Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What Micheal Ignatieff really said on Iraq

A big hat tip goes out to "Le Vert" at Politque Vert who unearthed a video from March 15, 2003 in which Michael Ignatieff and three other thinkers spoke for and against the War in Iraq.

Ignatieff makes a strong case for the war, I myself think in hindsight if I had heard it before the invasion I might have been moved, though unlikely convinced, towards the merits of the war.

However, his argument has absolutely nothing to do with the welfare of the Kurds despite Ignatieff's claims that that was his justification found here, here, here and so on.

He only mentions the Kurds once and, when he does, he actually says in that "we have managed to prevent Saddam from committing genocide against the Kurdish people".

So, Michael Ignatieff's sole justification for supporting the war in Iraq in 2006, was, according to him, already "Mission Accomplished", before the war began in 2003.

His actually justification for the war at that time, which in fairness had merit, was the following:

It seems to me the only way we can see this as acceptable ethically is if the Palestinian people get a state. My sense is that the chances of that happening are increased by an Iraqi Operation for two reasons.

One, the Americans can turn to the Israelis and say: "listen, we have removed your chief strategic threat its time for you to do business." We can then turn to the Palestinians and say, "your chief champion is out of here, it is time to settle this conflict."
Now while I think that that was a logical justification then. It has proved in retrospect that that did not work out at all. Terrorism is surging in Iraq and the risk to Iraq's neighobours, including Israel, has probably gone up not down or, at the very least, is the same as it was before. In the meantime, in part because of the anger caused by the invasion, Hamas has come to power in the Palestinian territories making peace all but impossible.

I do not blame Michael Ignatieff for being mistaken, no one can predict the future and his argument had merit in 2003. I do fault him, however, having seen his justification for the war not come to pass, for making up a wholly new reason in the hopes of making himself palatable to Liberals and the Canadian electorate.

In the interests of the research of others and because Ignatieff supporters often argue that quotations from his comments require the full context of his remarks, the following is a full transcript of his statement. Also, in case you don't trust my transcription, I have made an MP3 of his remarks available here.

-Begin Transcript-


I should now like to introduce Michael Ignatieff who is the Director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's JFK, Kennedy, School of Government. He is also the author numerous books, recently The Warrior's Honour, Blood and Belonging and a biography of the late Isaiah Berlin. Michael Ignatieff.


I can't see you but I wanted to address those of you are undecided, that is those of you who are anguished by the choices that you have to make as citizens. The choices put to us are: is this justified and is this wised. What is justified may not be wise. And so, I want to talk to those who are still in a mode to make up your mind.

I wanted to ask first of all: Are there alternatives to war? There certainly are alternatives to war. There's no... war should never be regarded as inevitable.

Let's look at the alternatives. One alternative is to strengthen the inspections. But, the problem with strengthening inspections is that they are only credible if backed by force. And France, Russia, China have made it clear that they would veto in almost any circumstances.

That is to say the French proposition that we can avoid war by continuous inspections depends for its credibility on the very exercise of force that they are prepared to veto. And this seems to me to be... this seems to me to be just a problem with strengthened inspections.

We could then decide that we should simply deter Saddam. And I think he could be deterred from using weapons of mass destruction. But as Mark Danner has conceded, he does have some chemical and biological weapons. And what I think is much more difficult to deter is the possible transfer of these technologies to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. I think the possibility of this happening is small, but any possibility more than zero does pose a national security threat to the United States.

We could also then consider containment. Which would be maintaining the no fly zones, maintaining sanctions, trying to lock the regime down so that he can't use oil revenue to develop weapons of mass destruction.

But as Chris has pointed out sanctions have exerted a very high cost on the Iraqi people. The no fly zones involve combat operations. In a sense we have managed to prevent Saddam from committing genocide against the Kurdish people. But the costs of containment are high and those costs are already being paid by the Iraqi people.

And all of these options: strengthen inspections, deterrence and containment; do leave 25 million people in jail with a dictator. That is a consequence, a cost, of peace. It is as evident to me as it is to you that there are serious costs to war. I am only asking you to think seriously and hard about the consequences of peace. The consequences of peace will be paid by the Iraqi people.

Now, peace leaves Saddam -- possibly without a nuclear program, I concede that point, Mark has made a good point there -- but it leaves the strategic intentions entirely unchanged. It seems to me nobody in this audience would claim that this man does not have the strategic intention to possess weapons of mass destruction. There is an empirical question as to what he possesses but there can't be any doubt as to what his intentions are.

And we leave him in possession of a country and we leave him in possession of strategic intentions which seem to me to pose a threat.

The fact that the world does not support us is deeply problematic. Mark Danner has made a good point there. But propositions don't become wrong simply because other people don't agree with you. Propositions don't become right - let's do this symmetrically - propositions don't become right because everyone agrees with you. This is the burden we all have as citizens. We have to decide what propositions convince us.

The fact that these propositions don't convince the French doesn't frankly mean very much to me. And I -

Let me make a cautious case for war, having looked at some of the alternatives. The case for war is, as Chris suggested, that it frees the Iraqi people - 25 million people - from a dictatorship. It allows them to create a federal, democratic Iraq free of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It gives those people the first chance in their - in two generations - to take the money from oil and use it to build roads and schools and hospitals as opposed to chemical and biological weapons.

It does eliminate the threat, or reduces, sharply reduces, the threat to the State of Israel. It reduces the leadership of Arab rejectionism; the part of the Arab World that says that they will never come to terms and live in peace with the State of Israel. Ever. It subjects those forces to serious historical defeat.

And finally, it eliminates the possibility, a low possibility, but still a possibility, weapons of mass destruction transfer to Al Qaeda.

What is the case against war? The case against war is a case and its not a weak case, I think it's a strong case. Here I might even disagree with Chris.

The case against war is that people will die. Quite a lot of people may die. I am not one who thinks that this is a 72 hour wonder. We have absolutely no way of being certain what the human cost will be. The cost may be high in American lives. It may be high in Iraqi lives.

There is no point of an honest debate unless I concede to you that I cannot tell you that the cost will be zero. I cannot tell you that the cost will be low. And it's morally dishonest to pretend that we're not talking about the death of human beings here.

The second cost, is the possibility that this operation will simply increase hatred for the United States and, instead of reducing risk to the United States - to you as citizens - increase risk to citizens of the United States. To which I can only say: it's a fair point. To which I can only say, this country is deeply hated already and its not clear to me that this is going to make it so much worse.

But let me make (pause) but let me make another point that seems to be crucial here. You can't, I think, conceive an Iraq Operation which produces freedom for the Iraqi people, even under difficult circumstances, apart from what seems to be integrally linked to it: the absolute strategic necessity of the Palestinian people getting a state of their own.

I say strategic, I say strategic necessity, because the only long-term guarantee of the security of the State of Israel is a legitimate, democratic and stable state in Palestine for the Palestinian people.

One of the policy ironies that needs to be firmly understood is that there are no people in the Middle East that hate the Americans more than the Palestinians. There are no people in the Middle East who need the Americans more, who need the Americans more than the Palestinians. Because, frankly, the only power capable of insisting as a consequence to this operation that there are two states in the Middle East is the American government.

This is an irony that needs to be firmly understood. I would find it difficult to support this operation just on national security grounds unless there is a linkage between the two operations.
Because, it does seem to me to increase the risk to the United States if you have Tommy Franks in Baghdad and helicopter gunships in units. It seems to me the only way we can see this as acceptable ethically is if the Palestinian people get a state. My sense is that the chances of that happening are increased by an Iraqi Operation for two reasons.

One, the Americans can turn to the Israelis and say: "listen, we have removed your chief strategic threat its time for you to do business." We can then turn to the Palestinians and say, "your chief champion is out of here, it is time to settle this conflict."

In conclusion, I support the President on this issue. I don't support him on almost anything else.

Secondly and finally, because my red light is on, supporting the president on this does not mean you think America is the last, best hope of mankind. It doesn't commit you to any set of ideological propositions about this country. This country has done some great things, Mark Danner has shown you some moments where it has done some terrible things.

My proposition to you is that this might be a case, if it's done right, in which American power is allied with freedom for 25 million people. Thank you.

-End Transcript-


Anonymous said...

"we have managed to prevent Saddam from committing genocide against the Kurdish people". Right Iggy, and handed over the job to Bush to carry out even more dangerous genocide. I will not be surprised that sectarian conflict is instigated by Americans in Iraq in order to control - divide and conquer.

Iggy loves to theorize and it may sound appealing but it has very little resemblance to reality. We live in a much more dangerous world because of the Iraq invasion and we had another war where Israelis demolished Lebanon. Where is the peace and where is Palestinian state?

In my book Iggy is a dangerous man because of his convictions and he is not in touch with the reality of the world. He will do better as a professor but as a politician and God forbid as a Prime Minister I have very serious doubts and misgivings.

Anonymous said...

It was in the evening news that over 600,000 Iraqis have been killed since war started. Sounds like genocide.

However, I also heard that Iggy is now saying that Israel committed war crimes in Lebanon. May be he will catch on Iraq situation also.

Gary Eric Campbell said...

Right on!!!! If it wasn't for sanctions, Saddam would have been outed by Iraqis themself, sanctions (shame on the international comm) gave him the power to rule as a dictator, thanks to UK/US.
I read a qote from Iggy as to the acceptances and support to violations of the Geneva Conventions, and indeed of US law. on 'lesser evil'grounds that jusitified by his personal sentiments. (Noam Chomsky 's Failed States) This man scares me more than Harper!