Andrew Sullivan, in the latest issue of Atlantic magazine, is more than a bit queasy about the Bush legacy. After a public and sordid tryst with the Bush administration, Sullivan should be more worried about his own legacy.
In a loquacious and rambling open letter (8,544 words), Sullivan begs George W. Bush to make a clean breast of things, quit making excuses and take responsibility for certain unspecified crimes. Sullivan should be the one apologizing, and in part he does. Far too much of his Doublethink remains: this is not Sullivan’s mea culpa. These are the incoherent ramblings of a man with a terribly guilty conscience. At least Sullivan has a conscience. George W. Bush does not and no such apology will be made.
In Gunter Grass’ novel, the Tin Drum, we read:
"Even today I am occasionally sorry that I declined. I talked myself out of it, saying: 'You know, Mr. Bebra, I prefer to regard myself as a member of the audience. I cultivate my little art in secret, far from all applause. But it gives me pleasure to applaud your accomplishments.' Mr. Bebra raised a wrinkled forefinger and admonished me: 'My dear Oskar, believe an experienced colleague. Our kind has no place in the audience. We must perform, we must run the show. If we don't, it's the others that run us. And they don't do it with kid gloves.'"
Gunter Grass wrote eloquently of the sins of the Nazi regime, all the while keeping his own membership in the Waffen SS a secret. Why do I smell Gunter Grass on your breath, Andy?
Commencing with a series of caveats and stipulations which render the remainder of his messy essay moot Sullivan tells us:
Of course, like most advocates of the Iraq War, I grew dismayed at what I saw as the mistakes that followed: the failure to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora; the intelligence fiasco of Saddam’s nonexistent stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction; the failure to prepare for an insurgency in Iraq; the reckless disbandment of the Iraqi army; the painful slowness in adapting to drastically worsening conditions there in 2004–06; the negligence toward Afghanistan.
These were all serious errors; but they were of a kind often made in the chaos of war. And even your toughest critics concede that, eventually, you adjusted tactics and strategy. You took your time, but you evaded catastrophe in temporarily stabilizing Iraq. I also agree with the guiding principle of the war you proclaimed from the start: that expanding democracy and human rights is indispensable in the long-term fight against jihadism. And I believe, as you do, that a foreign policy that does not understand the universal yearning for individual freedom and dignity is not a recognizably American foreign policy.
Yet it is precisely because of that belief that I lost faith in your war. In long wars of ideas, moral integrity is essential to winning, and framing the moral contrast between the West and its enemies as starkly as possible is indispensable to victory, as it was in the Second World War and the Cold War. But because of the way you chose to treat prisoners in American custody in wartime—a policy that degraded human beings with techniques typically deployed by brutal dictatorships—we lost this moral distinction early, and we have yet to regain it. That truth hangs over your legacy as a stain that has yet to be removed. As more facts emerge, the stain could darken further. You would like us to move on. So would the current president. But we cannot unless we find a way to address that stain, to confront and remove it.
Let us stipulate to the serious errors surrounding our war in Iraq and Afghanistan: there are no mulligans, no do-overs once wars begin. The fatal error, the essential hubris, unacknowledged to this day by Sullivan and Bush and the whole sick Neocon crew who led him into war was the Trotskyite belief preemptive and prescriptive wars could bring democracy to either country. Communism evolved, Trotskyism did not. Democracy can no more be exported than Communism.
I have come to accept that it would be too damaging and polarizing to the American polity to launch legal prosecutions against you, and deeply unfair to solely prosecute those acting on your orders or in your name. President Obama’s decision thus far to avoid such prosecutions is a pragmatic and bipartisan one in a time of war, as is your principled refusal to criticize him publicly in his first months. But moving on without actually confronting or addressing the very grave evidence of systematic abuse and torture under your administration poses profound future dangers. It gives the impression that nothing immoral or illegal took place. Indeed, since leaving office, your own vice president has even bragged of these interrogation techniques; and many in your own party threaten to reinstate such policies in the future. Their extreme rhetoric seems likely to shape—to contaminate—history’s view of your presidency, indeed of the Bush name, and the world’s view of America. But my biggest fear is this: in the event of a future attack on the United States, another president will feel tempted, or even politically compelled, to resort to the same brutalizing policy, with the same polarizing, demoralizing, war-crippling results.
Andrew Sullivan, there isn’t a chance in hell George W. Bush will be rehabilitated. Worry more for yourself. You should be issued a shovel and made to dig every grave of every casualty of these wars. My friend Corporal Domonic Holston USMC, fell into darkness on the 31st of August, as surely a victim of a war you backed as anyone who came back in a coffin.
And Domonic is not alone. Let us be clear: it is your own rehabilitation you seek. Spend, therefore, some emotional and perhaps financial capital to fund the rehabilitation of our damaged veterans. Helping Domonic's kids, Kaylee and Devin’s educational fund would be an excellent start. There is great psychic benefit in atoning for sins, Andrew Sullivan. There is none in the mere admission of failure. You are covered in sin and must be redeemed, Sullivan, and George W. Bush’s admission will not atone for your squalid and intemperate rhetoric. While these things were coming to light, you continued to back him and his policies. Only now, in the course of your flaccid swaying back and forth, do you ask, ask, not demand, an accounting for what was done in our name on a systematic and policy basis.
Do not bother enumerating the horrible instances of torture, the riding-roughshod over habeas corpus -- the vile litany of evils neither move me nor give me pause. I have seen worse with my own eyes. Your problem, Sullivan, is your inability to see these things as crimes worthy of punishment. President Obama won’t act overtly: the political price would be too high at this point. He may act behind the curtains, but he seems, to someone who expected better of him, to lack the spinal calcium to do anything in public. If anything, you should petition President Obama to act, not for ex-President Bush to come clean.
Curiously, Sullivan believes Ronald Reagan came clean about Iran-Contra, and quotes his not-an-apology for an example of how Bush might make such an admission. No, Sullivan, Ronald Reagan was not apologizing, he was caught in an enormous lie, looked America square in the face and told us
A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.
You see, Sullivan, Reagan did lie to us. And Reagan went on weaseling about his Heart and his Best Intentions. Seems you’re doing the same. Just stop. Shut up for a while. Take responsibility for your own part in this unholy fiasco. And repent, you witless wonder. Bush never shall.