SEVEN WEEKS AGO, I published my case against the Iraq war. I wrote that although I had originally advocated military intervention in Iraq, and had even signed a letter to that effect shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I had since changed my mind.
But apparently this kind of honest acknowledgment is verboten. In the weeks since my book came out, I've been challenged, attacked and vilified from both ends of the ideological spectrum. From the right, columnist Charles Krauthammer has accused me of being an opportunistic traitor to the neoconservative cause — and a coward to boot. From the left, I've been told that I have "blood on my hands" for having initially favored toppling Saddam Hussein and that my "apology" won't be accepted.
In our ever-more-polarized political debate, it appears that it is now wrong to ever change your mind, even if empirical evidence from the real world suggests you ought to. I find this a strange and disturbing conclusion.
I previously wrote about Fukuyama's "change of heart" here.
This editorial needs comment. Really. Let's start here:
In my view, no one should be required to apologize for having supported intervention in Iraq before the war. There were important competing moral goods on both sides of the argument, something that many on the left still refuse to recognizeTrying to have it both ways, Francis? "I was right to support, then not support the war, but those who also didn't support the war were wrong?" C'mon, dude.
The debate over the war shouldn't have been whether it was morally right to topple Hussein (which it clearly was), but whether it was prudent to do so given the possible costs and potential consequences of intervention and whether it was legitimate for the U.S. to invade in the unilateral way that it did.
Again, I was right/wrong but you are wrong-style of debate. "It was really a great idea, but might not actually, you know, work."
(I know that many on the left believe that the prewar estimates about Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were all a deliberate fraud by the Bush administration, but if so, it was one in which the U.N. weapons inspectors and French intelligence were also complicit.)I'm pretty sure Scott Ritter and others might have some pretty good arguments against this point.
It was also easier to support the war before we knew the full dimensions of the vicious insurgency that would emerge and the ease with which the insurgents could disrupt the building of a democratic state.As predicted by many, many people.
But in the years since then, it is the right that has failed to come to terms with these uncomfortable facts. The failure to find WMD and to make a quick transition to a stable democracy — as well as the prisoner abuse and the inevitable bad press that emerges from any prolonged occupation — have done enormous damage to America's credibility and standing in the world. These intangible costs have to be added to the balance sheet together with the huge direct human and monetary costs of the war.For once, Francis, I agree with you.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently admitted that the United States made numerous tactical errors in Iraq, but she insisted that the basic strategic decision to go to war was still as valid as ever because we foreclosed once and for all the possibility that Iraq would break out of sanctions and restart its WMD programs.
But we now know a lot that throws that fundamental strategic rationale into question.
The logic of my prewar shift on invading Iraq has now been doubly confirmed. I believe that the neoconservative movement, with which I was associated, has become indelibly associated with a failed policy, and that unilateralism and coercive regime change cannot be the basis for an effective American foreign policy. I changed my mind as part of a necessary adjustment to reality.The reason many of us on the left still don't feel inclined to accept your non-apology is that it's really not so much an apology as a snotty declaration that you really knew what was right all along, when you clearly didn't. As far back as your PNAC letter it seemed clear to many that the idea of Democratiztion of the Middle East was a really fanciful disaster waiting to happen.
What has infuriated many people is President Bush's unwillingness to admit that he made any mistakes whatsoever in the whole Iraq adventure. On the other hand, critics who assert that they knew with certainty before the war that it would be a disaster are, for the most part, speaking with a retrospective wisdom to which they are not entitled.
That you have partially distanced yourself from the goals is a great thing. But to still maintain that many of the rationales for the Iraq war were good and noble ideas indicates that you're still not getting it.
And there's still the Libby Defense Fund thing.