With his usual accuracy and fairness, Paul Krugman smears yours truly today. Since he's too important to have his columns available to non-subscribers, I can't link. He has one decent point: yes, I lionized George W. Bush for a while after 9/11, and, in retrospect, my attempt to place trust in him at a time of national peril was a misjudgment. But then, in times of peril, some of us feel that supporting the president, whoever he is, and hoping he gets things right, are not contemptible impulses. I should have been more skeptical. In less dire circumstances, I might have been. But some of us, in the days after 9/11, did not immediately go into partisan mode, put aside some of our other objections (like the fiscal mess and the anti-gay policies), and rallied behind a president at war.
And yes, I criticized many whose knee-jerk response immediately after 9/11 was to blame America, and whose partisanship, like Krugman's, was so intense they had already deemed Bush a failure before he even had a chance. But it is a gross exaggeration to say, as Krugman sweepingly does, that "I used to specialize in denouncing the patriotism and character of anyone who dared to criticize president Bush." Five days after 9/11, in an aside in a long essay, I predicted that a small cadre of decadent leftists in enclaves in coastal universities would instinctively side with America's enemies. They did. Some still do. (Go read the piece to see whether you think the accusations against me are fair.) And yes, I should have been more attuned to the pragmatic arguments of those who opposed the Iraq war for prudential, not partisan, reasons: people like Scowcroft, not Krugman (who would have opposed anything this president did, regardless of its merits). But Krugman's sweeping charge against me is unfair. Long-time readers will know this. And the record is out there.
He is also grossly distorting the historical record in my criticism of the president. I am not a "born-again" Bush-basher, suddenly seeing the light. My criticisms of the Bush fiscal policy began very early and were very strong, although I supported the tax cuts (still do) and my focus was entirely on spending. My worries about war conduct began almost immediately after the Iraq invasion; my opposition to the federal marriage amendment was instant and scathing; my horror at Abu Ghraib and what it revealed was also contemporaneous with the available information, and I have kept the administration to account ever since. I opposed entitlement expansion. I supported a gas tax; and defended the estate tax. And, as Krugman somehow fails to point out, I endorsed John Kerry last time around. To accuse me of silence until now is absurd. To say that he expects no "statements of remorse" is also a little off. Does this count:
"We have learned a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response to that is not more spin but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by writers like me."
Sometimes, you can't win.
But this much is also true: I want to win the war, and we have this president for the next three years. If he does good things, he still deserves our support; and so do the people of Iraq. He has made some constructive changes these past few months in Iraq, and I'm not going to give up hope now. Maybe I should have appreciated that the Bush administration's "mendacity was obvious from the beginning." We can't all be as clairvoyant as Krugman. But I gave them a chance. When America was attacked, I rallied behind them and hoped for the best. If a similar thing happened again, regardless of who was president, Democrat or Republican, I hope I would do exactly the same. My principle was "trust but verify." Maybe I was wrong to trust. But no one can fairly accuse me of not verifying.