Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
- "The Rights Revolution" (to delve into his views on human rights culture as it pertains to Canada),
- a three part look at: "If Torture Works..." (to sort out in my own mind the claims that he supports torture)
- "The American Empire", The Burden" (a look at his infamous NYT article supporting the march to war
- And "The Year Of Living Dangerously", the transcript of an Australian Broadcasting Corporation Background Briefing episode "Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil" and "Getting Iraq Wrong" (the evolution of his retreat from the Iraq War)
This book, based on MI's Massey Lectures of the same name is a good platform to see what his reputation is based on. While there were not any ground breaking thoughts for anyone who has followed the development of Canadian society for the past 40 years, it is an excellent compendium of these events. It makes a good companion to "Reflections of a Siamese Twin" by John Ralston Saul. I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in modern Canadian society.
As Posner and others have tartly pointed out, if torture and coercion are both as useless as critics pretend, why are they used so much? While some abuse and outright torture can be attributed to individual sadism, poor supervision and so on, it must be the case that other acts of torture occur because interrogators believe, in good faith, that torture is the only way to extract information in a timely fashion.
6. A controlled mass media.
Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes excesses.
It is hard to find a moredefinitive example of this than strangling a natiowide media (that leans over backwards to be fair to the Conservatives) while supporting a ridiculous far right rag that only wingnuts read (or have someone read to them).
Spring is coming. Enjoy it. It could be our last free one if we don't get these crazies out of office soon.Recommend this Post
Thursday, March 26, 2009
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
And thus begins Michael Ignatieff's
He definitely seems to have learned some lessons:
He definitely seems to have learned some lessons:
Having left an academic post at Harvard in 2005 and returned home to
Canadato enter political life, I keep revisiting the 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. Iraq
The philosopher Isaiah
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. Berlin
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
MI gives credit to the war opponents for being right:
The people who truly showed good judgment on
MI gives credit to the war opponents for being right:
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
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.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
On March 19, the night the bombing began, I was with an Iraqi exile...
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. . . .
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.
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.
Securing order would have meant putting 250,000 troops into the invasion as opposed to 130,000.
The administration, which never tires of telling us that hope is not a plan, had only hope for a plan in Iraq.
America had inherited its very own failed state.
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.
If the United States falters now, civil war is entirely possible. If it falters, it will betray everyone who has died for something better.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Guns help define less intrusive Conservative government at home and more muscular foreign policies abroad.
So it's hardly surprising that a law-and-order administration associates itself with arms raffles or that Stephen Harper made the Afghanistan war his own and so often uses soldiers as props. What's remarkable is that keeping gun control alive is better for the Tories than keeping the promise to kill it.
Liberals did Conservatives a lasting favour by introducing the long-gun registry and then letting a break-even proposition become a $2 billion embarrassment synonymous with red tape. With the possible exception of same-sex marriage, nothing alienated more Western, centre-right and rural voters. Once-safe Liberal seats swung Conservative and haven't budged.
How valuable is the registry to Harper? Precious enough that Tories continue to bash it as symbolic of the Liberal nanny state, but have not abolished it in three years in power. Harper is now leaving its fate to a private member's bill – a process prone to failure.
He then uses that observation as a launching pad to a more general maxim for all parties. Avoid accountability at your own peril.
If Conservatives listened to their own rhetoric – and weren't hunting eastern, swing and urban voters – shooting the gun registry would have been a first-term priority. If they believed in protecting the public purse, then the Prime Minister wouldn't be asking for $3 billion to spend behind closed doors. If accountability was more than a slogan, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page wouldn't be fighting for the independence and funding necessary to do his job.
Liberals paid the highest political price for avoiding that discipline. Now Conservatives are making the same mistake even as they continue pointing fingers at the Liberal folly. What both missed or ignored is that ruling parties put themselves at greatest peril when they spend fast, loose and in the dark.
Sage advice indeed.Recommend this Post
Monday, March 23, 2009
There is a "schism" in the governing Conservative Party between the old Reform and PC wings that will likely erupt whenever Prime Minister Stephen Harper steps down as leader because there is no obvious successor who can unite the two sides, say some conservatives.
"I think as long as Harper is the leader, there's going to be a unity there, but I think there is definitely a schism in the party between the old Progressive Conservative wing and the Canadian Alliance/Reform wing. The day Stephen Harper steps down as leader, you're going to see that become a real issue because I don't see anybody as a possible successor to Stephen, who could appeal to both wings," said Democracy Institute senior fellow Gerry Nicholls, former vice-president of the National Citizens Coalition, in an interview with The Hill Times recently.
But Conservative strategist Tim Powers, vice-president of consulting firm Summa Strategies, said that the Conservative Party is "stronger than any one person" and Mr. Nicholls' statements were meant to be controversial.
Mr. Daifallah said. "If one lesson has been learned over the past decade it's that if things aren't going the way you'd like in the party the solution is not to start up a new party. I don't think there's anyone who's thinking about starting a new party if the person who they don't want wins the next leadership race."
Sunday, March 22, 2009
When the Cons banned a foreign politician,
I remained silent;
I was not a foreign politician.
Then they denied funding to the CAF,
I remained silent;
I was not an Arab.
Then they banned the non Official Language speakers,
I did not speak out;
I am fluent in English.
When they backed the gun lobby,
I did not speak out;
I do not own a gun.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.
Inspired by (obviously)
Even if this week has been a manifestation of a flight forward strategy by Harper, it is still frightening that the Conservatives would take these actions. The path to totalitarianism is always travelled by baby steps. I am not disappointed in Harper. He is just displaying the tendencies we know he possesses. The Interim Leader of the Liberal Party, however, lays claim to a reputation as a human rights advocate. Ignatieff's relative silence is unacceptable. He claims to be inspired by Trudeau. Perhaps he should also look to Tommy Douglas during the October Crisis. If you believe in something stand up for it. Definitively.
Perhaps ending with a poem showing how people carry on with their lives while tragedies occur about them is appropriate.
Musee des beax arts (The fall of Icarus)
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
W. H. Auden