Like many in the blogosphere, I have become rather fed up with Andrew Sullivan's incoherent rantings. The term coined by Mickey Kaus -- "Excitable Andrew" -- is appropriate . Sully recently, and gratuitously, lashed out not only at Kaus, but also at Prof. Reynolds, Powerline, and The Belmont Club as being among bloggers who seem too willing to pull the wool over their own eyes and only report positive news about the Bush Administration's accomplishments in Iraq.
Gentleman he is, Glenn has responded with a polite putdown. The guys at Powerline have responded appropriately, as well, with a post entitled, "Steadiness and Unsteadiness." They correctly point out that what Sully mistakes for sycophancy is simply an appreciation for President Bush's steadfastness of purpose. As Deacon notes:
It's one thing for a blogger like Sullivan to be upbeat about Iraq one week and distraught the next. It's another thing for the president's mood to oscillate in this manner.
I think that this is essentially correct, but I will go a little bit further than that. Sully's problem is at least two-fold: (a) he doesn't understand the first thing about military history, which renders him unable to place events in Iraq in their proper historical perspective; and (b) he is, in my estimation, a coward.
If Sully had any understanding of military history, he would grasp Powerline's comments about the importance of steadiness in a wartime president. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Churchill, all saw their armed forces experience enormous setbacks. Washington lost more battles than he won during the Revolutionary War, and certainly Abraham Lincoln saw the American Civil War descend from what many thought would be a quick and painless gentlemen's duel into the world's first trench war; an inferno that consumed the lives of over half a million Americans before it was over.
If Sully understood the lessons of these leaders' experiences he would understand that the most desirable quality in a wartime leader is steadfastness of purpose, of maintaining one's eye on a strategic goal while being able to understand how events themselves may lead to the necessity of adjusting one's strategic vision. This was certainly true in Lincoln's case. He began with a strategic goal of defeating the Confederate Army in order to save the Union but, by the time of his Second Inaugural Address, he had come to see the War as a terrible price in blood for the liberation of America's slaves:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
There is a hint of fatalism in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Yet it was not fatalism that guided his strategic thinking about the conduct of the War. The speech was no doubt intended as a prayer on behalf of the nation to find some purpose in the terrible suffering that it was collectively enduring at that time (and Sully might note that the business of the United States carried on at great speed despite the suffering wraught by this conflict -- industry prospered, immigration skyrocketed, the Transcontinental Railroad was commissioned, citizens of the Union voted, with Lincoln winning an overwhelming majority of the military vote against a former general who had been beloved of his men in his day, and so on...).
But Lincoln's strategic judgment continued to be that the South's ability to wage war must be destroyed in order to achieve peace, and toward this purpose he had to fire a litany of generals (who stubbornly modeled their tactics on Napoleon while the "grunts" came to understand that the advent of the rifled musket and rifled cannon had somehow changed things) before two grim and determined reapers rose to the top -- Grant and Sherman. That he came to see the liberation of the slaves as a desirable and necessary outcome of the War reflected his ability to grasp the moral dimension of the situation as the conflict lapsed into a seeming quagmire that lasted for four, bloody years.
President Bush's strategic judgment in this current conflict, like Lincoln's, has remained steadfast. Also, like Lincoln, President Bush has exhibited the agility of mind to find a higher moral frame of reference for determining what constitutes success for our side, while never losing sight of the strategic goals he set in place from the outset. Like the Civil War, the Iraq War has been much more difficult than we anticipated, but that challenge is being met by the commanders in the field, who have been given the necessary latitude to simply find what works.
Sully frequently harps that the Bush Administration went into the war with too few troops to stabilize Iraq. There might be something to this, but again it seems that Sully is both uninformed and disingenuous. He is uninformed because he hasn't explained how "more troops" would necessarily solve the problems that we have encountered, there. Where the major "uprisings" have occurred -- Najaf and Fallujah -- our military has defeated the thugs in detail, meaning both militarily and politically.
Sully's view in this regard also ignores the fact that the key issue, as far as the terrorists are concerned, is our response to the primary instigators, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Bushies haven't tipped their hand on this point, just yet. I suspect that they want to keep their options open while awaiting the outcome of the elections to see what kind of government we're going to have in Iraq, and how that government wishes to have us respond (if at all) to its neighbors' deliberate efforts to destabilize the country.
Sully's criticism is also disingenuous because he seems to be backpedalling (no, that's too soft -- more like flailing) to disassociate himself with a war that he strongly advocated. As Donald Rumsfeld said, you go to war with the military you have, not the military you wish you had.
This may seem glib, but it's not meant to be. As Lincoln learned with General McClellan in the Peninsula campaign, you can send a general all the soldiers he asks for, but if he has no idea how to move against the enemy, or if he unnecessarily obsesses over what the enemy is going to do and he hesitates, those soldiers will be to no account. Indeed, in the hands of a poor strategist and tactician, the lives of a wealth of combat troops can be easily wasted.
While I think it's a good idea to increase the overall size of the military, I haven't yet seen a cogent argument for why a significant increase in the number of soldiers deployed to Iraq would make a difference. Indeed, it might only result in terrorists having more targets, and in our seeing more bloody headlines in the news every day.
Finally, I come to the second part of my observation, about which I will be brief. Sully advocated a war. No one who read him after 9-11 through the beginning of the Iraq War could miss his steady advocacy of overthrowing Saddam's regime in order to install a democratic order that would become a model for the Middle East.
In fairness to Sully, he still believes in this vision, but his panicked flight from owning up to events as they unfolded has revealed a cowardly streak that I personally find reprehensible. And that is precisely what he is doing -- sniping from the bleachers so that he can tell his friends in Provincetown, You see, if the Bushies had done it right, my views would have been vindicated. But they screwed everything up, so I haven't been proved wrong.
This sort of behavior is terribly unseemly, especially in such an influential pundit who so fervently advocated the cause we are now engaged in. It's sort of like disowning your favorite sports team when it falls below .500 in mid-season. But it's worse than that, because lives and history are at stake, lives that Sully argued for putting on the line.
Sometimes, such things can be forgiven. People change their minds, they realize that they were mistaken. I myself have sometimes worried that maybe our involvement in the ME is our generational folly, one that is bound to end in catastrophe. But those thoughts occur only in moments of despair, when I find myself overwhelmed by the cost in blood that is being exacted on a daily basis over there.
On reflection and rational observation, I have always come back around to acknowledging that the strategic goal of a democratic Iraq remains achieveable. Like James Lileks, I take the long, long view. A somewhat dysfunctional democracy -- a la Turkey or take your pick of Latin American democracies -- would be a perfectly acceptable result some five, ten, or even twenty years out from now. What's important in the short term is to look at what the larger trends are, and those trends seem to be favorable.
As someone who advocated the war, and continues to advocate the Bush Administration's endeavors, there, I feel that I owe it to the soldiers and Marines on the ground to remain steadfast in my support. Sully would probably call it bullheaded stubborness, but he's entitled to that view. More troubling for Sully is how he seems to have abandoned responsibility for his own views.
Sully's erratic position on Iraq shows that the enemy has managed to achieve, where he is concerned, what baseball pitchers call "getting inside your head." The enemy managed to get inside Sully's head through its allies in the MSM, who have faithfully reported the enemy's atrocities while completely ignoring the tactical and strategic victories that our brave men and women have achieved. Of course, the MSM has also been only too glad to report the occasional own goal, such as Abu Ghraib, with glee.
This is a war that is being fought in the media every bit as much as it is being fought on the field of battle. Sully has taken the MSM's message to heart, and has allowed himself, repeatedly, to panic. When Sully turned on Bush and endorsed John Kerry, Sully fled the field of battle.
He's been fleeing faster ever since.
UPDATE: John Cole comments.
ANOTHER UPDATE (for the wretchedly pedantic): This may be too obvious to mention, but I didn't mean to imply that Churchill was a "wartime president." Perhaps I should have used the term "wartime leader." Also, Washington wasn't yet president when he led the American army in the Revolutionary War. The office of the POTUS wasn't even created until a few years after the war ended. But I think that the analogy is no less appropriate.