Author Denis Smith says Michael Ignatieff caters to the powerful

The publication of Michael Ignatieff's True Patriot Love: Four Generations in Search of Canada coincides with the release of a hard-hitting book, Ignatieff's World Updated: Iggy Goes to Ottawa (James Lorimer & Company Ltd., $19.95), that suggests the Liberal leader "lacks democratic restraint".

The author, retired political scientist Denis Smith, also declares that Ignatieff "promotes himself as a tough guy—which may not always be a bluff".

"Ignatieff places himself squarely in the Canadian progressive, reformist tradition," Smith writes. "But his predisposition towards the interests of the powerful belies that claim. His judgment is too often the victim of his ambition."

In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight from Ottawa, Smith said he wrote the first edition of the book, Ignatieff's World: A Liberal Leader for the 20th Century?, which was published in 2006, because Ignatieff has demonstrated "very strong support for an aggressive American imperial policy in the world, especially after 9/11". Smith added that he felt that Ignatieff's writings were not well known in Canada.

"There are always limits on what a country can do," Smith said, "but to become prime minister with such a background—a strong commitment to American leadership, and not just benign American leadership but destructive American leadership in the world—I think would be very dangerous for Canada."

The new edition includes a section called "Tough Guy", which covers Ignatieff's time in Ottawa leading up to his rise to party leader last December and the introduction of the federal budget in January.

Ignatieff was a strong supporter of NATO's aerial bombardment of Serbia in 1999 to curb repression of ethnic Albanians in what was then the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo. He was later appointed to the Independent International Commission on Kosovo, which concluded that the NATO attack was "illegal but legitimate".

It was illegal because it occurred in the absence of authorization from the UN Security Council. The commission recommended the creation of a "principled framework" to assess "humanitarian intervention" to prevent imminent human-rights catastrophes. Ignatieff was also a member of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which advised then–UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to redefine "humanitarian intervention" as "the responsibility to protect".

"The document moved beyond the Kosovo Report in defining a humanitarian right of intervention, and with each step, the definition became more elaborate," Smith writes. However, he added, it had no legal force, and some on the left have criticized this doctrine as a means to justify preemptive wars without the authorization of the UN Security Council.

Smith told the Straight that he thinks Ignatieff is a "good writer" but a "bad historian" because he didn't provide sufficient context in his recent books and essays on U.S. imperial policies. To support this point, Smith claimed that Ignatieff regularly visited hot spots and described displaced people or victims of wars, but he wasn't very interested in looking at the ethnic Albanians' military arm, the Kosovo Liberation Army. Similarly, Smith said, Ignatieff wasn't keen to scrutinize claims by the George W. Bush and Tony Blair governments in 2003 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"He does side with those in authority—the most powerful that he wants to influence or he wants to impress," Smith claimed.

The book also reviews Ignatieff's views on torture. The Liberal leader has expressed support for "coercive interrogation" with "permissible duress" but emphasizes that he opposes torture.

"Permissible duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisoners in hoods) that would produce stress," Ignatieff wrote in his book The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror (Penguin Canada, 2004).

Smith said the way in which Ignatieff seized the Liberal leadership—without appointing an interim leader—is consistent with what he has written about the use of power since 2000. "My guess is it comes from his ambition to exercise power—not with any particular end in mind, but simply desire to hold power," he said.

Smith added that this doesn't mean he supports Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whom he described as "quite objectionable as prime minister".




Apr 23, 2009 at 9:34pm

He sounds like a little person who sucketh the big d***.
He's a little person, to be sure, with the genetic problems inherent thereof.