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What a terrific essay. He nails Sullivan perfectly without resorting to any of the blogospheric Manicheanism. Sullivan is a perceptive writer, but also a combative, opportunistic, and occasionally deceitful one. I can't imagine following him anywhere, but I can't imagine not reading him either. Raban captures these contradictions with scientific precision.

Posted by Fnarf | March 26, 2007 10:10 AM

That is spot on. He really captures the enigma of Sullivan well.

Posted by Gabriel | March 26, 2007 12:07 PM

What is baffling is why such an ardent disciple of Oakeshott came to sign himself up for the Bush program in the first place—a decision that Sullivan now says he finds "more than a little worrying."

No kidding. Anybody who wasn't such a huge assho-- er, I mean, huge enigma, would go off to think for a few years and leave the pundit's stage clear for those who were right all along about Bush, Iraq, and the gays.

Posted by elenchos | March 26, 2007 1:21 PM

Sullivan is ok, though I find most of political wrangling and wiggling annoying- he's a lot like those bright libertarians I used to argue with in political theory classes: reasonably smart but far too ideological and obsessed with neat and trim ideals. I like how Sullivan tries to advance the argument that even though he was wrong about the war, given the evidence, he was still right at the time. Or his belief that anti-war activists were all advancing pacifistic arguments at the time of the buildup when, as this great review points out, many of us were simply asking that Blix be allowed to finish his job.

Good review. It's honest, fair, and reasonably skeptical.

Posted by JMS | March 26, 2007 1:53 PM

When it comes to loving Jonathan Raban, I'm right there with you.

But Andrew Sullivan? History has proven him a fool. I wish Dan would worship at someone else's feet.

Posted by Sean | March 26, 2007 3:09 PM

Yeah, I was too kind calling Sullivan ok.

Posted by JMS | March 26, 2007 3:46 PM

It is foolish to demand that anyone accurately predict the future. Just because many people did, doesn't mean they had good reason to.

Also, for all of you who were "right" on the Iraq war, it wasn't exactly a stunning prophecy. Either things were going to go well or not, so even without the facts you would have a fifty-fifty chance of "knowing" the war was a bad idea.

What is not foolish is to change one's opinion when that opinion is no longer tenable. This makes Sullivan far more interesting--and reliably candid--than the average bear (pun intended).

Posted by Matt | March 27, 2007 6:55 AM

Sure, Sullivan should be commended for changing his opinion when new facts emerge, but he shouldn't try to claim that the anti-war activists took the wrong position at the time when presented with the real, or lack of real, intelligence. It wasn't a 50/50 propositionl; it was a situation where there were international officials on the ground looking for WMDs, and some of us thought "wouldn't it be great is these envoys could do their work" since any realist will tell you that Saddam probably had no invested interest in launching biological weapons at the US eminently. I hold everyone who voted for or uncritically supported the war accountable because if a handful of foreign policy experts and little old me could figure it out, then purportedly reasonable policy thinkers could figure it out too.

People are allowed to predict the future wrong, but when they do it with the self-righteous zeal he did it with, it's a problem. In essence, he aided and abetted the Bush administration. And he should be held accountable. The role of the public intellectual is more than being a cheerleader; it requires the ability to objectively judge a situation and behave like an adult, instead of becoming rhapsodic about liberation.

Sullivan is an okay human being, he just happens to be wrong most of the time. Being gay and republican is the first untenable Sullivan contradition and it goes downhill from there, but I guess if that makes for compelling tv or reading, more power to him.

Posted by JMS | March 27, 2007 12:06 PM

Yeah, there's nothing wrong with having been mistaken.

But back when he was mistaken, he was calling those of us who disagreed with his prognosis traitors, saying we were helping our country's enemies. Sullivan is too small a man to give any respect to those who differ with him.

So given that, I think I will demand that the self-righteous little prick be right about the future, 100% of the time. It isn't enough that he repents what he was wrong about. Until he repents the kind of man he is, he really ought to slither off under a rock and stay there.

Posted by elenchos | March 27, 2007 6:52 PM

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