Author Denis Smith talks about Michael Ignatieff

Denis Smith is author of Ignatieff's World Updates: Iggy Goes to Ottawa (James Lorimer & Company, $19.95). Smith is a retired political scientist, a former dean of social science at the University of Western Ontario, and the author of biographies on former prime minister John Diefenbaker and former finance minister Walter Gordon. Here are some excerpts from a phone interview the Georgia Straight conducted with Smith about Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

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External links:

Edward S. Herman: Michael Ignatieff on Israeli Self-Defense and Serb Ethnic Cleansing

Edward S. Herman: Michael Ignatieff’s Pseudo-Hegelian Apologetics for Imperialism; or, Bush Is Staking All On The Pursuit of Democracy Everywhere

Edward S. Herman and David Peterson: The Dismanting of Yugoslavia: A Study in Inhumanitarian Intervention (and a Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse)

Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Barsamian: Telling the Truth about Imperialism

Peter C. Newman: Tough-Guy Iggy: The Grits are on their way to being a contender

Michael Valpy: Being Michael Ignatieff


Georgia Straight: How did you get interested in Michael Ignatieff?

Denis Smith: "I had always been interested in his writings from the late '80s on. I began to be worried. He was still an academic and a journalist at the time of the Kosovo war, first of all. And in the books that followed, I became more and more worried about where his thoughts were taking him—into very strong support for an aggressive American imperial policy in the world, especially after 9/11....I hadn't expected he would come back to Canadian politics. When that was rumoured in 2005, I guess, I became even more concerned by his views—the possibility they might have an influence on Canadian Liberal party policy. And then he came back and announced he would be a candidate in 2005. I felt that his writings were not well known in Canada and that it would be helpful to Canadian voters and to delegates to the Liberal party convention in 2006 to know what he had written in the past 10 years especially, chiefly, about American policy and following the American imperial lead. So I wrote the book then very quickly in the spring of 2006 as soon as he announced for the leadership. And it was published in September of 2006. That was the first four chapters. He lost the leadership campaign as you know. I knew he was still going to be around, but I hadn't expected he would then so quickly gain the leadership last December. So at that point, the publisher and I agreed that an update of the book would be helpful again to look at what he said once he became active in Canadian politics, and to add it to the earlier book."

Georgia Straight: Is he capable of charting a foreign policy independent of the United States?

Denis Smith: "I don't think so. I don't think so. He committed himself so deeply from 2000 on that. I think that suggests a very strong inclination on his part to support the United States."

Georgia Straight: What are the consequences for Canada if he becomes prime minister and he's unable to chart a foreign policy independent of the United States?

Denis Smith: "I think it would be very unfortunate if he were unable to make our own policy. There are always limits to what a country can do. 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. And unnecessary."

Georgia Straight: Have you ever talked to him?

Denis Smith: "I did for the first edition of the book, but I tried and didn't get a response for this update."

Georgia Straight: Is he not as smart as the public thinks he is?

Denis Smith: "What's smart? He's a good writer. He's obviously intelligent. He has a political tin ear, I think. I think, you know, that was more understandable in the first couple of years. It hasn't disappeared. I think there is an inability to understand many things or sense what people's reactions are going to be...not wise political intuition. Partly, it relates to the Canadian scene in particular, but his record abroad—his judgements he made in the last seven or eight years—many of them have been disastrous judgements....I don't think that [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper can achieve a majority. He has too many counts against him now among voters. But I think he can make a lot of headway against Ignatieff in a campaign. One of which is Ignatieff's manner. Harper is not a warm, affectionate political leader, either. Ignatieff still has a condescending air, a superior air. I don't think he is going to go over well in a national campaign. That's a hunch."