Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Defending Andrew Sullivan

I know Andrew Sullivan is perfectly capable of defending himself, but there have been a number of commentators who seem willfully dense in comprehending the difference between his criticism of George W. Bush and taking "sides" with the Islamic fascists.

This post on Protein Wisdom and some of the followup comments inspired me to respond:

First off, waterboarding is torture, no matter how you slice it. The U.S. waterboards prisoners. Ergo, the U.S. tortures prisoners.

While there are certainly some leftists who claim "moral equivalency" between the U.S.'s torture program and the Islamic lunatics who get their jollies off of blowing people up and cutting their heads off, Sullivan (and others, including me) have NOT said there is a moral equivalency at work there.

The point that he HAS made on torture is that there is a distinct difference between a U.S.A. that prides itself on always treating prisoners with respect and is thus able to claim the moral high ground in any battle and the new U.S. military that only tortures moderately and can thus only pride itself on being able to say "Hey look, we're not as bad as Saddam Hussein." It's gone from being a difference in kind to a
difference of degree.

Not only is that intrinsically immoral, but it hurts our position in Iraq. Part of the whole purpose of the war in Iraq is to win over the hearts and minds of the Muslim and Arab world, to set up an attractive example that proves that democracy and Western ideals are superior ways to order society than the tyranny of a dictator or theocracy. When the U.S. rounds up suspects willy-nilly, throws them into Abu Ghraib, and tortures them to get worthless intelligence, the locals tend to take it personally.

Moreover, people discuss and debate the behavior of the U.S. military instead of
discussing and debating the behavior of Islamist insurgents because the U.S. is a democracy where public opinion and criticism matter, while the Islamist thugs are, shall we say, not exactly open to reasoned debate on their goals and tactics.

We need to be aware of the depth of the evil of our enemies, but the U.S.--- a country founded on universal principles, not on geography or ethnicity--- needs to be able to convince everyday Iraqis that we're the people whose example they should follow, with whom they should ally themselves.

One point on which I do agree with Sullivan's critics is that his criticism of Bush's policies in general coincided awfully nicely with his realization that Bush was actively opposed to gay marriage. Before that, Sullivan held out for quite a while trying to convince himself that Bush was somehow in favor of a libertarian, hands-off approach to gay marriage. Does this lessen Sullivan's argument? It does make his criticism of Bush seem personal, yes, but he's done a pretty thorough job of explaining his position, and of defending the right to change one's mind.


At Wednesday, June 28, 2006 at 7:38:00 PM PDT, Blogger Victor said...


Sullivan *constantly* draws parallellisms and comparisons between what-he-sees as Christian fundamentalism in the Western world and the Islamists (he even was if memory serves, the man who coined the coined "Christianists" in explicit parallellism to "Islamist"). Which, I'm sorry, is an double-plus obscene comparison, even if one would not describe oneself (as I would) as a religious conservative. Plus self-righteous and preening to boot -- to quote a Catholic blogger whom I'm now sick of: "the Vatican does not issue fatwas." Even his initial support for the war on terrorism and Iraq was very much based on anti-religious libertinism (remember the phrase "Democracy! Whisky! Sexy!" on his site).

I say that as someone who once counted Sullivan as my favorite public intellectual -- I devoured every word of The New Republic while he was the editor, and he played no small role in me coming home to the Church as a young adult (believe it or not).

At Wednesday, June 28, 2006 at 10:43:00 PM PDT, Blogger Adam Villani said...

I think you have a point about him and his "Christianists." I thought the previous neologism that he tried to popularize, the political "Eagle," was just a dumb idea, but you're right about "Christianism" drawing an equivalency where one does not exist.

I don't think he would cop to the explicit equivalency, which I know some people would--- "Bush and bin Laden, they're the same, man!" I think in his mind it's more of a case of it being the same kind of thinking, a sort of slippery slope of theocracy. I can see what he's saying, but I think the gap between the majority of so-called Christianists --- generally anybody who mixes church and state, in Sullivan's thinking --- and the Islamists who are deathly serious about wishing upon the world a religious tyranny more soul-crushing than anything under Stalin or Mao is so vast that to call them by the same term is wildly out of line.

On the self-righteousness and preening, and dwelling on a handful of pet subjects to the point of obsession, and a blurring of the line between liberty and libertinism, yeah, he's guilty of all of that, too.

That said, maybe it's just the repetition, but I feel he's done an admirable job of making the case that the Bush administration has recklessly condoned behavior that, whether you call it torture or not, is unacceptable for the U.S. military, and that this has hurt our cause.

Also, I was a big fan of TNR back in the 1990s, and reading the excerpts from "Virtually Normal" there directly changed my opinions on homosexuality. That's not to say I fully agree with him on the issue, but within my own uncertain thoughts on sexual morality, I'm more aligned with him as a direct consequence of reading his writings.


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