Thursday, March 26, 2009

MIa Culpa - Part 3

The unfolding catastrophe in Iraq has condemned the political judgment of a president. But it has also condemned the judgment of many others, myself included, who as commentators supported the invasion.

And thus begins Michael Ignatieff's New York Times op-ed of August 5, 2007; "Getting Iraq Wrong".  Three years after his first try, Michael Ignatieff (MI) sat down once again to expiate his support for the Iraq invasion.  And for the most part, I give him credit for making it a good one.

 He definitely seems to have learned some lessons:

Having left an academic post at Harvard in 2005 and returned home to Canada to enter political life, I keep revisiting the Iraq debacle, trying to understand exactly how the judgments I now have to make in the political arena need to improve on the ones I used to offer from the sidelines. I’ve learned that acquiring good judgment in politics starts with knowing when to admit your mistakes.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that the trouble with academics and commentators is that they care more about whether ideas are interesting than whether they are true. ... In academic life, false ideas are merely false and useless ones can be fun to play with. In political life, false ideas can ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious resources. An intellectual’s responsibility for his ideas is to follow their consequences wherever they may lead. A politician’s responsibility is to master those consequences and prevent them from doing harm.

And MI finally seems to have come to grips with the responsibility he had in 2004:

Politicians cannot afford to cocoon themselves in the inner world of their own imaginings. They must not confuse the world as it is with the world as they wish it to be. They must see Iraq — or anywhere else — as it is.

MI gives credit to the war opponents for being right:

The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action. They did not necessarily possess more knowledge than the rest of us. They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty intelligence and lack of knowledge of Iraq’s fissured sectarian history. What they didn’t do was take wishes for reality.

Although he did finish the preceding paragraph with his churlish sentence:

They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong.

In the former segment of the sentence, the argument that the war was about oil is arguably correct.  The latter reason is unfair and subjective.  Opposing the war did not equate to anti-Americanism.  This knee jerk Harperesque shot almost negates the entire article.

Overall it is a good effort.  A large portion of the article deals with the exigencies of being a politician.  But it does serve as a more honest mea culpa.  As with other works by MI, what I see as his underlying flaws peek through.  I will summarize these in the final post in this series.

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Cliff said...

You're a lot more forgiving of that defensive 'ok I was wrong but at least I wasn't a dirty fucking hippie' argument than I think most people were when this came out. This was reputation burnishing and electioneering, nothing more.

The reflexive contempt for opposing views Iggy has been demonstrating with depressing regularity is dripping from every line of this contemptuous non-apology apology. He couldn't even have the grace to admit that people he savagely mocked at the time were right for the right reasons - he has the presumptious gall to still attack the motives and implied prejudices of people he just admited got right what he got disasterously wrong.

'I was wrong, but for the right reasons, the people who were right were right for the wrong reasons' isn't an apology, it's an insult.

Constant Vigilance said...

I don't disagree with you. I set out to try for a balanced review because he had inspired such vitriol. In such a context, and considering the previous posts, I believe I said much the same thing in more diplomatic language. For a blogger aiming to eschew the f-word, churlish is a proper synonym.

I am hopeful you will find the wrap-up suitably critical. Guess I better get started on that.