MM and See-Dubya have already responded but they both missed an obvious point so I’ve got to pile on. Is Andrew Sullivan actually chiding someone else for engaging in “dark explanations and allegations of possible federal cover-ups”? Journey back with me in time to last August, dear reader, where in a two-week period he managed to float not one, not two, but three separate conspiracy theories about the Bush administration, each one nuttier than the last.

Dean Barnett nailed him on August 3rd for posting a YouTube clip that alleged Dick Cheney’s hunting accident was less than an accident. The producer of that video? Alex Jones, one of America’s foremost 9/11 conspiracy theorists, owner of the raving lunatic PrisonPlanet website, and of course chat buddy with Sullivan’s new political hero, Ron Paul. (Sully later explained that he had no idea who Jones was.) Ace nailed him on August 16th, six days after news of the UK airline plot broke, for hinting that Ned Lamont’s primary win over Joe Lieberman might have had something to do with the timing of the announcement. In the same post, Sully raised logistical questions about the passports the suspects had and the imminence of the attack, not entirely unreasonably given the paucity of information at the time — but of course the same might be said of the column Michelle wrote six months after 9/11 to which he’s now pointing as evidence of “dark” insinuations. A minor difference between the two: Michelle wasn’t questioning jihadist culpability for 9/11 whereas Sullivan was questioning the so-called airline plot, but let’s not let that get in the way of a good smear.

So much for the prelude. He was saving his best stuff for the next day, August 17, and Ace nailed him again. It’s worth reproducing the relevant passage in full so that no one thinks I’m distorting what he said. Ace added the exclamation point in brackets, but who can blame him?

I have long wondered whether Cheney and Rumsfeld ever believed that their job was to build a new democracy in Iraq. Rumsfeld had dealt with and supported Saddam in the past; Cheney was extremely suspicious of occupying Iraq in 1990. One subversive theory – which I’m not endorsing, just airing – is that both merely wanted to turn the Saddam regime to rubble, and then play along with neocon democracy supporters, while making sure that the military was never given enough resources to do nation-building. Then Cheney and Rumsfeld could prove their point about the impossibility of reforming the Muslim world, and promote the view that we need merely to pummel enemies, project military fear across the region, and deter Islamo-fascism by “shock and awe.” The Likud strategy, in other words.

Under this interpretation, Bush was too trusting or dumb to understand the deviousness of their plan to fail in Iraq; Wolfowitz saw it too late and got out; Rice is stuck managing the debris that a democracy-promoting president and a democracy-hostile Pentagon created. The troops were just pawns in Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s strategy. This interpretation would mean that incompetence is not the issue. Cheney and Rumsfeld have succeeded: they have turned Iraq into a failed state, removed its capacity to make WMDs, and detonated a regional Sunni-Shi’a war. Now they want to use the same brutalist strategy against Iran. This theory is probably [!] too complex and subtle to be true. The screw-up theory of history is more often the most plausible. But it does make some internal sense – if you assume that Cheney and Rumsfeld are not complete incompetents.

Just “airing it,” mind you. Just asking questions. And I do love the flourish about “the Likud strategy.”

I stopped reading him regularly after that so there must be countless more “dark” pearls of wisdom he’s dispensed since then, every last one of which will naturally be Bush’s fault for having shaken Sully’s faith in government so deeply that insane, inane conspiracy theories are now presented as credible “alternative explanations” on the websites of Time magazine and the Atlantic. As I said at the time:

There’s literally no degree of conspiratorial craziness that Sullivan will not excuse — or indulge in himself — so long as it’s presented in terms of skepticism towards Bush. Ace accuses him of engaging in de facto 9/11 Trutherism, which sounds unfair until you realize how well it fits the pattern. If you really pressed him, I’m sure Sully would dismiss Dylan Avery as a kook — while also noting, with exquisite sadness, that he can understand how people would think Bush capable of such a thing.

No wonder he’s voting for Paul.

Update: Ace e-mails to say this post simply won’t be complete without a link to the Daily Dementia graphic.