Krugman and Me, Again

This is a long email but it's one of the most thoughtful of the dozens I've now read, so here goes:

"I write as someone who basically agrees with many of Paul Krugman’s points, but finds him intolerably self-important and smug. I also write as someone who disagrees with you much of the time, but deeply respects the way you wrestle with these issues in public.

I also believe there's very little point, at this late date, in pointing fingers about who thought what in 2001. We are where we are, and that's that. For that matter, I was conflicted about the government's policy in 2001 and I remain so today.

I can't stand George Bush — never could, from the get-go. The minute I saw him, it was clear to me that he was a smug, self-satisfied, prep-school product trying to pass himself off as a representative of a heartland male. A phony, through and through. I would have taken Gore or Kerry over Bush, in a New York minute.

But 9/11 happened and I supported Bush in Afghanistan. What else was there to do? He was the president, and we had been attacked. I took a lot of crap from my friends, but I thought Bush was right; I even thought that, in the early days, he prosecuted the war with vigor and competence.

When all eyes turned to Iraq, I saw no reason to doubt the WMD issue — but other doubts crept in. I deeply regretted the Bush administration's lack of interest in bringing the rest of the world on board — and this, I'm sorry to say, is where I feel you were culpable. You were only too eager to attack any European who opposed direct military action. You signed on to Rumsfeld’s 'Old Europe' trope and some of your comments were beneath you. You didn't allow for the possibility that people might have very real doubts about Bush's agenda; it was his way or the highway.

At the same time, I worried about Bush's character. His complete lack of interest in dealing with anyone else's point of view was deeply worrying. Think about it — did Roosevelt publicly trash anyone who opposed him? Did Churchill? Did they send their associates to attack them in the press? Did they demonize those who thought differently? Or did they try to bring them together in an alliance?

Again, you were culpable here. You idealized Bush — largely, I guess because you needed to. And you didn't listen to any opposing point of view; the debater in you took over from the thinker. You endowed Bush with qualities of strength and vision that plainly were not there. At the very least, his ongoing pandering to the religious right was an indicator of a moral laxity that you didn't want to hear about.

These are not indictable offenses. It was a difficult, upsetting time. You chose wrong — but you chose. So what? That's better than not choosing at all.

Here's the fundamental problem with Bush: he's not evil, he's certainly not corrupt in the Jack Abramoff sense of the word. I'm sure he lives a life of rectitude compared to many. But he's an incurious man, he's intellectually lazy, and, in the White House, that amounts to moral laziness, which, frankly, amounts to evil. Once Bush makes a decision about something, he never revisits it, because if it was right then, surely it must always be so. Look how he has fostered a culture of torture; clearly, he believes that the ends justify the means — surely a very strange idea for a Christian to hold.

The real problem was, we needed a man of extraordinary abilities and vision after 9/11 and we had George Bush. If you supported him and the invasion of Iraq—well, that's  understandable. But if people balked — well that's understandable, too. The mistake you made was thinking that, if the cause was just, the leader must be so, too. But in George Bush, we sent a boy to a man's job, and now we're all paying for that mistake."

I'll accept much of that and take my lumps, with some caveats. I did favor going to the U.N. from the get-go. The international opposition was, however, far from principled. If you think Chirac and Putin and Schroder were soberly considering the drawbacks of occupation, you're deluding yourself. The sanctions regime, moreover, we now know, was both brutal and corrupt. I also remember much of the anti-war rhetoric and it wasn't the sober calculation of options that some are now recalling. Some of that was there. But I went to the antiwar marches, and they were not about prudence or WMD intelligence or sanctions or containment. They were anti-Bush and often anti-American hate rallies. Similarly, the anti-war commentariat were, by and large, not Scowcroftians. A few were partisan Democrats, polarized by the 2000 election, who would have attacked Bush whatever his position. That's certainly true of Krugman, who would have ferociously bashed Bush if he hadn't gone to war as well.