John Podhoretz quotes the Times' John Burns. Burns, you may recall, was the guy Andrew Sullivan was quoting all the time in the "Democracy Whiskey Sexy" days of post-invasion euphoria. Burns, who has been much in Iraq since before the war and actually knows what he is talking about, is today far less enthusiastic about the adventure.
Why does the Bush loyalist Podhoretz quote Burns' despairing words? The sections Podhoretz chooses to put in boldface explain: while "the American troops were greeted as liberators" (mumble mumble hubris disaster mumble) "I think that the instincts that led to much that went wrong were good American instincts: the desire not to have too heavy of a footprint, the desire to empower Iraqis."
This is a clever way for Podhoretz to suggest that his own tireless war cheerleading (which only began to wither in late 2006) was not because of arrogance nor of ignorance, but because he loved the Iraqis not wisely but too well. Podhoretz' colleague Mona Charen rushes to join his T-group, comparing her feeling for the Iraqi people favorably to that of liberals who were saying "let's not bomb Iraq" in 2003:
Liberals barely know the name of Iraq. For them, it's just another country name to slip into the Vietnam slot of their rigid mental architecture...I'll bet!
...[Burns] may be right or he may be wrong, but the sensibility he expresses — that our mistakes were honest ones (not wanting too large a footprint, hoping the Iraqis would handle matters on their own) — is such a relief.
It pulls something into focus that I hadn't fully realized until this minute, namely that we have been giving ourselves a terrible pounding for the past 12 months. Not all mistakes are created equal. Our mistakes in Iraq have been well-intentioned ones.Try to imagine Mona Charen wracked by self-doubt and nightmares about mangled Iraqi children until John Burns came along to tell her she is, too, a good person! Not bloody likely.
But I would sooner believe Charen capable of second thoughts (or of first thoughts) than I would believe it of the glibertarian Arnold Kling. Kling's essay is basically devoted to herding restive libertarians back into the GOP -- and so desperate is he to realize this mission that he's not only willing to reverse course on Iraq, he's even willing to blame the Iraqis for his change of heart:
On the war in Iraq, the National Review partisans demanded victory rather than defeat. I would love to see victory, but I do not know which side we are fighting on. At this point, I am fed up with the Iraqis. I see them acting like siblings who won't stop fighting, coming up to us saying, "He did it! Punish him!" Until they learn to act like adults, I see no point in fighting their battles for them.In previous discussions, Kling suggested there was "no substitute for victory" in Iraq. Turns out that, for him, there is at least one substitute: utter capitulation.
Self-esteem building and surrender -- I thought that was supposed to be our gig.