Kirsten Garrett: Members of the audience continued to question Professor Igantieff about the many legal and moral questions raised by America’s invasion of Iraq. In particular he was asked about the arguments that the reason for going in to topple Saddam was that he had weapons of mass destruction which he would give to terrorists.
Michael Ignatieff: We’ve learned, this is something that Professor Loury made very, very clear; part of his scepticism of adversarial justification depends on I think a simply empirical fact, is that we are given very, very bad information on which to base our deliberations, and the information is messed around with, and without asserting outright lying, we had an absolutely lousy set of facts on which to make judgments about pre-emption and prevention, and that the lesson you draw from this is simply never believe unless you see real money, when a President tells you a threat is real and a threat is imminent. The takeaway from Iraq is show me the money, show me imminence, show me threat, and also be much clearer, this would be a self-criticism, me, is notorious that I supported the war. Part of my reason for doing so was I thought the question of whether, of how much bad stuff he had was going to be unclear. But I thought there was absolutely zero doubt about the malignity of his intentions. Zero doubt about his strategic intention. It wasn’t clear that he had weapons of mass destruction, it seemed indubitable, based on his track record, and I looked at the inspectors’ reports from ’91 onwards with some care. It seemed indubitable from that series of facts, and they were pretty good facts, that he had the strategic intentions to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and therefore the factual question of what he had at any given moment might be unclear, but the strategic intentions were clear and when you paired that to the fact that this man had made war on, twice in a short span of time, that is he was a danger to his neighbours and he was also a genocidal dictator towards his own people, and I’ve been up in northern Iraq and I’ve seen that and it wasn’t ideology to me, I’d spinned at Halajba, I’d talked to the widows of people who’d been killed by him. So I did due diligence in terms of what the facts were. And the facts about him on human rights grounds were as bad as people say. There was no spin in the Bush camp on that regard, there was huge spin on the weapons of mass destruction and threat side. But I think I come out of this thinking that I was much too loose with my criteria, strategic intention, malign intention de-coupled from actual capability isn’t good enough, is one takeaway I get. That is, it’s not enough to say the guy’s got a bad track record, and bad form, there has to be some evidence of actual capability, some jars, some files, some rockets, something. And the absence of that seems to me to be a devastating negative. I think if I had to revisit my own decision-making on this, I would say You’ve got to show me the money of actual capability, and not just intention. So that would be a takeaway.
In terms of the general theory though, I just think we are in a world in which pre-emptive military action and even preventive military action is on the cards. I simply don’t see how we can escape that possibility. So in theory, I’m actually not, I’m prepared to look at a future in which pre-emption and prevention occurs. My problem is actually it’s democratic regulation, and it’s international regulation, getting back to the fact problem. The real problem here is controlling the President’s war power, some way, somehow, and how it can be done. It’s a danger in the international system, there’s no question about it. I’m much more sceptical of the UN, although again, here it’s another second thought about this process. Where I feel I was spun by the President’s fog machine was the dissing of Blix. One of the interesting things about the whole story, we forget this, is that Cheney and Bush went after Blix and his credibility, and it turns out that the only people who knew squat about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were the much-despised Blix and Barraday, and the inspection teams through ’91 to ’98. The scandal from an American national security point of view is that when you look at what the Americans put together on his weapons capabilities, it was all from the UN inspectors. So the much-despised UN weapons inspectors had much more accurate knowledge. One direct consequence of that is that the right course of action would have been to wait until Blix either found it or didn’t. And I was mistaken about that. I got the feeling Well Blix won’t find it, and Blix will suck his thumb, and we’ll be here, the troops will be sitting in their body armour for six months, and it just is a practical, political matter, you can’t keep it going for. Well it turns out that Blix and Barraday were doing a good job, and the inspectors did a good job. And one of the consequences, one of the things that has been wicked, in my view, wrong about the President’s dissing of the United Nations has been is that they succeeded in delegitimising the information from the one source in this matter that actually was credible. And that’s terrible for the future. Because next time we go to the well, the American public’s not going to – and we’re almost there. Barraday is talking to Iran, the IAEA in Vienna’s talking and they’re the only people who know squat about – and the American public is under the illusion that the CIA and the DIA have better satellite intelligence than the IAEA. Now this sounds like a technical insider baseball thing, but it’s terribly important. My feeling is that international supervision of weapons of mass destruction is better, more credible, more accurate information than our national intelligence agencies, but the Republican anti-UN spin is such that when Barraday comes out and says, Look, we don’t know whether they’ve got weapons, we don’t know exactly where they are with this fuel cycle, we don’t know exactly, we need more time, you can just absolutely bet the dogs will be let loose on this stuff again. And that’s a huge danger. So I’ve re-thought a lot about this stuff, it’s a very bad, bad story and we need to re-think the Iraq story carefully, because Iran is next up.
So in short he didn't do his due diligence. "It seemed indubitable" doesn't cut it when it comes to war. But over all this exchange strikes a very much more apologetic tone. It isn't perfect but it is a lot better than the one he wrote a year earlier.
One aspect which troubles me is that he is not leading the debate. Prior to the war he accepted the Administration's story. After the invasion as it became apparent to all but the most ardent Bush supporters that "Bush lied and people died", he can finally see through the artifice of the war march. This doesn't speak well of his abilities as a visionary leader.Recommend this Post