Reliving The Iraq War, Ctd

Readers are starting to get more specific with their feedback on the e-book (available to subscribers here):

I’ve finished reading through I Was Wrong. First of all, thanks for giving us subscribers this long-form content. It’s greatly appreciated. The entire collection is worth reading, but I think that andrew-sullivan-i-was-wrong-covermuch can be summarized and learned from your very first post written during 9/11, in particular, “When our shock recedes, our rage must be steady and resolute and unforgiving.”

If there is one lesson I think that is vital to learn, it’s that rage is never a good response to an attack. Rage feels righteous and it moves us to do things that we would never otherwise consider. Perhaps the most chilling and ironically prophetic sentence in that first post was that “[t]he response must be disproportionate to the crimes.” It certainly was, and now we can see the cost of disproportionate revenge. We can see that anger and a desire for revenge can lead us to lashing out blindly and, worse, stupidly at those we fear and hate, turning us into awful parodies of that very hatred. It’s no wonder that the Bush administration was able to sell us on going to war against Saddam. We needed someone to punch. Bush and Cheney just gave us a target to plant our fists in.

What worries me is that I don’t know that we’ve really learned our lesson. In the aftermath of the Boston bombing, I saw and heard much of that same righteous anger looking for a target. I worry that if and when another truly large attack occurs, we’ll be perfectly content to follow the next call to war without pausing to consider whether it’s even the right war.


I read your e-book last night. It was riveting. I read most if not all these posts at the time and the book took me back to that time in a visceral way. The history came alive for me. It also gave me a glimpse into another person’s psyche in a new and vivid way. It’s like seeing pieces of glass laid down every day, then all the sudden stepping back and discovering a broad mosaic. I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced history in such a vivid way.

If you read the e-book and want to discuss particular parts of that history, our in-tray is open. Another reader:

The entire first part of I Was Wrong is post after post of invective against “appeasers” and “decadent liberals” – your words, not mine – for offering even the slightest objections to rushing headlong into Iraq. Then, in the heat of the 2002 midterms (while, let’s not forget, the entire GOP party apparatus dealt the “Vote Democratic and 9/11 will happen again” card from the bottom of the deck), you accused the Democrats of not even participating in debate over the war – while at the same time criticizing anyone who entered the debate on the side opposing yours.

Everyone against the war, according to Sullivan-circa-2003, was an America-hater, a French person, or an editor of the New York Times. And even the members of the military who express doubts about the workability of an invasion are just cowardly “doves.” Oh, and Colin Powell’s bullshit-ridden presentation to the UN Security Council got you excited. All this after you admitted (and this is a very Christian sentiment) that you were hoping for war. Seriously? I’m at March of 2003, and if I read the phrase “Fifth-Columnist” – which you of all people would know is a code-word for “traitor” – my iPad is in serious jeopardy of being thrown out the window.

It gets better. Another:

I read I Was Wrong in one sitting and listened to your conversation with Mikey Piro shortly afterward. I have to be honest, there were points when I was astonished at what I was reading.

There were even points when I questioned whether I should re-subscribe. What lead me to that questioning was not, as one of your readers said, the fact that you were wrong. I do not look towards you to be an oracle. Mainly I was almost scared by what I read. Your talk of exterminating the enemy, your desire to go to war with the entire Middle East to root out and destroy terrorism in all corners of the globe, your denunciation of the anti-war crowd without appreciation … this was not the Andrew I felt I had gotten to know over the past couple years.

Where was Oakeshott? Where was Saint Francis? Where were the tempered, multi-faceted reflections on the world that linked specific events to broader intellectual themes? Where were the analyses that drew upon a variety of sources and influences? Instead, there was simply a Manichean view of the world filtered through deep anger and hurt. This was frightening to me. I felt that one of my mentors (yes, despite the fact that we have never met, although I saw you riding your bike in Ptown once and had a mini-freakout, your writing has had a mentoring effect on me) had been sullied, that I had been betrayed.

Having been in elementary school when you were writing about Iraq, I thought I had no understanding or contact with the early Dish. My initial reaction to I Was Wrong only confirmed this thought. But then I realized, as Abu Ghraib and torture began to weigh more heavily on your writing and view of the war itself, that I have been deeply in contact with the early Dish. How? Because I got the overwhelming feeling that the Dish since the war is a reaction to the Dish before the war.

Even more than that, the Dish since Iraq is atonement. It is attempting to atone for the person who wrote the infamous “fifth column” paragraph and many others that were equally vehement. The diverse riches of the Dish today are an atonement for the single-mindedness of your writing on Iraq. Is it the sole driving force? Maybe not. But I think that every time you post theological writing, or post reader responses, or cultivate a dynamic and often wrenching reader thread, and definitely when you write about conservatism, there is an element of atonement.

I feel like you don’t feel as if your apologies are enough, that writing I Was Wrong is enough. The only way to truly atone for what happened is to make sure it never happens again and your way of ensuring that is through creating a tapestry of essays, criticism, responses, and discourse that, when taken as a whole, demonstrate that the only way forward is a reflective and informed skepticism. It shows the readers of this blog that the vagaries of life can only be endured through a disposition towards the world that appreciates its nuance, confusing contradictions, subtlety, and complex interiority. Leveling critiques will not do. Single-mindedness will not do. A lack of familiarity with the arguments against your position will not do. That is the only way that the stain of Iraq can be faced.

Thank you for teaching me this and much more.

I cannot undo the ugly, but the open Dish model, and what I now do every day, is my attempt at atonement.

Update from a reader:

I haven’t read the ebook yet – may do so over the holiday.  Not sure I can take it a second time. But reading the readers’ reactions you’re posting, I’m fascinated by the people who feel angered or shocked by the Andrew.9-11 version of the Dish. I am now a subscriber and have been a daily reader (well, maybe hourly) since the run up to the Iraq War. What brought me to the Dish was a search for a conservative, pro-war voice that would be a reasonable, educated counter-balance to my own views and all the anti-war stuff I was reading at the time. I couldn’t make any sense out of what we were doing (even from a cold, hard, Machiavellian perspective – it seemed insane to me), and I was hopeful that you would at least provide some perspective into that worldview.  I came for the perspective, but stayed for the evolution.

But, as I’ve seen you grapple with all of this, and other issues (I think I’ve even noticed a bit of softening in your white-hot hatred of the Clintons, but thankfully no movement on Sarah Palin), I have to say that I miss having someone as smart and articulate as you are to turn to for the opposing view.  I’m sure some of this is the influence you have had on some of my viewpoints (I have a much broader view of the Catholic Church because of you, for instance), but it has been amazing to watch and read and be a part of all of this.  Thanks for sharing yourself so transparently.  Glad to pay for the privilege.