Friday, November 14, 2008

Yep. Called It. Apologias for Iggy All Around!

I had said Whatzisname was going to Iggy. It was patently obvious. And now, lo and behold, he's gone to iggy.

That's not what's striking.

What's striking is that, at a time when progressives have received a huge mandate in America, he seems ready to "throw them under the bus", in an attempt to replicate the ridiculous Democratic failure of triangulation between 1992 and 2006.

After all, never mind the blather about "going to the centre, where the votes are" (well, yes, but that's meaningless, if you're focusing on a center that doesn't reflect the views of the public), how else can you interpret this?

• On Québec, I had opposed the “Québecois-are-a-nation” resolution with which Ignatieff had been associated. I still oppose it. But every non-separatist political party – and every non-separatist political leader – came to support it. And, I admit, the country did not fall into chaos or the vortex of endless constitutional gamesmanship. We are still here, the resolution notwithstanding. That is the reality.
• On Iraq, like many Canadians (but not Stephen Harper and not a few Liberals), I had opposed the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its allies. Ignatieff initially supported the war – as had the Clintons, and as had most of the Democratic Party establishment. By March 2004 – long before he became an MP, let alone a Liberal leadership contestant – he was writing in the New York Times that he had been wrong. That impressed me.
• On Israel, I and many others had been upset that Ignatieff wondered aloud if war crimes had been committed in Qana. Soon afterwards, he agreed that such determinations should be left to international bodies – and he went to Holy Blossom Temple to apologize, and accept personal responsibility for his error. That impressed me, too.
• On torture, I made an error myself. I relied upon some highly selective accounts of Ignatieff’s writings on war, terrorism and coercion – accounts cobbled together by Ignatieff’s partisan and academic detractors – and rushed to my computer keyboard. If I had read more widely, I would have seen that activists at places like Human Rights Watch had defended Ignatieff’s position – and I would have seen that his true position was a complete ban on torture, because the use of it places us all on the inexorable slide towards the appalling notion that, as he warned, “human beings are expendable.” I had fundamentally mischaracterized his views, and I regret that.
So, let's go through these, step by step.

First, the "Quebec as a nation" thing was what handed Quebec to Harper, and then kept the BQ alive. The question of constitutional recognition of the resolution is a source of constant agitation by Quebec nationalists, and the very existence of the resolution provides them with strong legal grounds for their claims. To say "well, no problem so far" is idiotic. That's like a banker saying "meh, what's the worst that could happen" when looking at default swap figures.

Second, notice that the one guy who did oppose Iraq from the get-go is going to be president in January? I realize Kinsella doesn't give (as Spider Jerusalem so memorably put it) "two tugs of a dead dog's cock" about progressives, but he should be insightful enough to know that they don't like Iraq war supporters. Especially ones who, like Ignatieff, didn't really turn their back on the war. Go read what he said; he defended his support of the war as "the least of bad options" while continuing to read out the old lines about "gathering storms" that were questionable then and ridiculous now.

(The man said "I still do not believe that American or British leaders misrepresented Hussein's intentions or lied about the weapons they believed he possessed", for God's sake, and has never apologized for that little gem even after the Downing Street Memos were unearthed!)

More importantly to progressives, his apology on Iraq argued that it should have been sold as "a preventive, instead of preemptive war." Is this really the view of the Liberal Party of Canada? Is it the view of Canadians? It's sure not the view of Americans, and holy HELL is it not the view of progressives!

What's going to stop Jack Layton and Elizabeth May (or her successor) from taking that line and gleefully feeding it to him?

On Israel/Palestine, the problem is not so much the Qana incident itself. It never has been. What Qana betrayed was the basic unseriousness and glib attitude of the man. It was a classic "gaffe", in that he said what he was clearly thinking, and paid the price for it. Has that unseriousness about policy gone anywhere? Certainly he's more serious about politics, considering the brutal factional politics within the Liberal party, but policy?

And as for the torture thing, well... to be honest, I'm amazed. If there are detractors who can put together a case so convincing that someone as savvy as Warren can be swayed by it, then isn't that a problem in and of itself? Yes, fine, Kenneth Roth defended him. So what? The detractors (like myself) had a point, and continue to have a point, when we point out that his apologias for torture leave gaping holes where he says "oh, no, we shouldn't torture, but I can completely understand why people would and completely believe in its efficacy."

No, No, No! It is not efficacious, people whose knowledge of interrogation goes beyond applying SERES to whatever Arabs are handy know it's not effective, and the man has zero credibility on the subject since he only came out against "enhanced interrogation" to save his hide.

And how on earth can anybody who writes something like this have credibility in the first place?
It is often said....that neither coercive interrogation nor torture is necessary, since entirely lawful interrogation can secure just as effective results. There must be some truth to this. Israeli interrogators have given interviews assuring the Israeli public that physical duress is unnecessary. But we are grasping at straws if we think this is the entire truth. As Posner and others have tartly pointed out, if torture and coercion are both as useless as critics pretend, why are they used so much? While some abuse and outright torture can be attributed to individual sadism, poor supervision and so on, it must be the case that other acts of torture occur because interrogators believe, in good faith, that torture is the only way to extract information in a timely fashion. It must also be the case that if experienced interrogators come to this conclusion, they do so on the basis of experience. The argument that torture and coercion do not work is contradicted by the dire frequency with which both practices occur.
Oh, and he's one of those people who tries to draw a mealy-mouthed distinction between "torture" and "coercive interrogation". Even when trying to save his ass and win the Liberal leadership, he still couldn't jettison this crap.

Never mind the lack of intellectual rigor betrayed by anybody who would make the tiger-rock argument that "It must also be the case that if experienced interrogators come to this conclusion, they do so on the basis of experience" being a problem in-and-of itself. How on earth is he supposed to retain progressives who have two (strong) options for their vote AND the example of an American president who won big by opposing the Iraq war?

The answer? He doesn't give a rat's ass about them. He's going to fight Harper on his own right-wing turf. And, apparently, Whatzisname is okay with that.

The basic problem is the same one it has always been. The Liberals skew right. Harper holds his ground. conservatives—generally content with Harper—stay where they are. Progressives say "screw it, they're both right wing parties anyway." They vote NDP or Green, depending on where they live and their key issues. The Conservatives win. Big.

The Liberals try to skew farther right. The Conservatives continue to hold their ground, maybe move a bit to the left, because they can count on their flank's loyalty. More progressives flee. The NDP starts winning urban seats and working-class seats. The Greens start winning assorted seats as they fine-tune their message and focus their resources. The Liberals, rootless, faithless and philosophically unmoored, no longer demonstrate any reason to exist.

The Liberals die, absorbed by the new (Green?) Democratic party and the Conservatives. Harper wins. Flanagan wins. Layton wins. And Whatzisname? Bigtime loser.

Edit: Yep, I also know that he ain't interested in any of this stuff. He chose Iggy because he thinks Iggy is going to win, wants to be seen as backing that winning candidate, and is using the blog as a way of spinning. That's clear enough. He's jettisoned all of his principled arguments against Iggy because the principles in question aren't convenient anymore. That's clear enough, too.

What isn't clear is why he thinks that Jack is going to sit on his hands and not move his own party to scoop up all the disaffected progressives. I know he hates the NDP, but you'd think he'd be savvier towards their tactics and strategy at this point.

Edit 2: Ah, yes, I didn't link to the 2006 "Getting Iraq Wrong" piece. It was
unutterably goofy passive-voice "mistakes were made" nonsense, but if you do want to read it, enjoy. You'll especially like the part where he continues to call war opponents names for daring to think that the war was at least partly about money. Who wouldn't like being called "dumb-asses who were right about everything for the wrong reasons, instead of wrong about everything for the right reasons", as David Rees put it?

Edit 3: As I've said elsewhere online today, I do think that it's possible for Ignatieff to get out from under this. He's the presumptive nominee of a party that I still have a lot of respect for, albeit perhaps not as much as when I started writing about it in this space. If he wins, I hope he does do the right thing.

But the political situation in Canada is such that he cannot get away with jettisoning progressives, as he and Whatzisname seem so eager to do.

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