[Marxism] Nailing ignatieff
lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 24 13:08:31 MST 2006
Toronto Star, Nov. 19, 2006. 12:51 PM
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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