Repentance Update: Ending the War vs. Defending Our Anti-War Purity

To all the HuffPost commenters who thought yesterday"s post suggested that we "embrace," "forgive," "cut some slack," "let bygones be bygones," or give a "free pass" to Newt Gingrich on Iraq -- or anything else: You might want to give it a closer read.

For starters, as Gingrich made clear this morning on the Today show, he doesn't think we should pull out of Iraq, he just wants to "pull back" to some of those permanent military bases the administration is so intent on building (which has always been the neocon end game). "I am totally for staying as long as it takes to defeat the terrorists and the murderers and the rapists who are trying to dominate the country," he said. "I don't think we should cut and run."

But the point I was making wasn't about Gingrich. The point is that the initial reaction to the news that Gingrich had changed his stance on Iraq should be looked at as a test case for how bloggers and the anti-war movement respond to those who actually do change their position on Iraq.

It's a test I think we failed.

(And notice that I said change their position -- not change their minds or change their hearts. These conversions might not include either of those. They may simply be a change of public posture. And that's okay, too.)

But launching a full-scale, dig-up-all-the-old-dirt attack on those who publicly change their position on the war seems counterproductive -- at least in the cases where the change is accompanied by an admission from those making the change that they were wrong before and by an expression of regret (if not remorse) over their old position. (See Andrew Sullivan for an example of how this could be done.)

The full-scale attack method was on display in response to Francis Fukuyama's America at the Crossroads, the renowned neocon's case against the Iraq war. Even though Fukuyama had long ago acknowledged that his original backing of military intervention was a mistake, he writes that after his new book was published, "From the left, I've been told that I have 'blood on my hands'... and that my 'apology' won't be accepted."

Is this really how we want to respond to those who switch sides on the issue? I don't think so.

I've railed against the fanatical mindset that dominates the Bush administration -- a blinkered way of looking at the world that refuses to let anything as piddling as evidence get in the way of true belief.

Well, here is a neocon true believer who is saying (and has been saying for a while) that "empirical evidence from the real world," guided by "a realistic, intellectually honest willingness to face the new facts of the situation," led him to change his mind. "It would be far better," he suggests, "if people could actually take aboard new information and think about how their earlier commitments, honestly undertaken, actually jibe with reality -- even if this does on occasion require changing your mind." (Contrast this with Bush's consistent and repeated stay-the-course-whatever-the-price unwillingness to face the new facts of the situation n Iraq.)

Fukuyama should be applauded for his willingness to face new facts, not excoriated for it.

So does this mean that we should offer anyone who comes over to our side blanket immunity? That merely saying "No more" on Iraq will grant them absolution for everything and anything else they've ever said or done?

Of course not.

The point isn't to let these guys remove their pro-war masks and blend in with the anti-crowd like the bank robbers do in Spike Lee's Inside Man, pulling off a clean political getaway.

The point is that if we are to achieve our goal of putting an end to this immoral, outrageous, and tragic war, we'll have to stop fighting -- tooth-and-nail -- former hawks who change their position.

Building a political consensus often makes for strange bedfellows. But ending this war is infinitely more important than holding fast to our anti-war purity and consistency.