Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ignatieff Gets It

You can't expect to find a candidate that absolutely agrees with you on every issue. In a practical world, all you can realistically demand of leadership is honest and frank discussion, the ability to admit mistakes, and a sense that there is a moral coherence to the message. Even when you vehemently disagree with a position, you can find some acceptance if the thought process attaches some concrete values. Case in point, Ignatieff and his support for the war in Iraq. While Ignatieff finds similarity with the neocon position, he gets there for entirely different reasons, and frankly his intentions are somewhat admirable:
What I say is, they have to understand what I saw in Iraq in 1992. I have been a human rights reporter and you get scorched by what you see. I saw what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds in 1992 and I decided there and then that I would stand with these people no matter what happens. And I've done so ever since.

I've paid the price but I see no point in pretending otherwise. I did believe at the time, because Saddam had invaded Kuwait and Iran at the cost of 1 million lives, that he was both a human disaster and a strategic menace. I believed that in 2003, I still believe it.

The Americans have made every mistake in Iraq, and then some. I don't have any trouble admitting I grievously underestimated the American capacity to do this right. I've made lots of mistakes in my life and I'm sure I'm going to make more. What I won't do is walk back from very fundamental human rights commitments that I've made ...

I take Ignatieff at his word, that he was "scorched" by the atrocities he witnessed. The Ignatieff view of Iraq isn't guided by oil or power, but a dedication to human rights. Within this context, his support for the war isn't completely without merit. You can question his judgment, because this war seemed so terribly flawed from the onset, but I don't think it fair to throw Ignatieff in with the Bush bunch that used human rights and repression as an afterthought to sell the war.

On Afghanistan, Ignatieff's position isn't as far removed from Kennedy as first blush would suggest. Ignatieff doesn't articulate the blind logic that Harper argues and you do sense a pragmatic approach with these comments:
The Taliban offensive will probably run out of gas as the winter season comes. These things are seasonal. One benchmark of success is if we don't get a resumption next spring. If it comes back gangbusters in April '07, we do have a problem. The second benchmark is just intelligence co-operation. Are villagers helping us? Our moral legitimacy depends on us believing we are their friends and the Taliban their enemies. If we start to lose intelligence co-operation and help, that's a pretty good benchmark that something has gone badly wrong in our relationship...

Then there's some reconstruction benchmarks that are important. Part of my benchmark for evaluating Harper is whether he's got the reconstruction, humanitarian and military pillars of this in balance. If this becomes exclusively a counter-terrorism exercise, that's not what the Canadians wanted and that's not what the Liberal mission implied.

Ignatieff argues for "balance", which isn't terribly removed from Kennedy's call for changing our emphasis to make the mission work. Ignatieff also acknowledges the critical points which will reveal our success or failure, employing a "wait and see" mentality, as opposed to simple stubbornnesss and dedication for a lost exercise. I get the sense that Ignatieff's view isn't written in stone, the mission isn't open-ended and we will adjust accordingly. Ignatieff seems to recognize the fluid nature of this exercise.

Honesty is refreshing, Ignatieff seems to offer this in spades. On pure policy Ignatieff isn't my first choice, but that doesn't diminish my sense that the man gets it. Superficial similarities don't support "Harper-lite", because these men are light years apart on the paths they travel to get to the end result- if they do join, or mirror, it is more coincidence than evidence of kindred souls.


Apparently, Scott Brison disagrees, in what looks to be a desperate attempt to get some press for a failed campaign. Brison makes Conservatives grin, clearly time to cull the herd.


Stephen said...

Why take him at his word?

Why not read some of what he wrote before the war, and see if he made his personal experience of the past suffering of the Kurds his decisive argument in favour of 'regime change' as the 'imperial task par excellence,' or as a necessary act of 'imperial policing' in a post-9/11 world, where rogues might pass WMD onto terrorist networks.

I think you'll find he didn't make the Kurds the 'clincher' of his argument.

And that makes me wonder why we should take him at his word?

Anonymous said...

How bold! He's standing with the Kurds against Saddam. Let me guess, he also stands with the Jews against the Hitler?

This pretext may not sound so hollow if he had advocated intervention a couple of decades earlier. Unfortunately, when Saddam was doing his worst against the Kurds, a certain cast of characters in the Reagan WH, namely Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz, Libby, Feith et al were his most ardent backers, ...the same crew that now make up the Bush war cabinet waxing indignant at atrocities they were complicit to. And we all know Ignatieff's propensity to toe the US line.

Fact remains, the Kurds were the most autonomous they've ever been in 2003, and genuine champions of the Kurdish plight like Ambassador Peter Galbraith are some of the most vocal critics of the war.

While Ambassador Galbraith risked life and limb documenting the persecution of the Kurds as it was being perpetrated in the 80's and penning legislation against the perpetrators, Ignatieff only arrived at the scene after Saddam officially fell out of favour with the US and there was a US-led war to market.

Opposition to Saddam and empathy to the Kurdish plight has been a consistent view of the left and a nouveau riche for the right and their apologists.

Opposition to the Iraq war does not mean supporting Saddam or indifference toward the Kurdish plight.

Steve V said...

Those are valid criticisms, and I don't mean to suggest Ignatieff was right in supporting the war (in fact, it was a colossal mistake). I just have an easier time accepting Ignatieff's rationale than I would listening to the arguments of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.