December 15, 2008

ANDREW SULLIVAN, 2002:

MAN OF THE YEAR: I don’t understand why Time couldn’t manage to say it, but the Financial Times gets it right. This was George W. Bush’s year. Slowly building toward ridding the world of Saddam’s threat, shrewdly identifying North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an axis of evil, demanding democracy from the Palestinians, presiding over modest economic growth despite a terrible global outlook, winning an almost unprecedented vote of approval in the November elections, capping it all with a Philadelphia speech that was a watershed in the GOP’s struggle with its own internal demons – by any measure, this was a spectacular performance. The high-point? The U.N. speech. Here’s the FT:

It was a defining moment of the year, when the leader of the last remaining great power bowed to international opinion not out of obligation but out of choice. At the UN, Mr Bush displayed the combination of power and restraint that has elevated his presidency in 2002. Under his leadership, the US has acted more multilaterally, more cautiously and more wisely than many had feared after the provocation of September 11 2001.

Forget the bloviations of the Hate-America-First crowd. History will one day credit Bush with patience, multilateralism and conviction. But right now, history is still being made. And there is a war to be continued and to be won.

ANDREW SULLIVAN, 2004:

NATTERING NABOBS: There are plenty of reasons to worry about Iraq. There are also many valid criticisms of the occupation. But I have yet to read any cogent criticism that offers any better future plan than the one president Bush outlined Monday night. John Kerry’s plaintive cries to “internationalize” the transition are so vacuous they barely merit attention. The transition is already being run by the U.N.; very few countries have the military capacity to cooperate fully with the coalition, and few want to; quicker elections would be great, but very difficult to pull off on a national level before the end of the year. So what are Bush’s opponents proposing? More troops now? But wouldn’t that undercut the message of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis? A sudden exit of all troops? But no one – apart from right-wing and leftwing extremists – thinks that’s a wise move. Giving a future Iraqi government a veto power over troop activities? Done, according to Blair. The truth is: Bush’s plan is about as good as we’re likely to get. And deposing a dictator after decades of brutal rule could never have led immediately to insta-democracy. Do I wish we had had more troops at the start to maintain more order? You bet. Do I wish incompetence had not allowed Abu Gjraib to happen? Of course. But none of that would have prevented the Baathists and Jihadists from wreaking havoc. Do I wish the original war had been bloodier so that the real battle with Saddam’s henchmen could have been joined all at once rather than over a long year of low-level conflict? Er, no. Remember what our anti-war friends predicted at the outset? That the battle for Baghdad could cost up to 10,000 Coalition casualties? I’m quite happy that didn’t happen. 800 deaths is bad enough. What I’m saying, I guess, is that as long as the anti-war critics continue relentless negativism without any constructive alternative, they will soon lose the debate. Americans want to know how to move this war forward, not why we shouldn’t have started it in the first place. Right now, the president has the best plan for making this work. What does anyone else have?

You know, as long as we’re looking at what people said back then.

UPDATE: Reader Raymond Eckhardt writes: “So, is your implication that you’ve changed your mind on the subject the way Sully has on Bush?” Not many people change their minds on anything the way Andrew has on Bush. My views are pretty close to Jack Goldsmith’s, and I don’t think that represents much of a shift, if any; certainly nothing of Sullivan-Bush magnitude. Meanwhile, here’s our podcast interview with Goldsmith from last year. Sorry the transcript’s not there — it seems to have vanished in the WordPress move, maybe because it was in the “extended entry” area; I’ll try to get it back.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Some context, and some criticism of Andrew’s Bush-blaming, from Shannon Love. Converting Andrew into a Pol Pot sympathizer is unfair — though given Andrew’s tone lately, he’s hardly in a position to complain about over-excitability.

MORE: Reader Michael Bales writes: “Andrew can be a real snot sometimes but he has a point. He quoted you taking a pretty hard line against the perpetrators of abuse at Abu Ghraib and now a bipartisan report makes a direct link between Rumsfeld, Bush, et. al., and the abuses committed at AG. Yet you seem resistant to taking the same hard line against the policy makers. You’ve ruled out that you changed your mind so why don’t the civilian leaders deserve the same punishment as you advocated for the grunts ? Is it because you dispute the connection made by the report, or something else?”

Well, the perpetrators at Abu Ghraib were punished pretty harshly. I haven’t read the report, but the news stories I saw suggested that the “direct link” was that CIA interrogations created a “climate” in which abuse was considered acceptable. Even assuming that’s true, it’s hardly a case of direct responsibility. Unless I’ve missed something, there’s no evidence that the higher-ups wanted the abuse at Abu Ghraib to take place (and why would they?). If you’ve got other problems with other interrogations, that’s a different story — but that’s not what Andrew was writing about, when he talked about soldiers at Abu Ghraib acting under the command of George W. Bush, for which Shannon Love rightly nails him.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In an update Shannon Love looks at the report and comments: ‘So, in sum, the report says nothing new but merely repeats the claims made when the military first reveal[ed] Abu Ghraib i.e. that Bush’s authorization of enhanced interrogation created a moral climate that lead to Abu Ghraib. It does not say Abu Ghraib was the intentional, top down policy as Sullivan claims. Sullivan lied.” More here.

STILL MORE: Okay, now I’ve (quickly) read the report. There’s plenty of troubling stuff there, much of it echoing things in Jack Goldsmith’s book, but Shannon Love is right that Sullivan has misrepresented what it said about Abu Ghraib. It’s mostly about Guantanamo, the misapplication of SERE techniques, etc. Abu Ghraib is seen as a “climate” issue, not (as Guantanamo, etc.) a policy issue.

Meanwhile, reader David Joy wants more vintage Sullivan quotes: “Please, please, please dig up more vintage quotes from him on George Bush. Maybe some with the ‘he just gets it’ refrain.”

I’m kinda busy right now, but anyone who’s interested in scrolling through his archives should feel free.

MORE STILL: An email from Greyhawk of The Mudville Gazette:

Something to consider re: Abu Ghraib

The case was well along before the key defendant’s uncle handed the pictures to CBS. In fact, that event happened on the very day of the Article 32 Hearing for said defendant (a hearing that determines whether there is sufficient evidence/cause to go to Court Martial). In fact, based solely on the dates one could speculate there was a degree of blackmail involved… but that’s another story and certainly there’s no proof beyond the coincidental timing.

But the point made in my first line above matters because the defense(s) had already built their case(s) before 60 Minutes broadcast their photos. And none were using the “our actions were U.S. policy!!” claim. That’s something the media came up with, plain and simple. Ivan Frederick’s (ranking NCO, the one who’s uncle provided the pictures to CBS et al) defense was along the lines of “no one gave us rules or guidance!” – not “Rummy made us do it!” And while some of the junior troops did say they did what “higher ups” told them to do, for the most part those “higher ups” were Frederick and Charles Graner. By the time the media concocted a story whereby they were all acting under orders/policy passed down from Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush, etc. it was too late. There actual defense was “on record”.

The Taguba report was also complete before CBS broadcast the story. It too was provided to the media on the same day. In it Taguba lauded those who did the initial investigations (his was a follow up due to the rank of people who were later punished and obvious significance of the crime) and declared that these were poorly led and supervised people working the night shift. Finally, there’s been at least one interview published with the young soldier that turned these people in to Army authorities in which he explains how clueless the senior folks at Abu Graib were to what was happening on the night shift (and how disgusted he was with the US media). . . .

Doesn’t matter how John McCain feels about it. Doesn’t matter how Carl Levin feels about it. Doesn’t matter how Andy Sullivan feels about it. Abu Ghraib was a bunch of poorly supervised night shifters heavily influenced by at least one sadistic bastard. That’s supported by a preponderance of evidence collected long before Mary Mapes saw her first ever (perhaps) naked pyramid.

Feelings are all that matter, aren’t they?

EVEN MORE: Another thoroughly dishonest response from Andrew: “So Jack Goldsmith and Glenn Reynolds believes that the techniques revealed at Abu Ghrain seemed reasonable at the time?” Yeah, that’s what the above is about. And he repeats the dishonest claim that Lynndie England was following Bush’s orders. Jeez.

Andrew has squandered his credibility with this kind of thing. There’s plenty to work with without being dishonest, but — as always — this is more about Andrew than about the subject ostensibly at hand.

And reader John Endean writes: “He is dishonest, famously excitable, and, for some reason, particularly hostile to you. Why do you have him on your blogroll? I don’t think you should link only to those with whom you agree, but Sullivan is so over the top that it is tough to understand why you do him the favor of calling him part of ‘big media’ if in fact that is a favor. Of course, you must run your site as you see fit, but I’m curious about this.”

Habit, I guess. He was once a great blogger. Now he’s a cautionary example.

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