Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

what Ignatieff meant to say...

My fellow blogger has inspired me to develop one of the ideas found in his previous post.

Consensus seems to be that if Ignatieff falls, it will be on Afghanistan. I don’t know why that is necessarily the case. Given all the academic muscle he has built working through issues of state intervention, war, human rights, etc. Afghanistan looks like a big fat fastball coming right down the middle of the plate. There is no denying, however, that the Saturday debate was a big swing and a big miss.

His defence – that he voted for the mission extension because a soldier died that day – simply made no sense. It sounded like the kind of Conservative rhetoric liberals have rightfully pilloried. Bob Rae was justified in calling it “unfair.” It was an appeal to passion intended for the party of reason. One wonders if it is reflective of bad coaching – because it is a bad misrepresentation of what he actually argues.

It also put those of us who favour his position in a difficult place. I must now explain that I support what he means, but not necessarily what he says. As such, I have taken the liberty of rewriting history. With the help of Ignatieff himself (a selection of quotations from the past, wherein he argues eloquently and persuasively for intervention in the interest of human security), this is how the debate should’ve gone:

I believe passionately in this mission because I believe passionately in our responsibility to defend the liberal values that we cherish for ourselves. I arrived at this belief partially through my travels in Afghanistan, and my encounters with the Taliban.

I began the journey as a liberal, and I end as one, but I cannot help thinking that liberal civilization – the rule of laws, not men, of argument in place of force, of compromise in place of violence – runs deeply against the human grain and is achieved and sustained only by the most unremitting struggle against human nature. The liberal virtues – tolerance, compromise, reason – remain as valuable as ever, but they cannot be preached to those who are mad with fear or mad with vengeance. In any case, preaching always rings hollow. We must be prepared to defend them by force, and the failure of the sated, cosmopolitan nations to do so has left the hungry nations sick with contempt for us (taken from Blood and Belonging).

I was proud of my appointment, by Lloyd Axworthy, to the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Our conclusion, sanctioned by the United Nations, was that “The responsibility to protect implies the responsibility not just to prevent and react, but to follow through and rebuild. This means that if military intervention action is taken … there should be a genuine commitment to helping to build a durable peace, and promoting good governance and sustainable development (taken from The Responsibility To Protect).” I believe this, and I believe this is reason to remain in Afghanistan until the job is finished.

BOB RAE: I profoundly disagree. Who are we to export our Western values and call them universal, etc. etc. blah blah stuff that sounds suspiciously like New Democratic Relativist Isolationism. (Yes I also conveniently rewrote Rae, but we all know this is the stuff he loves).

IGGY: Stow it, Rae. The language of human rights is the only universally available moral vernacular that validates the claims of women and children against the oppression they experience in patriarchal and tribal societies (taken from Virtual War)…

[Interrupted by applause]

- Mike (SCG)


Blogger Steve said...

Great stuff. You nailed it. Virtual War is surprisingly good eh? And the debate turned into a Rae position vs Ignatieff position (as you wrote it) which is absolutely ridiculous as most of them are bsically saying they support the Ignatieff position but disagreed with Harper's tactics. It is not Brison and Ignatieff vs. all, but more like Rae, it seems Kennedy but I don't know, vs the rest if they show any consistency on their original vote not two months ago! Still, for all this hype about Ignatieff being an amazing debater,how could he not use the opportunity at all? I don't get it, perhaps you should accompany him with his own writings in tow.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Sholdice said...

Enough said - the man writes books, but can't survive the cut-and-thrust of debate.

Just remember the little guy from Shawinigan - he learned how to fight outside of pool halls with the boys from the paper mills. Is Kennedy the same? Certainly not, but he's a damn sight cagier than the rest of 'em.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Demosthenes said...

Aside from anything else, SCG, the notion that human nature is implacably opposed to liberalism is in-and-of itself a conservative one. That Ignatieff claimed it places him not within the historical camp of liberalism, but more within the American neo-conservative tradition.

(ie, that while democracy and liberalism are fine things and should be encouraged, they must be as much imposed as encouraged.)

More importantly, though, McLuhan's dictum that "the medium is the message" seems appropriate here. If the medium for "defense" is warfare, what is the message, and does that message contradict the message of liberalism? An important question, gone unanswered.

The R2P also isn't really operative here- nobody is claiming that Afghanistan is a site for genocide, and the war on terror only bears the slightest resemblance to the sort of interventions envisioned in R2P, as it requires the assistance and support of regimes (like China, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan, among others) that are notorious human rights violators.

As for using women's rights, that would be useful if the issue in question was rebuilding Afghanistan, but that begs the question because the source of the controversy is Canada's mission having changed from security and rebuilding to assisting the Americans in their war against the Taliban. Women's rights may be better served by securitizing development, and that's not necessarily what's going on here.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I am just going out the door, and it was Steelcitygrit's post so I don't have time to properly respond, but for now I will say that what this person misses is that in fact that is 100 percent NOT the debate at hand. That debate happened a few weeks ago and all of these people supported the new mission by voting in favour of it. What is debated is the issue extending it when Harper doesn't give much time to do so. You see, you have tried to reframe it as the debate we already head. That is not to say it doesn't get debated, but if this i sthe case, if the debate is as you suggest than it is not Ignatieff and Brison vs. the rest, it is the rest vs. Rae, and perhaps Kennedy (Sholdice, if so then he is wrong and I could care less how well he fights with steelworkers).

Ignatieff is most certainly not being inherintantly cosnervative. That liberals chose to shift the paradigm themselves does not change the reality, and there is no right to self-determination when one is being tortured, violently controlled etc, within their own nation. Since the Geneva Convention and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights there is a case for superceeding state sovereingty. HOWEVER, I am well aware this did not really answer your comment (at least I dont' think it did because I didn't have time to read it to carefully). So, I apologize for that, hopefully grit will do so, and maybe when you throw some Chomsky back at me or something I'ms ure I'll then have more to say. For now, those are just related things I had to say.

3:16 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Certainly the Taliban were notrious rights violaters, and certainly there is no choice to live in such a state by the people who had it imposed upon them. I wonder why your concern for peoples to set their own agendas stops at Canada, and perhaps the West, but does not extend to those under the authoritarin, military imposed rule of the Taliban.
And with women's rights, well it is a pretty simple concept, that they cannot be protected if they are being subjected to domineering Taliban rule, that development cannot help if, as Ignatieff said in the H of C, hospitals we build by day are burnt down by night. It is intrinsically illiberal to suggest these people are not equally worthy of human rights protections and democratic freedom, because those with guns manage to secure control. Hunting down insurgents that will otherwise counteract any development is not conceivably seperate from development as you call it. What do you do when you send money and build schools but the women are not allowed to go to those schools, even if they wish to? NOw that is a question unanswered. But Grit, despite my ramblings I did rush this so please respond.

3:22 PM  
Blogger Sholdice said...

This sort of issue is what we need to avoid in the Liberal Party - when I hear the term "paradigm shift" I shudder. I want politics to be for everyone, not just those with BAs. What does "liberal interventionism" or "state sovereignty" have to do with people who don't have jobs, or are sleeping under a bridge tonight?

What's the problem with Afghanistan? The fact that we don't really know what's going to happen or what the plan is. I don't want Canadians dying in order to secure a pipeline route for American oil companies. Should we stay? Yes. But let's talk about it first.

"You can't feed the hungry on statistics"
~ David Lloyd George

6:34 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

"Should we stay? Yes. But let's talk about it first."

If we're going to talk about it, let's talk about it. Liberal interventionism and state sovereignty don't have anything to do with someone sleeping under a bridge. But they have a lot to do with Afghanistan. If we don't want Canadians dying in ambiguity then this is a discussion we are going to have to have. That doesn't mean we can't talk about people under bridges as well.

"You can't feed the hungry on nonsensical, contradictory folkisms."
- Mike Lloyd Morden

7:21 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

I understand that the label of Conservatism is likely attached to what Ignatieff has written. That doesn't necessarily mean that it is. Why don't we think outside the suffering paradigm for one brief instant and ask why. What is inherently left-wing about a belief that if tolerance doesn't happen, than tolerance isn't going to happen? What is inherently left-wing about refusing to offer individuals on the other side of an international border the same rights one demands for one's self? What is inherently left-wing about sacrificing individual rights in the interest of a collective tyranny? Something I have never understood, and a single instant where my left-wing brethern confound me entirely.
I believe that women should be allowed to drive cars and attend school everywhere. If that makes me an imperialist, than I accept the label gladly. As long as that same label is applied to the Dallaires, the Stephen Lewis's, the Lloyd Axworthys, the Jimmy Carters... Don't forget Amnesty International - It's clear those folks are bent on world domination.

7:31 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:35 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

The medium is the message. The message is if you won't let women attend public school I will do what I have to to change your mind.

I haven't read anything within the liberal doctrine - no Mill, Locke, etc. - that says we should be tolerant of intolerance. There is a line to be drawn - that is the essence of the doctrine, in fact.

7:37 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

You have a point, the R2P is not operative here at all. I didn't invoke it because it sanctioned this particular mission explicitly. R2P suffers all sorts of operative and technical deficiencies that leaves it very limited in its scope.
However, I thought there were some lessons contained within that can be applied on a theoretical level.

7:39 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

sorry for the double post - my cpu is all over the place

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trust me - there are a lot of things Iggy can fall on before Afghanistan. The fact that he's a Canadian in name only comes to mind first and foremost.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Sholdice said...

My biggest fear, though:

PM Steve-o will throw opposition leader Iggy a couple of foreign interventions and then we can all forget about domestic social policy. The same thing happened recently in the States: Bush rushed the Democrats into the Iraq War vote and now look at them; they can't rally a decent front against the GOP.

My point with the quote is this: all the ideology and theorizing in the world is ultimately bunk. Politics is about delivering the goods, whether its in Kandahar or Kamloops. And thus far we haven't done much in either.

7:55 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

There's no question that if a few foreign interventions become our purpose as a party, than we have failed massively. I think domestic social policy should always be prioritized. Indeed, this is one of the reasons I don't want to see Afghanistan as the defining issue in this leadership race.

But I think the mark of a true liberal internationalist - something I was told by Lloyd Axworthy - is the ability to view domestic and foreign policy in one liquid continuum. So the discussion is still relevant, as it taps into one's values more generally. Prioritizing human rights might mean intervention in FP and pharmacare/homelessnes remedies/justice for Aboriginal people at home. All are drawn from a common well.

Anyways, I feel like I'm misrepresenting myself here. Generaly Sholdice I agree with you - its the domestic nitty gritty that occupies me most constantly. I'd far rather see our candidates debating over dramatic social policy reforms than over a war that most seem to agree on (at least a little bit). But a little theory and a little FP is OK too.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

Mark, I'mv ery much more interested in domestic policy too. But all this joe schmoe nonesense is getting tiring. Complex ideas deserve complex consideration. What you are talking about is politicking and getting elected. What does not contriubting serious thought to a subject do for the person under a bridge? What do you do when you say okay feed them, then someone else says no we can't that will make it worse for them. You just stop? Or do you do the intellectual heavy lifting to prove it one way or the other. Politics needs justifications. But still, you act like Chretien was the be all and end all. This mythologizing is unecessary. You talk about results I agree, but what does fighting a mill worker or not having a BA (Chretien is a very accomplished lawyer by the way) have to do with feeding the homeless? I'd say the stuff we're discussing like intervention is a lot more relevant to the policy at hand than that is to domestic policy. And the fact is I'll take Trudeau and his accomplishments over Chretien's any day of the week, and guess what he was a massive intellectual. Pearson couldn't kick anybody's ass but he kicked ass in office. But what your analysis misses is the duality of human beings. Its too simplistic, Trudeau was an intellectual athelete with a brown belt, but also hoity toity to some. I mean people can fit more than one simple mold. Ignatieff is a big sports fan. STuff like that, I like to see people pushing themselves beyond simple categories.

And I'm sorry, but much as I like Kennedy you can't go on about someone being a great debater when they are flustered or at best equalled by the amazing force of Joe Volpe and Maurizio Bevilacqua.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

About Ignatieff being sports fan that is based on something I read somewhere about him liking baseball. Who knows what is true anyway.

12:58 PM  
Anonymous CuriosityKilledTheCat said...

Ignatieff's argument in favour of the extension in Afghanistan were pathetic: a clumsy attempt to wrap himself in a sentimental flag and win over doubters with that kind of argument.

Ignatieff dealt with Harper's cunning and abusive Afghanistan debate in the same way that John Kerry dealt with Bush's rush to war in Iraq. It will haunt him for this leadership campaign.

But his policies are more flawed than just one lapse in one debate. Ignatieff's "centre of gravity" as a politician lies in the USA, not Canada.

That is what the audience at the debate and Liberals throughout the country are concerned about. Why elect a man who is more American than Canadian, to run Canada? Aren't Canadians good enough to run their own country?

Ignatieff will not win the leadership of the Liberal Party.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Ignatieff is every bit Canadian that is hogwash. Why elect a man so ideologically opposed to the Liberal Party that he rose to the ranks of leader in ANOTHER party, brought down a progressive LIberal government and became a premier under another party's banner?

7:11 PM  

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