Andrew Sullivan reflects on what he’s learned since the early days of being a supporter of th war in Iraq.
But my biggest misreading was not about competence. Wars are often marked by incompetence. It was a fatal misjudgment of Bush’s sense of morality. I had no idea he was so complacent—even glib—about the evil that good intentions can enable. I truly did not believe that Bush would use 9/11 to tear up the Geneva Conventions. When I first heard of abuses at Gitmo, I dismissed them as enemy propaganda. I certainly never believed that a conservative would embrace torture as the central thrust of an anti-terror strategy and lie about it, and scapegoat underlings for it, and give us the indelible stain of Bagram and Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib and all the other secret torture and interrogation sites that Bush and Cheney created and oversaw. I certainly never believed that a war I supported for the sake of freedom would actually use as its central weapon the deepest antithesis of freedom—the destruction of human autonomy and dignity and will that is torture. To distort this by shredding the English language, by engaging in newspeak that I had long associated with totalitarian regimes, was a further insult. And for me, it was yet another epiphany about what American conservatism had come to mean.
I know our enemy is much worse. I have never doubted that. I still have no qualms whatever in waging war to defeat it. But I never believed that America would do what America has done. Never. My misjudgment at the deepest moral level of what Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld were capable of—a misjudgment that violated the moral core of the enterprise—was my worst mistake. What the war has done to what is left of Iraq—the lives lost, the families destroyed, the bodies tortured, the civilization trashed—was bad enough. But what was done to America—and the meaning of America—was unforgivable. And for that I will not and should not forgive myself.