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War & Peace in the Middle East Special Report
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News, Politics and U.S. Policy
With Andrew Sullivan

Tuesday, April 9, 2002; 1 p.m. EDT

As the Middle East continues to erupt almost daily and the U.S.'s war on terror continues, the role of journalists and journalism to illuminate, criticize and explain international policies is as vital as ever. How involved should the U.S. and Europe be in the conflict? Can terrorist attacks be contained? Can peace be brokered?

Journalist Andrew Sullivan is the editor of andrewsullivan.com and a contributor to the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, a senior editor at the New Republic and a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times of London. He was online Tuesday, April 9, to talk about the news, the politics and policy that shape events and people's lives worldwide.

Sullivan began his career writing for The New Republic and freelancing for publications including the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph and Esquire while he earned a Ph.D. in political science at Harvard. An Oxford graduate, he earned a masters in public administration from Harvard's John F. Kennedy school in 1986. Sullivan became editor of The New Republic in 1991, expanding the magazine's scope to topics such as same-sex marriage, popular culture and racial issues before he left the post in 1996. Openly gay, Sullivan shed light on the politics of homosexuality as well, focusing on gays in the military and gay rights, writing two books, "Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality" (Vintage Books, 1995); and "Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival" (1998). He tested positive for HIV in 1993, and remains in good health.

Sullivan gained wide notice for his New York Times cover stories, "When Plagues End," a description of the changing AIDS epidemic in 1996, and "The Scolds," an analysis of the decline of American conservatism in 1998. His 1999 essay, "What's So Bad About Hate," is included in the "Best American Essays of 1999." He has appeared on more than 100 radio shows across the U.S. and on TV shows including "Nightline," "Face The Nation," "Meet The Press," "Crossfire," "Hardball" and "The O'Reilly Factor."

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Chicago, Ill.: Andrew, you wrote on Friday that you don't think Bush has gone wobbly on terrorism, and that he will still support Israel in its war on terror.

After all the statements by him and other members of the administration since since Friday, do you STILL believe that Bush gets it? If so, please convince me!

Andrew Sullivan: Well at some level, you have to trust the guy. I do. So sue me. I also felt that his statements urging Israel to withdraw promptly were carefully constructed to make sure we understood that this was a tactical decision designed to advance the war on terror rather than reverse it.

I could be wrong, but I hope I'm not.

Gettysburg, Pa.: I'm an alum of Kenyon College, where you spoke last week. How did that go and how are you finding college students reacting to the events of the past several months?

Andrew Sullivan: I'd say it's hard to tell from the few college visits I've made in the period. But with that proviso, it strikes me that a lot of students were faced with this horrific act of terror, and they found that perhaps their education hadn't prepared them adequately to find the moral and intellectual conviction to condemn it unequivocally.

I think it helped them realize how deep the intellectual rot had gone in some parts of the academy -- the complete moral abdication, the moral relativism, the victimology, and so on -- and gave them the desire to change it.

I have great confidence in the ability of today's students to see through B.B. -- which is why the boomer leftist generation of academics has largely been given notice that their time is up.

Richmond, Va.: How do you evaluate New York Times columnist Tom Friedman's influential writings on the Saudi peace plan? Do you think Friedman was "used," or do you think he was engaging in some personal diplomacy?

Andrew Sullivan: I think he was extraordinarily naive in presenting that plan as some kind of genuine breakthrough. But, hey, he just won his third Pulitzer, which just goes to show that the judgment of the journalistic establishment thinks otherwise.

In general I think his columns have been excellent, but primarily because they have been a rare moment of candor in the usually stultifying liberal consensus on some of our leading op-ed pages.

Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Sullivan,

Why is Secretary of State Powell taking a "tour" of the Middle East before actually going to Israel when his need there is obviously urgent? I'm a Bush supporter, but this response of his to calls for immediate help is a slap in the face to those world leaders who called for our assistance -- people on both sides are dying as we speak.

Andrew Sullivan: I have approximately zero confidence in the ability of the Arab states to do anything constructive about Middle East peace. Most of them never have and most of them never will.

I guess we have to go through the motions. But my own view is that current Arab political culture is so depraved and so delusional that you simply can't expect anything but duplicity from them.

Still this is a role Cheney and now Powell have had to play. I like to think of it as pure window dressing before we do what we have to do. I.e., get rid of the regimes in Baghdad and Tehran.

Columbus, Ohio: Andrew, I was wondering if you know of any figures that break down the instances of minor sexual abuse by members of our Church's clergy between pre-pubescent minors and pubescent minors.

Andrew Sullivan: I don't think there are any reliable statistics.

But from what I've heard a hefty majority are of post-pubescent teenagers. I consider that less horrifying than abuse of pre-pubescent children, but horrifying none the less.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think the world is more stable today than it was, say 20 years ago, before the fall of Communism? When I look at the Middle East, our strained relationships with the EU, China, Russia, and poverty and unrest in places like Indonesia, there's lots to worry about. What do you think? Are things getting better or worse?

Andrew Sullivan: Well I don't think one should equate stability with "getting better." The Cold War world was very stable in some respects and yet the stability imposed oppression on vast numbers of human beings.

The world is a much freer place today. But with change comes inevitable friction and danger.

The one area in which the risks are clearly greater is technological. Fifty years ago, no band of thugs could get access to sophisticated and lethal chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Now they can. That alters the stakes dramatically. In some ways, it's this technological shift that I think lies behind the new dangers that we face today.

Springfield, Va.: From a daily visitor to the Daily Dish: What columnist or opinion-maker would you say has consistently impressed and inspired you the most since Sept. 11? I know you have mentioned Thomas Friedman on the New York Times, Christopher Hitchens (that was a great appearance you two had on C-SPAN, by the way) as refreshing voices. And who has been the most irritating? Michael Moore? Noam Chomsky?

Also, while you have rightly championed Israel's cause practically every day, as an Indian-American, what is your view on the role of India (another victim of persistent and vicious terrorism) in the post-Sept. 11 world?

Andrew Sullivan: I've been impressed by Friedman and Hitch. I linked to an interview with Hitchens today on the site. Michael Ledeen has been very acute. Ditto Victor Davis Hanson and Mike Kelly.

Since Sept. 11, the writer who has most impressed me has been Orwell. I read his war writings voraciously at the beginning -- and his honesty, decency and humanity helped keep me sane.

The most irritating writer since Sept. 11 has been Paul Krugman. Anyone who could write that the Enron scandal was more significant an event than the WTC massacre is simply blinded by ideology and partisanship.

Charleston, S.C.: This is going to sound bizarre. Believe it or not: I'm a Republican and I'm not an especially big fan of you. But I do believe that marriage is a civil union and who a consenting adult decides to marry is no ones business. It's a private matter. I don't think I've ever heard anyone make the case for gay marriage more effectively than you. I have a closeted gay relative who lives a very lonely life. It's really sad my relative lives a life where they don't feel free to conduct their personal affairs as they choose. Well, technically, this relative is free to do as they please; but peer pressure and the desire to "conform" to socially acceptable norms can be very intimidating.

Andrew Sullivan: I'm grateful for your open mind on this.

My basic position is that civil -- not religious -- marriage is a basic civil right; right now, gays are allowed to marry but only members of the opposite sex, which makes the marriage a sham. Allowing simple civil equality in this matter is a no-brainer. It would also do a great deal to integrate gays more into society and help abate some of the loneliness, isolation and even despair that some gays, like your relative, unfortunately feel.

I wish people could see that this is a win-win situation for all of us.

New York, N.Y.: Your writing is generally insightful. But I'd like to know why you, as a gay man, seem to offer more support to President Bush, who discontinued gay pride month at the White House and believes that gays who seek hate crimes protection are looking for "special rights," than to former President Clinton, who, despite the don't-ask-don't tell debacle, was seen by many as more of a supporter of gay causes and generally adopted a more inclusive mindset toward them? Thanks.

Andrew Sullivan: I'm not a one-issue person.

I take a view of a presidency based on a whole variety of issues. Gay equality is just part of that.

Frankly, I think President Clinton was a fraud on gay equality. He talked a certain amount, but he doubled the rate of gay discharges in the military, signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and apportioned less money for AIDS research than Republicans on the Hill.

As for hate crimes, I don't believe in the concept for any group, gays included.

I think Bush had made strides toward including gays in his administration and seeing them as an important part of the American mosaic. And moving the Republican Party on this shifts the whole culture quite dramatically.

I hope he ends this cruel and stupid military policy. Only a Republican can do it.

Washington, D.C.: Andrew,

I really don't understand why Leftists are so anti-Israel. If they are so concerned about human rights, how come they are never protesting the 21 Arab governments who are anti-democratic and repressive?

Andrew Sullivan: All I can say is: Amen.

The best gloss is that some on the left simply feel pity for the victims. But are they really the victims? Why have the Palestinians barely set up even the infrastructure for a real country on the West Bank? Why have they refused every offer to get a head-start on building a new state?

It's because they don't really want the hard job of building a society. They want the easy job of being the permanent victim. Until this mindset changes, there will be no peace.

By the way, if there is one day a Palestinian state, does anyone anywhere believe it will be a democracy?

Washington, D.C.: Do you think, given the field day both The Dauly Howler and Spinsanity have had with your slipshod "reporting," that maybe it's time to actually start repairing your journalistic skills and reputation, rather than continue your ideological witchhunts? For example, hasn't The Howler had enough of an easy opportunity to whap you around for the hack job you've been doing on your Krugman diatribe?

Andrew Sullivan: Both those sites are ideological hit-machines.

If you look at my track record of around 1,000 words a day on my site, links to hundreds of other sites, comments day in and day out, you'll find at most a handful of errors in 18 months, all immediately corrected or addressed. some of these "errors" are simply differing interpretations. But sure, I've made a handful of mistakes in the last year or so.

But compared to most news outlets, my accuracy is pretty astounding, especially given that it's just me. The difference with inevitable mistakes on a blog site and in a newspaper is that the blogger can correct very quickly, and apologize.

That's my policy: it's open, honest and transparent. None of us is perfect, but, as Benedick says in "Much Ado About Nothing," "Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending."

Boston, Mass.: Dear Mr. Sullivan:

Despite the fact that Mr. Clinton left office some 14 months, his name appears all too often in the right wing press (your column and elsewhere). Were liberals hashing and rehashing George HW Bush's many failings in the first year of Mr. Clinton's presidency, or is this simply the product of conservatives being unable to let go of their favorite punching bag? Thank you.

Andrew Sullivan: Some of it is partisan, sure.

But look: I endorsed Clinton in 1992. I picked Sid Blumenthal as my campaign correspondent that year when I was editing The New Republic. I didn't start out a Clinton critic.

But the closer you look at his negligence, corruption, deception, and betrayals, the more I think you can believe he was one of our worst presidents. Feel free to disagree but his legacy is still with us, and those of us who find it dismaying have every right to say so.

Arlington, Va.: Do you feel the "knee jerk patriotism" of the Right prevents conservatives from asking tough questions about defense policy, defense spending, and foreign policy?

Andrew Sullivan: I hope not.

In some ways, I think it's incumbent on Republicans and conservatives to be tougher on the government, especially in areas like civil liberties or how we spend defense money.

Carroll, Iowa: While channel surfing I catch bits of the Roman Catholic cable channel. I've noticed that the church's TV conservative commentators reaction to its current sex scandals seems to center solely on blaming homosexuals. In other words, it's the queers fault. How do you reconcile your views with this official Roman Catholic spin?

Andrew Sullivan: This is a classic scapegoating dodge.

There are two separate issues: that of gay clergy and that of sexual abuse. To conflate the two is to equate homosexuality with pederasty or abuse. This is an ancient slur, and some on the far right still apparently believe it.

But it's denied in the official teachings of the church, is simply untrue, and spreading the slur is just another example of how depraved and self-serving some in he church hierarchy have become.

Broomall, Pa.: Andrew,

I know you are concerned with privacy issues. But it seems that you’ve been pretty dismissive of civil libertarians’ criticisms of some of the Bush administration’s policies to enhance security. Do you think that the war on terrorism is a serious threat to our privacy rights, or do you think this is just a smoke screen put up by liberals to create a reason to be against the war without seeming like pacifists? Do you think it’s possible for the government to get the kind of information they need to find terrorists and still maintain privacy rights?

Judy D.

Andrew Sullivan: The boring answer is that there's always a trade-off. I'm not sure we've gotten the trade-off completely right yet and there are aspects of recent legislation that trouble me.

But in general, I think privacy is under more threat from our fellow citizens with Webcams and Web sites than it is from the government.

Chicago, Ill.: Dear Mr. Sullivan,

I enjoy your objective, independent commentary and news analysis. I have a question. Why is it that big media offices, such as CNN and New York Times cannot offer such critically needed views? Why do we have to get one view from the Times or CNN and another view from the Weekly Standard? I understand the need to be alert (e.g., read all resources), but in this day and age is it not smart to be objective? More people will come to you if you are independent.

Your thoughts on the stress you have to put up with for being independent.

Andrew Sullivan: Well, it sure is a stress at times.

It's easier, I guess to be simply partisan, to support one side over the other come what may. One reason I don't go on "Crossfire" much is that plenty of times, I simply won't fit into the left-wight format and so I demur.

As to CNN and the New York Times, I do think it's sad that conservative opinion is basically marginalized at both places. It makes for less interesting reading and more monochrome coverage.

But it's also risky. When I opened up The New Republic to a bunch of new and different voices, there was quite a backlash from more traditionally liberal types. If you do such a thing in mainstream journalism, you can't expect to last very long. That's why the Web is so liberating. It's one of the few places where truly independent writers can think out loud without all those kinds of editorial pressures.

Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.: Soon after the Sept. 11 attack, you referred to bin Laden and company as the "Forces of Ressentiment," making reference to Nietzsche's "On the Genealogy of Morals." Christopher Hitchens labelled them as Islamo-fascists.

In this weeks Weekly Standard, David Brooks takes a view, attempting, I think, to square both those labels, and add something else. He coins a word,"bourgeoiseophobia," to describe the condition of Ladenism, and links it to Euro anti-Americanism, and anti-Israelism.

I think Brooks attempt is important, but ultimately misreads Nietzsche.

What do you think of Brooks's piece?

Among the Bourgeoisophobes (Weekly Standard, April 15, 2002)

Andrew Sullivan: I haven't read it.

There is indeed a kind of loathing of liberal, bourgeois secular democracy that animates the extremes. Ideological purists just gag at the thought of lots of largely content, prosperous individuals shopping their way through life. I find it quite an achievement to have made such people possible.

But the far right and the far left have always resented it. Deep down, they're motivated by envy. And that envy is covered with a veneer of political claptrap.

Indianapolis, Ind.: I'm interested in your relationship with the so-called movers and shapers of the conservative ideology today. Folks like Paul Weyrich, Grover Norquist, Stephen Moore, Tom Delay, J.C. Watts or Bob Barr. Would you care to share anything about the nature of your professional relationship with any of these people?

Andrew Sullivan: I have almost no contact with any of them. I see Grover every now and again, and he's been helpful in supporting the inclusion of gays in the Republican Party. But in general, I try and keep professional political activists at arms' length in my social life.

I keep friendship and politics as separate as I can. Most of my friends are not very political, and those that are tend to be far more liberal than I am. But that's partly why we're friends. We enjoy good discussions. As well as just goofing off.

Richmond, Va.: Considering the likely lack of remuneration with your daily BLOG, how do you earn a living?

Andrew Sullivan: I get paid for my more formal journalism -- the Sunday Times in London, the New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Time, and so on.

But the blog is beginning to generate real revenue -- from donations and kickbacks from our book club. I could easily make a living off it as of now -- not a great one, but enough to get by.

Pakistan: Why is the U.S. indifferent to atrocities being committed by Israel? If the U.S. wants to be the role model for other nations to follow, then why is it promoting and projecting brutalities?

Andrew Sullivan: I don't think defending oneself against terrorism is the same as "atrocities." I'm sure that some brutality has occurred on the Israeli side and I don't think it should be excused. But I don't believe in moral equivalence between a democratic government protecting itself from suicide bombers and Islamist terrorists murdering people as a means to cleanse the entire neighborhood of Jews.

And if you don't see that distinction, you're part of the problem rather than the solution.

What a joke: Could you possibly toss Sullivan more softballs?

Andrew Sullivan: So toss me a hard one, buddy.

Isn't this typical? Instead of getting into a debate and asking a tough question, some critics would rather just throw cynical lobs at the whole process.

Call it the Michael Moore syndrome.

Get over it.

New York, N.Y.: Don't you think that the premise of Israel, as a a place for only Jews and nobody else, is a self-destructive notion that counters everything else happening in forward-looking societies?

Andrew Sullivan: Israel has many non-Jews as citizens, and has a record of religious tolerance far better than almost any arab country.

The self-destructive notion most at work in the Middle East is the ruling Arab elites notion that democracy is unnecessary, that pathological anti-Semitism is a legitimate governing philosophy, and that police states are the way to go.

Israel points to the free and democratic future. Every Arab state as currently governed is more reminiscent of the dark and oppressive past.

Re: Undemocratic Palestine: Your cynicism just betrayed your deep antipathy to any and all things Arab. You just lost one potential reader.

Andrew Sullivan: Cynicism?

It's called realism. If there were a single viable Arab democracy, I'd be encouraged. I think it's possible. I'm just not in denial about how deep the cultural problem is there.

And it is not anti-Arab to say so. It is anti-Arab to condescend to that part of the world and not ask it to live up to some of the same basic principles that the free world upholds.

Andrew Sullivan: Time is up, apparently.

Thanks so much for asking questions.

You can always e-mail me at my Web site, www.andrewsullivan.com, and I invite any of you who haven't perused it to take a look.

It's not designed for people who agree with me on everything -- since I don't know a single person who does. But it is designed to provoke, amuse and inform a little on a daily and even hourly basis.

Cheers and thanks again,



That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

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