You know, I'm reading all of the Iraq mea culpas, some good, some bad. But they are all systematically ignoring one of the most obvious and salient aspects of the run up to the war: the incredible power of personal resentment against antiwar people, or what antiwar people were perceived to be. As someone who was involved in day-to-day antiwar activism at the time, the visceral hatred of those opposing the war, and particularly the activists, was impossible to miss. It wasn't opposition. It wasn't disagreement. It was pure, irrational hatred, frequently devolving into accusations of antiwar activists being effectively part of the enemy. Yet for as visible and important as this distaste was for the debate, it's missing from the postmortems. Why?
First, some might say that personality doesn't matter, that what matters is substance. But personality influences substance. A huge amount of the arguments in favor of the war were essentially genetic: look at the people opposing the war, dirty fucking hippies! How could you stand with them? From the space of 10 years, people are putting all of their arguments into the most rational, logical light. Even in the commission of apologizing, they can't stop themselves from trying to rationalize what they advocated. But I don't, actually, think that they were being rational when they advocated for war. I think they were tribal, and they were being emotional, and that it mattered. And the refusal to recognize that makes it more dangerous that they will get it wrong in the future.
Second, I think people don't want to admit that hatred of the left-wing was part of their problem in 2002 and 2003 because they still hate the left, and recognizing the irrationality of their earlier hatred would compel them to think over their current hatred. Jon Chait, to pick one of the people doling out so-so-sorrys, certainly has never stopped treating the left with open-mouthed contempt. (Far more contempt than he has for most Republicans.) Look, casting your eyes back a decade, no matter how much you couch it as a matter of self-criticism, is easy. You're operating at a remove. You get to consider a much younger you. Thinking about how you currently are animated by petty resentments is harder.
And more important. Again: this conversation is useful only so long as it provokes better outcomes in the future. Better outcomes cannot come from the same old people pulling the weight. The left opposed the war, and was correct to oppose the war, because the left is correct on the merits when it comes to foreign policy. If you want to do good, listen to them in the future. Remember the eliminationism and ugly recriminations from the past. Recognize the ways in which the terms of the debate were artificially constrained by personal disapproval and social factors. Change.