JONATHAN CHAIT MARCH 22, 2011
Andrew Sullivan complains about the fact that many supporters of the Iraq war also support the Libya intervention:
The American people experienced the Iraq fiasco as something never to be entertained again. The neocons and liberal interventionists in Washington saw it as one road bump in their plan to make the whole world a better place (and treat it as if it were a matter of history, not still absorbing American arms and money and occupying troops). That's why a man like Paul Wolfowitz is unashamed to speak of America's moral standing, when he was integral to an administration that authorized torture; or why Lawrence Kaplan who was spectacularly wrong about the commitment in Iraq now feels no hesitation to pontificate on Libya without any acknowledgment of his massive failure of judgment only a few years ago; or why TNR, having had to beat its breast over Iraq, snaps back into the familiar posture that doing nothing is equivalent to massacring thousands ourselves.
You know who else supported the Iraq war and is as powerful as ever? Andrew! So what exactly is the rule here? If you supported the Iraq war, you're disqualified from expressing an opinion any any other future war, unless you're against it? Is it a one-war penalty or lifetime ban? If the Libya intervention succeeds and confounds Andrew's warnings, is he required to either support the next war or refrain from commenting?
I don't get this obsession among critics of this operation with arguing over moral authority. It's another hangover from the Iraq war, and the exaggerated but not totally false interpretation that George W. Bush was a helpless dupe led to war by neoconservative intellectuals. It's a mode of analysis that makes writers into powerful actors and figures like the president into bit players. The most important figure in this debate by several orders of magnitude is Iraq war critic Barack Obama.
This argument over who has the right to comment about the war, or the endless philosophical discursions into the relative merits of anti-malarial nets -- an issue that hardly anybody ever brought up until it was discovered as a foil against intervention in Libya -- is a bizarre distraction. Look, the substantive arguments against intervening in Libya are pretty compelling. They could well be vindicated. I come down on the side if intervention but I certainly see the merits of the case against. I don't understand why war critics are obsessed with making their case in ad hominem terms, and it's all the more bizarre when the ad hominem arguments are made by people who would themselves be disqualified by them.