From his Harvard keyboard, Ignatieff told us why people other than him should risk life and limb to kill people and destroy towns in a place he doesn't live. His theoretical justifications made my blood boil.
When I heard that Ignatieff recently admitted he was wrong about Iraq, I felt, out of fairness, that I should read the piece.
I couldn't get it through it without smoke coming out of my ears.
The Globe and Mail's Rick Salatin explains why.
For a moment last Sunday, as I opened Michael Ignatieff's alleged mea culpa - Getting Iraq Wrong - in The New York Times Magazine (heralded in advance by The Globe and Mail and lauded by the Times's resident war critic, Frank Rich), I thought he might have learned something. Then I read his piece.
"One thing is clear: The costs of staying will be borne by Americans, while the cost of leaving will be mostly borne by Iraqis." How obscene. It is Iraq that was shattered. There are two million internal and two million external refugees. Everyone has weapons. No one has dependable power and thus clean water except the occupiers in the increasingly targeted Green Zone. The people of Iraq bore the cost of the U.S. going in and staying, and they will bear the cost when and if it leaves. All U.S. losses are collateral damage.
Or this: The war's opponents "opposed the invasion because they believed ... America is always and in every situation wrong." Exactly who said that, Michael? Could we have a name? It's a cheap straw man, that's all, to go along with platitudes such as, "Not all good things, after all, can be had together, whether in life or in politics."
What was the error of the war's backers? That they took "wishes for reality" and supposed, "as President Bush did, that because they believed in the integrity of their own motives everyone else in the region would believe in it, too." What motives? To build "a free state" in Iraq, defend "human rights and freedom," etc. In other words, he accepts at face value all the rhetoric and propaganda used to justify the invasion. In other other words, there were no lies told. That's the stunning moment in his article. We are to believe that governments do not routinely lie about their motives, yet he himself writes in this very piece: "In public life, language is a weapon of war ... All that matters is what you said, not what you meant." So we're supposed to believe George Bush did say what he meant? Let me catch my breath.
(There.) I admit I feel a bit icky attacking someone while he's trying to apologize, but I'm forcing myself because I think there's a larger issue here. I consider this article part of an effort to salvage a carefully constructed policy of Western interventionism in much of the world that has recently been sullied by the Iraq fiasco.
The policy itself remains. Tony Blair retires as British PM and morphs into a Mideast peace envoy, as if what that wretched region needs is yet more Western meddling. Gordon Brown takes over from him and prepares to depart Iraq but move even more heavily into Afghanistan, which gets typed as the good war, as opposed to the bad one in Iraq. The U.S. Democratic presidential candidates are all interventionists on this model. Yves Engler has presciently noted Canada's modest role in the pattern by policing Haiti, a tragic land that has suffered two centuries of near constant intervention.
The arguments for this course of action were built up by, among others, Michael Ignatieff, during the 1990s, when anti-communism was no longer available to justify Western foreign policy. The new rationales were human rights, failed states, right to protect, etc. The showcases were Bosnia and Kosovo (though ethnic cleansing in Kosovo occurred after, and due to, the NATO bombing there), which led to Iraq and Afghanistan. It amounts to the same old world order of power politics, in a new dress. The only nations that claim the right to protect are those with the might to protect. The issue not addressed is whether foreign interventionism itself is a problem, complicit in many problems that "we" must then intervene in order to contain.
These policies have helped bring us to a point where almost everyone in the world is irate, terrified or both. It's time for a big rethink. That involves more than saying Oops about the isolated case of Iraq.
Justify death, disability, trauma, destruction. Justify ruined families, wasted lives. And get paid for it, too. Raise your name recognition. Get people talking.
What, you were wrong? Take the high road: say you're sorry. Not because these wars-for-profit are wrong, period; just because you were too trusting in this one specific instance.
Then write another article, campaign for office, get people talking some more. Live to see another day. It's all so easy.