Good looks, nobel lineage, spineless December 16, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Canada.
Tags: Bush, Canada, harvard, human rights, ignatieff, Iraq, Iraq war, lebanon, liberal, linda mcquaig, prime minister, qana, roger hollander, torture, war crime
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Toronto Star, December 16, 2008
As a child, Michael Ignatieff probably wouldn’t have sounded unreasonable saying he wanted to be prime minister when he grew up.
The newly crowned Liberal leader has always had some impressive trappings: good looks, noble lineage, verbal dexterity, an air of gravitas and an impressive CV of teaching human rights at Harvard.
His self-imposed, decades-long exile from his native land might pose a problem in some countries. But here, where our elite instills in us a sense of inferiority to great powers like the U.S. and Britain, Ignatieff has been forgiven for finding Canada a little confining.
Still, there are some problems.
I’m not just referring to Ignatieff’s well-publicized support for George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq and for torture (but only of really bad people).
More broadly, Ignatieff seems to lack convictions, let alone basic human feeling.
In a revealing interview with the Star‘s Linda Diebel during Israel’s 2005 invasion of Lebanon, Ignatieff was asked if his call for a ceasefire had been prompted by the Israeli bombing of the Lebanese village of Qana, which left 28 dead, including numerous children. Ignatieff denied that it was the Qana bombing that had influenced him. “This is the kind of dirty war you’re in when you have to do this and I’m not losing sleep about that.”
Now, it’s okay to note that war is hell and innocent people die. But to say “I’m not losing sleep about that” – after media photos displayed the mangled remains of very small children – suggests a degree of detachment that borders on the unfeeling.
Ignatieff compensated by calling the Qana bombing a “war crime” during a French-language TV interview.
That turned out to be a far greater misstep politically, and Ignatieff struggled to distance himself from his own words. Two years later he was still backtracking, describing his “war crimes” comment as “the most painful experience of my short political career, and it was an error.”
Some observers chalked all this up to inexperience.
But does it really take experience – beyond being alive – to feel something when children are bombed to death? To then go full circle and denounce the bombing as a war crime, and then go full circle again and try to retract an arguably appropriate term, suggests the behaviour of someone who flaps wildly in the wind, who cuts and runs in the political heat, who lacks a basic moral compass.
Ignatieff showed the same moral evasiveness in his attempt to distance himself from his support for the Iraq invasion.
Given the scope of the Iraqi tragedy that has unfolded, anyone who played a role in facilitating the invasion has a great deal to account for. And Ignatieff did play a role. From his prestigious human rights perch at Harvard, Ignatieff’s eloquent defence of Bush’s war plans in the New York Times Magazine in the run-up to the invasion helped sell a preposterous war to the American people.
Rather than taking some responsibility and expressing genuine remorse in a follow-up New York Times Magazine article in 2007, Ignatieff artfully dodged and ducked any blame, absolving academics like himself of any responsibility for promoting the war. As a mea culpa, Ignatieff’s piece was long on mea and short on culpa.
Media commentators here have been quick to hail Ignatieff as a natural leader, strong and resolute.
He does have good curb appeal. But beyond the measured phrases and chiseled features, the royal stuff inside may be more Jell-O than jelly.
Murky past could haunt Ignatieff December 11, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: Add new tag, Afghanistan, american exceptionalism, Bush, Canada, chretien, coercive interrogation, conservative, deception, haroon siddiqui, harper, harvard, hooding, human rights, ignatieff, International law, Iraq, liberal, Mackay, martin, neo-conservative, pre-emptive war, roger hollander, saddam, secrecy, sleep deprvation, Taliban, targeted assassination, torture, trudeau
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Toronto Star, December 11, 2008
Set aside the debate over whether the Liberal party has been as cynical and undemocratic in the pursuit of power as King Stephen (Harper) or just agile enough to respond well to the extraordinary developments of the last 10 days.
Ignore that Michael Ignatieff’s coronation was engineered with the same ruthless methodology used by Paul Martin – elbowing out a leader by taking control of the party machinery. Time will tell if Ignatieff’s manoeuvre works any better in the long run than Martin’s.
Rather, consider this:
While Americans have turned to Barack Obama to thoroughly repudiate George W. Bush’s agenda, Canadians are saddled with a Prime Minister and now his potential replacement as well who have both been Bush cheerleaders.
Arguably, the Liberal leader has been even more so than his Conservative counterpart.
As is well-known, Ignatieff supported the war in Iraq, a position he only semi-retreated from last year, in Year 4 of the botched occupation. Even then, he argued that he had been wrong for the right reasons (saving the Kurds from Saddam Hussein), while opponents of the war may have been right for the wrong reasons (ideological opposition to Bush).
He also supported the use of such harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects as sleep deprivation and hooding, even while saying he opposed torture.
He was also an advocate for American exceptionalism in defiance of international law.
Ignatieff’s supporters argue that he was merely thinking aloud as a public intellectual.
That won’t wash. He was an active participant in the American public debate both preceding and following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was among those liberals – a professor of human rights at Harvard, no less – who provided intellectual cover for Bush’s neo-conservative policies.
Ignatieff’s positions were the exact opposite of where a majority of Canadians stood on issues that are a point of differentiation between Canada and the U.S.
Canadians may no longer feel as strongly, preoccupied as they are with the economy. But we can be certain that the Tories won’t let him off the hook. They will remind voters of all that he said and wrote.
We got a taste of it early this year in Parliament. On Jan. 28, during a debate on Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter MacKay noted: “He has said previously … `To defeat evil,’ we must `traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war.’”
Two days later, MacKay added that the Taliban “might also be interested to know that he said, `Defeating terror requires violence. It may also require coercion, secrecy, deception, even violation of rights.’”
This is not an ideological issue of right or left. Managing the relationship with the U.S. is one of the central duties of the prime minister. We’ve had different models – Harper’s and Jean Chrétien’s, to take two contemporary examples.
But we’ve never had a Liberal leader, let alone a prime minister, who had lived in the U.S. long enough to count himself in among “we Americans,” and worse, had been a noisy apologist for some of the worst foreign and domestic policy disasters of American history.
Ignatieff is a man of formidable intellect, who has spent a lifetime thinking through some of the knottiest issues of our age. He is well suited to articulate a liberal vision for Canada, at home and abroad, the way Pierre Elliot Trudeau did.
But he cannot do so successfully while dodging his murky past.
Haroon Siddiqui writes on Thursday and Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org