Monday, December 25, 2006
Merry Christmas, I don't want to fight tonight:
Dear Jon,

A long time ago, we used to be friends. My best wishes go out to you, Robin, Joanna & Benjy for a happy and prosperous New Year. You remain one of the brightest lights of American liberalism, and for that, we owe you a debt of gratitude. Please believe me when I say I'm being sincere.

That said, I read your column with some dismay. The points you make about neoconservatism playing itself by its association with Bush on the Iraq war apply with greater force to, well, The New Republic. After all, the Standard et. al. had something to gain by the pact they made -- their emergence as the court philosophers of the administration. The magazine, and yourself, had no such investment. You, better and earlier than anyone else, pointed out that the central fact about Bush is that he's a liar. And yet, for a variety of reasons, you and the magazine bought the war.

Now, TNR's editorial position, which I shared at the time, was that there was a broader democratization project that the war advanced, and despite the demonstrated venality of Bush, the project was worth supporting. You didn't buy this, and much to your credit. Your arguments had to do instead with what you believed about Saddam Hussein, WMD and the world order. The trouble with this, as you would probably concede at this point, is that it reduced in late 2002 in significant ways to believing Bush. What I mean by that isn't simply a matter of accepting Bush's statements about WMD. I mean as well that one needed to buy -- or at least suspend disbelief about -- Bush's contentions about the jolly outcomes of removing Saddam. You point out in your column that the Standard and others had coherent reasons to disbelieve that the mission was feasible given the size of the military. But they went along, for the bargain described above. Why did you?

You might object that this is a matter of score-settling, pursued by a disgruntled ex-TNR employee who in any case went along with the war himself. Fine. But I don't mean it like that. I mean it to say that going forward, it's important to separate what we believe about the consequences of, say, withdrawal from the way Bush describes it. Of course, just because your apparent belief that post-occupation Iraq would be a nightmare tracks with Bush's doesn't mean in any way that you're buying into his framework. Decent and well-intentioned people can believe widely divergent things about the way Iraq will look after a U.S. withdrawal. However, I would ask that you consider whether your thinking about this question is implicated in the same self-suckering dynamic you identify in your column. Because you're too smart and too good for that.

See you at Five Guys, I hope, some day.
--Spencer Ackerman