Admitting Mistakes

We all make mistakes. I have burned my lunchtime grilled cheese. Other times, I have burned bridges. Large or small, mistakes happen.

That said, it is essential to be willing to admit to a mistake. Do you know who scares me? Someone who refuses to cop to an error, in favor of “sticking to their guns.” It’s a mindset which is, at best, narrow-sighted, and at most, seriously dangerous. Even a seemingly harmless example, like Michelle Bachman’s “double down” on her comments about John Q. Adams as a great founding father during the Revolution (he was an 8-year old at the time), can be indicative of someone’s humility, how much someone values the truth, and whether someone is willing to put their ego and personal interest aside in the name of integrity.

We all must live with our mistakes. But there is honor in learning from those mistakes. Those who do are truly in pursuit of personal growth and have respect for when their individual narrative diverged from the optimal path. In this light, I have a great amount of respect for Ezra Klein, Jonathan Chait, and Andrew Sullivan, among many others, who, on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War, are willing to acknowledge their errors in originally supporting the push to war. Here’s Sullivan :

Ezra apologizes for supporting the Iraq War. His key mistake:

Rather than looking at the war that was actually being sold, I’d invented my own Iraq war to support — an Iraq war with different aims, promoted by different people, conceptualized in a different way and bearing little resemblance to the project proposed by the Bush administration.

Chait also accounts for his mistakes:

The biggest single conceptual failure of my argument for war is that I gave absurdly little thought to the post-invasion phase. I was aware that the Bush administration was deploying far too few troops to the front for a workable occupation while blatantly lying about the war’s likely costs. I assumed that its real plan was to decapitate the Iraqi leadership, install a more pliant and less brutal military figure in Saddam’s place, and call it democracy.

In other words, I deemed the administration’s rhetoric about democracy to be a pack of lies. Now, I could accept this, because I assumed the successor regime would be less brutal than the psychotically cruel one that was being deposed. The quality of the regime was an important predicate for my support of the war — I would not have supported it had I believed it would make life harder for Iraqis, on the whole — but not the necessary rationale. I assumed these things because at the time Bush appeared — from the 2000 campaign through Florida through his push to cut taxes — to be a dishonest but ruthlessly effective figure. A messy, undermanned occupation would be politically fatal, I reasoned, therefore Bush wouldn’t actually undertake one.

Both critiques apply to me as well. Rumsfeld and Cheney were great at projecting confidence, competence and management skills. And we were all still traumatized by 9/11 and grappling with how to respond to it. But we know now they were as terrified as we were, and their fear drove them to abandon restraint or skepticism or competent military and intelligence advice.

This feels like an academic debate. But it isn’t. I have blood on my hands. However many times I try to wash them, the blood will not come off.

Regardless of your personal stance about the war, we need more of this attitude. We should be able to analyze a situation fairly, admit when we made a mistake, and improve our thinking going forward.

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One comment

  1. you know i love this. thanks for blogging it, definitely belongs on your blog.

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