Saving face on personal level doesn’t solve Iraq problems

James Dooley

As the war in Iraq trudges forward, many early supporters of the endeavor have begun to jump ship. First there was Francis Fukuyama, the neo-liberal poster boy who once declared that the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled the “end of history,” meaning that we had arrived at the end of human political evolution. More recently, Canadian politician and former Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff renounced his initial support for the war in a New York Times Magazine article.
Ignatieff was an early supporter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, having seen firsthand the terror of the Hussein regime in 1992 on a tour of the northern regions of the country, especially Kurdistan. His Iraqi-exile colleagues further convinced him that only the removal of Hussein could bring justice to this troubled region, and with this in mind, he threw his full support behind President Bush and the pending war.
This spring, the war will reach its fifth anniversary; America wasn’t even in WWII that long. With each year, it has become increasingly apparent that the administration did not have a viable plan for how to manage the country. As Ignatieff himself notes, the answer to the question “Can Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites hold together in peace what Saddam Hussein held together by terror?” quickly resolved itself into a resounding “No.” He admits that he was personally blinded by the words of his exile friends, not realizing the degree to which their emotions were regulating their words and actions.
He goes on to detail further reasons for his support of the war, as well as some vague musings about the hardship of being in public office at such a time. However, he fails to make any sort of structural conclusions about the war and why it happened. From reading the article, you get the sense that our current situation is nothing more than a “whoopsie,” a well-intentioned mistake on the part of a president who, nonetheless, had the courage to see beyond his critics and pursue what he felt to be the righteous path. He admits to a mistake but then proceeds to qualify his way out of any responsibility.

As such, this is sort of a non-admission. Ignatieff admits that he was mistaken, but he piles the excuses on so high that it no longer really matters. He shies away from any real criticisms of the overall neo-liberal project that is at work here attempting to forge a new American Empire overseas. His analysis does not move beyond the surface level and, as such, is rather worthless. All he has done is acknowledge that things have gone badly (which, to be fair, is better than many war supporters who still maintain that we are “making progress on the ground”) and that our idealism with regards to our “liberating mission” was deeply flawed and misplaced.

What lies at the heart of it all is Ignatieff’s respect for a leader who is unswerving in his convictions regardless of public criticism. Clearly, the ability to stand up for one’s principles is an important leadership quality. However, the Iraq War is not a case in this. It is more arrogance than strength of character. President Bush and fellow hawks correctly realized that they could sneak their colonial project by the public as long as it was couched in the correct terms. Ignatieff and other conservative intellectuals played right into this, supporting the war with the usual rhetoric of liberating an oppressed people and delivering them to freedom. Remember, the operational name of the 2003 invasion was “Iraqi Freedom.” Not exactly subtle.

This article reveals Ignatieff for what he really is; a neo-liberal intellectual blinded by his so-called “realism.” His withdrawal of support for the war is purely tactical; the war is not going well, the occupation was badly planned, etc. He has nothing to say about why we entered Iraq in the first place, or what it is about the current administration’s mindset that led us into the untenable situation we are now faced with. Indeed, by renouncing his support now, he is seeking to wash his hands of the whole affair, and we, the public, are left to wonder just what exactly it is that should be done about this mess that we have created.