[Marxism] Nailing ignatieff

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 24 13:08:31 MST 2006

Toronto Star, Nov. 19, 2006. 12:51 PM
Unravelling Ignatieff


Above all, he is a quick study. He arrived home a 
political neophyte and, after scant weeks 
campaigning in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, talked like a veteran of the hustings.

He has made mistakes. There have been much-cited 
gaffes and clarifications, including the recent 
fiddling with what he meant to infer on the 
Quebec-as-nation issue. Ignatieff brings to mind 
T.S. Eliot and The Love Song of J. Alfred 
Prufrock. "That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all."

There have been campaign problems and, a few 
weeks ago, a full-blown crisis with staffers 
flailing and morale low. Ottawa consultant Jamie 
Deacey, a campaign strategist, insists the ship 
has righted itself. "He has really grown, 
especially in the past couple of weeks."

Says Levine: "He's the most interesting, charming 
man I've ever met, but you are not seeing it in the campaign."

Ignatieff has the requisite domestic policy 
package. But his claim to fame has always been 
his grasp of international affairs.

"Stemming from his dramatic, first-hand accounts 
of countries struggling with conflict, Michael's 
expertise in human rights, security and foreign 
affairs has made him a valued adviser to a number 
of national governments and a respected 
contributor to prominent international 
commissions and working groups," boasts his website.

We will take him at his word.

Arguably, it was his opinion that mattered most 
last spring when he influenced the Commons' vote 
to support Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 
extension of the Canadian Forces' mission in Afghanistan to 2009.

Let's examine Ignatieff's best-known work, 
beginning with "The American Empire," written for 
the The New York Times Magazine in January 2003 
and later included in Empire Lite. "The 21st 
century imperium is a new invention in the annals 
of political science, an empire lite, a global 
hegemony whose grace notes are money, free 
markets, human rights and democracy enforced by 
the most awesome military power the world has 
ever known," he wrote exuberantly. "It is the 
imperialism of a people who remember that their 
country secured its freedom and independence by 
revolt against an empire, and like to think of 
themselves as the friend of freedom everywhere."

Four months earlier, U.S. President George W. 
Bush had unveiled his National Security Strategy 
of the United States, which abandoned the Cold 
War policy of containment and adopted pre-emptive 
strike and regime change. A 180-degree shift cast 
in cold and neutral tones. First came the 
invasion of Afghanistan; Iraq would soon follow. 
Ignatieff viewed this new manifestation of 
empire-building through rose-coloured glasses, 
writing with apparent sentimentality about Bush's 
desire to lead the world to "free markets and liberal democracy."

He cast Bush as John Wayne. Not for Ignatieff the 
greasy world of Orwellian misinformation and 
doctored reports to the UN Security Council. 
Instead, he wrote: "The United Nations lay dozing 
like a dog before the fire, happy to ignore 
Saddam until an American president seized it by 
the scruff of the neck and made it bark."

His friends said he was "naive." He didn't believe them.

Ignatieff adopted the good/evil terminology of 
Bush and an administration of hawks. The choice, 
he wrote, was "between two evils, between 
containing and leaving a tyrant in place and the 
targeted use of force, which will kill people but 
free a nation from the tyrant's grip."

In Harper's Magazine, editor Lewis Lapham was 
quick to respond. He noted that Ignatieff was a 
human rights professor who travelled to Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

"And what did he learn, the professor, from his 
poking around in Afghan tents and Balkan graves? 
If nothing else, how to write sententious and 
vacant prose, most of it indistinguishable from 
the ad copy for an Armani scarf or a Ferragamo 
shoe," wrote Lapham, adding that Ignatieff's 
views "fairly represent the attitudes currently 
in vogue among the marketers of the country's preferred wisdom."

On March 19, 2003, Bush went on TV to announce 
the bombing of Iraq had begun — early, thanks to 
intelligence about dictator Saddam Hussein's 
whereabouts. It turned out to be false, of 
course, as did most of the CIA's information, 
including bogus reports about the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

Even then, in the spring of 2003, it was clear 
that administration claims were ill-founded. 
Canada declined to participate in the Iraqi war.

Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq, 
had begged for more time. He doubted the 
administration's WMD claims, especially about 
so-called purchases of enriched uranium from 
Niger. "This was a crude lie," he told Spain's El Pais in March 2003.

"I originally thought the Americans began the war 
believing that (WMDs) existed. Now, I believe 
less in that possibility. But I do not know. 
Nevertheless, when one sees the things the United 
States tried to do to show that Iraq had nuclear 
arms, such as the non-existent contract with 
Niger, one does have many questions."

The information was out there — for those who 
cared to know. Still, Ignatieff supported the 
Bush war. A year later, he wrote of his surprise 
that no weapons of mass destruction were found in 
post-Saddam Iraq. "I still do not believe that 
American or British leaders misrepresented 
Hussein's intentions or lied about the weapons he 
possessed," he wrote in The New York Times.

His most explosive dispute with the rights 
community came over his position on torture, 
again developed in articles for The New York 
Times Magazine and collected in 2004 in The 
Lesser Evil, Political Ethics in an Age of Terror.

It is important to be clear: Michael Ignatieff 
does not support torture. However, he has 
written: "To defeat evil, we may have to traffic 
in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, 
coercive interrogations, targeted assassination, even pre-emptive war."

He said, "Permissible duress might include forms 
of sleep deprivation that do not result in 
lasting harm to mental or physical health, 
together with disinformation and disorientation 
(like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress."

In a 2004 review of Lesser Evil for The New York 
Times, international relations professor Ronald 
Steele wrote: "Michael Ignatieff tells us how to 
do terrible things for a righteous cause and come away feeling good about it."

Conor Gearty, human rights professor at the 
London School of Economics, criticized Ignatieff 
(among others) for giving former U.S. defence 
secretary Donald Rumsfeld "the intellectual 
tools" with which to justify odious actions. 
We're all familiar with the hoods of Abu Ghraib. 
"Just a little brutality, a beating-up perhaps, 
or a touch of sensory deprivation," said Gearty.

It can be puzzling to examine Ignatieff's 
arguments within the context of international 
human rights. But the mandate of the Carr Center 
should be noted. Much of its work concentrates on 
the continuing dialogue between rights workers 
and the military. A key long-term project 
examines how "humanitarian considerations are 
factored into the conduct of war," with a focus 
on airstrikes and counterinsurgency.

If war — the natural extension of pre-emptive 
strike — is a given, the development of the 
Ignatieff philosophy while at Harvard becomes completely understandable.

Last winter, Ignatieff was withering when 
reporters asked about his views on torture.

At the door in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, he replied, 
voters weren't asking him if he believed "in 
removing the fingernails of small children?"

"Whatever else is wrong with me," he told the 
Star, "do you really think that a human rights 
professor would come within a million miles of endorsing torture?"


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