Wednesday, March 25, 2009

MIa Culpa Part One

I believe that a sincere apology for an honest mistake is essentially as good as being right in the first place.  If the apology demonstrates an understanding of the mistake made, actual contrition and the personal growth that inevitably results from this process, I believe we can move on from the errors made.  With this in mind I read the articles Michael Ignatieff (MI) wrote to atone for his support for the Iraq Invasion.

To evaluate MI's retraction, I referred to the following articles: "The Year of Living Dangerously"(Part 1),  "ABC Radio National - Background Briefing: 24 April  2005  - Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil" (Part 2) and "Getting Iraq Wrong" (Part 3).   It bears mention that if you have to apologize for something twice, it is an indication that your first apology wasn't very convincing.  In order to keep the review digestible, I broke the post up into three parts, as indicated.  On with the evaluation.  (My emphasis in bold)

Reading the first go-round, it is apparent why MI needed to write a second back-down.  It isn't a personal apology.  Either MI explains why everyone else was wrong:
We thought we were arguing about Iraq, but what might be best for 25 million Iraqis didn't figure very much in the argument. As usual we were talking about ourselves: what America is and how to use its frightening power in the world. The debate turned into a contest of ideologies masquerading as histories.
Critics of the war said all of this was irrelevant. The real issue was oil. But they got the relevance of oil backward.
or he enumerates the ways in which he was misled (which, even at that point he could not fully accept):
I still do not believe that American or British leaders misrepresented Hussein's intentions or lied about the weapons they believed he possessed. ... But if lying was not the problem, exaggeration was, and no one who supported the war is happy about how ''a grave and gathering danger'' ... slowly morphed into an ''imminent'' threat. The honest case for war was ''preventive'' .... The case we actually heard was ''pre-emptive'' -- to stop a tyrant who already possessed weapons and posed an imminent danger.
If you want to make an apology people can believe, it should contain something along the lines of: "I was wrong.  I made a dreadful mistake.  Please forgive me.".  There is nothing of that here.  I do not walk the halls of power.  But I had a very strong suspicion that the case for war was trumped up.  Someone with the resources of Harvard at his disposal, placing his reputation on the line, should have known too.  I bet Scott Ritter would have been willing to have a chat with him.

The next rationalization is purely illogical:
The problem for my side is that if the honest case had been put -- for a preventive as opposed to a pre-emptive war -- the war would have been even more unpopular than it was.
That is correct.  But that would have meant a higher probability that the war would not have proceeded.  Hence the need for honesty in the rationale.  And as a separate point, Is he not implying the it is acceptable to lie to achieve your ends? 

And then he follows with this statement:
But this is also a problem for opponents as well. If they didn't think the case for preventive war was proved this time, what will convince them next time?
Next time, tell us the truth and let us decide based on the facts.  The reason democratic societies demand a higher level of justification is to avoid going to war at all costs.

And even if we give him a pass on that logic, he starts the next paragraph with this:
While I thought the case for preventive war was strong, it wasn't decisive.
So in other words, MI agrees that the case for war wasn't made.  Even for the lower threshold required for a preventive war.  And then, after chastizing the opponents for saying it was about oil, he drops this line:
...I knew that the administration did not see freeing Iraq from tyranny as anything but a secondary objective.
So it wasn't about oil but it wasn't really about freedom.  What was it about then?
To buttress his case he relates a personal vignette:
On March 19, the night the bombing began, I was with an Iraqi exile...
But anecdotal evidence is not a sufficient basis on which to go to war.  Since he has repudiated the official rationale for invasion, his support hinged on this anecdote.  I suspect that a student handing Professor Ignatieff a paper based on such a flimsy premise would have received a failing grade.

He does regain some credibility with this point:
Besides, regime change has obvious costs ... I could respect anyone who argued that these costs were simply too high. What I found harder to respect was how indifferent my antiwar friends seemed to be to the costs of allowing Hussein to remain in power. The costs  ... would be borne by the Iraqis alone. ...So when people said, ''I know he's a dictator, but . . . ,'' the ''but'' seemed like a moral evasion. And when people said, ''He was a genocidal killer, but that was yesterday,'' I thought, Since when do crimes against humanity have a statute of limitations? And when people said, finally, ''There are a lot of dictators, and the U.S. supports most of them,'' this sounded to me like a suave alibi for doing nothing. Now, a year later, I hear the same people tell me they're glad Hussein is gone, but. . . .
At times he seems to have delusions of god like powers:
And I couldn't see how I could will the end -- Hussein must go -- without willing the only available means: American invasion, if need be, alone.
and other times he carries on with a series of statements that are either shocking in their naivete:
So I supported an administration whose intentions I didn't trust, believing that the consequences would repay the gamble. Now I realize that intentions do shape consequences. 
or in the way they display a lack of understanding of the facts of the day:
Securing order would have meant putting 250,000 troops into the invasion as opposed to 130,000.
In the run up to war, Eric Shinseki was fired for standing up to Rumsfeld and insisting that several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed to keep order.  This was well known in the lead up to war.  Why did MI support the war if he expected chaos would result?

More pearls:
The administration, which never tires of telling us that hope is not a plan, had only hope for a plan in Iraq.
The same could be said of MI.

And this:
America had inherited its very own failed state.
America created the failed state by the invasion.  It was oppressive but functioning.  They had water, schools, electricity and working sewers.  The invasion destroyed that.

And to finish, in 2004 at least, he was a Good News Guy:
The press coverage from Baghdad is so gloomy that it's hard to remember that a dictator is gone, oil is pumping again and the proposed interim constitution contains strong human rights guarantees.
and a "Stay The Course" fellow as well:
If the United States falters now, civil war is entirely possible. If it falters, it will betray everyone who has died for something better.
I am afraid that I find this apology unacceptable.  MI does not assume personal responsibility for his actions.   He does not honestly address the fact that the opponents of the war were right.  There is definitely no display of personal growth or contrition.

I hope you will join me to see how he fairs in Part Two.
Recommend this Post

No comments: