is, until you download a video of a decapitation.

9/11? Bali? Madrid? Morocco? the world already forgot! we need more atrocities to remind us. they have a “grim but salutary effect”.

I don’t have the stomach to read further.

It’s not a case of the Bush camp losing Sullivan (for about three days only). More of a case of Sullivan losing his mind completely. Sad fact is, he’s not alone.


pepi 05.13.04 at 3:49 pm

dear rajeev, you write:

When you end up thinking someone is both a sycophant and not a sycophant it means you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Er, no, I was being sarcastic about him being both things at the same time. I was referring to his ability to adapt his sycophancy to whatever direction the current pulse of his audience seems to be pointing at. See above quoted passages from latest posts.

Sullivan’s problem is not that he worships Bush

No, indeed.

His problem is that he’s a despicable and hysterical propagandist. There you go. Does that make it simpler?

I hold that one of the most important traits that a political writer must have is the ability to properly categorize those who dissent from him/her.

Really? I think trying to categorize anyone is the last thing one needs to do, ever. Especially people who disagree. Especially on politics.

Sullivan has failed in this regard in favor of weighty rhetoric.

And insane pleas to the media to join in his craving to watch an Al Qaeda video where a poor man is killed. It should be broadcast on the evening news. So that even his family can see it. Because until they and we have all seen it uncut, in full, over and over, we just do not know how bad Al Qaeda really is. Or how relatively irrelevant Abu Ghraib is. In the grand scheme of things. Armageddon. Bring it on. Enough with double standards. Iraqis are terrorists and beheaders too. It must be seen. So that we can get into the warped sick minds of Al Qaeda, and feel the full extent of their insanity. It surely seems to work for some…

For that reason I understand why you’re upset at him.

I’m not the one who sounds upset, judging from Andrew’s latest contributions to his weblog pages.

But that doesn’t make him a Bush sycophant per se.

You’re right. Sycophant is too elegant a word.


Rajeev Advani 05.13.04 at 6:09 pm

I’m through defending Sullivan — I think I’ve said what I needed to about him. I disagree with his stance on Nick Berg, but he is nevertheless capable of keen insight if you wade through much of the sensationalist rhetoric. He speaks eloquently for many who are caught between the current political divide: those who are hawkish on foreign policy, yet more liberal on social and cultural fronts.

I’m interested that you say this:

Really? I think trying to categorize anyone is the last thing one needs to do, ever. Especially people who disagree. Especially on politics.

Certainly it’s important to be careful with categorizing. Those who are not end up calling all anti-war protestors “soft on fascism” without realizing there’s a significant difference between, say, Tariq Ali and John Mearsheimer, both of whom opposed the war, the latter for more sound reasons than the former. By categorize I don’t mean you throw someone’s views in a little box and disregard all else they say; what I mean is you put them in general camps. The pro-war movement consisted of liberal interventionists, WMD hawks, and others. The anti-war movement was also a motley crew: some felt Bush was incompetent, some felt Iraq was an economically motivated oil grab, some thought any intervention would amount to a disaster, and a few actually were soft on fascism. They were distinct viewpoints which Sullivan too often conflated.


Rajeev Advani 05.13.04 at 6:26 pm

OK, so maybe I’m not through defending him. I just checked out his site and found this:

THE RIGHT-WING UNHINGED: Tim Noah collects a few of the more nutty far right attempts to explain away, ignore or just duck the issue of Abu Ghraib. No surprise that the religious right is well represented. But none goes as low as National Review’s John Derbyshire.

Clearly he’s not trying to make Abu Ghraib “irrelevent” — as you say — if he’s devoting space to criticizing the right’s attempt to trivialize it. He often does lambast the right, which is one reason I appreciate his thinking.


pepi 05.13.04 at 6:37 pm

rajeev: fair enough, we’ll agree to disagree on Sullivan. Different drugs for different people, or something like that.

It’s funny though, cos what you just posted from Sullivan’s blog, is another of the items that make me go “the chutzpah this guy has”.

One minute he’s frustrated he hasn’t seen the Berg killing video and accuses the media of double standards in not wanting to show it.

Which clearly shows a line of reasoning not too dissimilar from the right-wing nuts who _also_ made the very same comments about the media not wanting us to see how bad AQ is, and how that video puts things into perspective, etc.

And then he goes and points the finger at those very nutters he was joining just a few hours before!

You know, the only question is, is it a case of denial rather than calculated hypocrisy and cynicism?

Hard to tell, when fame and money enter the picture.


Rajeev Advani 05.14.04 at 1:38 am

Well, I think the difference is right there in what you said: Sullivan is outraged by both the prison torture and the the Nick Berg execution, and wants both to be graphically displayed. Nutty right-wingers agree with him on the Nick Berg issue, but want to downplay, trivialize, and rationalize American torture. Sullivan wants even coverage of both sickening issues; nutty right-wingers do not.

I don’t see any hypocrisy in Sullivan’s position. Just because he agrees with nutty right-wingers — on such issues as al Qaeda and the so-called “liberal media” — doesn’t mean he’s a hypocrite when he criticizes those same right-wingers for ignoring the faults of the US.


pepi 05.14.04 at 7:40 am

Not to you, rajeev, to me, it does sound very very awkward to put it mildly.

I don’t see by what logic there should be outrage at the fact the evening news are not broadcasting a full sadistic video made by terrorists precisely to the effect of being shown.

When Sullivan and Limbaugh and nutty right-wingers happen to agree with Al Qaeda’s intentions to throw terroristic sadism and murder in our faces, well. What can you say?

I’m also surprised all those folks (except for terrorists, of course) haven’t even been slightly bothered by the idea that the Berg family might not appreciate. Or Berg himself. You know, the idea of respecting the dignity of a person while dying? Is that one of those other things we can throw out in the name of the war on terror?

And just what “grim but salutary” effect watching a horror film of a real horror that’s been alraedy amply described and documented and reported as top headline everywhere would have? Make people more mad at terrorists? Because… until now, everyone is not mad at terrorists at all, nah? We need to get people more outraged at _al Qaeda_, so that… they will go out in the streets and do what? try and spot al Qaeda members at the local drugstore? failing that, spot the nearest lookalike and do what?

How does the Berg killing video relate to the reporting – and investigating – of the cases of torture _which, unlike Al Qaeda’s tactics, are our responsibility_?

I don’t know. But ok. Let’s hand the fight against terrorism to the most eager and willing among TV audiences. Cos clearly, the police and military and intelligence are not good enough, cos they’re too professional and have too many rules to abide to. (Or they’re corrupt, ineffectual, liberals, whatever). We need a grassroot anti-terrorism reaction from people who can get genuinely mad and are not bound by professional codes or liberal concerns about laws.

That’s not what Sullivan said. Of course. But it’s the kind of reasoning that often pops up from those who advocate the showing of the Berg video.

And last question that bothers me is, why is it that, when Daniel Pearl was killed, no one (at media level at least) was clamouring so hard for the video to be shown? A year later, and we’re all a step closer to the terrorist mentality that we end up acquiescing with their intent in making those videos in the first place? Isn’t that striking?

No one even objected to the editing out of the sequences were people were jumping off the Twin Towers, as far as I recall. Everyone, or almost everyone, accepted and understood the reason why it was disrespectful to show that.

Sorry for all these unrelated thoughts, but, I’m just wondering what happened to a lot of ideas that were supposed to make the values of democratic institutions and citizens different from the ideology and ideological tactics of terrorist organizations.


pepi 05.14.04 at 8:00 am

Here’s about another (could they ever stop) instance of Sullivan’s pathetic hypocrisy:

Sully is indeed concerned with the Berg family. Not with the fact he might be offending them and their son’s memory by clamouring for the video to be shown. Respect of personal and family dignity is of course to be dismissed when there’s higher goals such as the war on terror (or a book to sell). He is disappointed that the Berg family is _angry at the US government_ for detaining Nick for two weeks when he was about to leave Iraq last March, preventing him from coming home then releasing him without any protection into the hands of who knows.

Yeah. How dare they expect accountability from a government when these terrorists are so wild?

It’s so amazing, that after spending years making the charge that all Bush opponents equate the US with terrorists, Sullivan and like-minded people would do just that. For a higher cause, of course.

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