Apparently, I’m not the only one who thought that Ignatieff’s self-analysis was idiotic. Brad DeLong writes that Ignatieff wasn’t acting like an academic (italics mine):
I think Ignatieff has it wrong when he contrasts realistic politicans with academic visionaries. The academics I know and respect labor under three ethical prime directives:
Learn as much as possible about the issue.
Fairly present all points of view that have significant support.
Always remember that the world is a complex and surprising place, and that our theories, models, and data are limited: the map is not the territory.
The academics I know and respect don’t make mistakes like those Michael Ignatieff attributes to an academic mode of thought: they don’t believe that the ideas they play with are ultimately useless, and they desperately want to think thoughts that are true rather than thoughts that are false.
I think what Michael Ignatieff is talking about is not an academic mode of thought but a student mode of thought–a not-too-bright-student mode of thought. A not-too-bright student achieves success by (a) figuring out which book on the syllabus is favored by the instructor, (b) taking that book to be the gospel, and (c) regurgitating large chunks of that book on the exams and in the papers.
It surprises me that Michael Ignatieff thinks that opining about a situation while knowing that one is massively ignorant about it is an academic mode of thought.
Matt Yglesias takes Ignatieff to task for engaging in revisionist history:
Academics in the field of Middle East studies were overwhelmingly opposed to the war. Similarly, international relations scholars opposed the war by a very large margin. The war’s foci of intellectual support were in the institutions of the conservative movement, and in the DC think tanks and the punditocracy where the war had a lot of non-conservative support. People with relevant academic expertise — notably people who weren’t really on the left politically — were massively opposed to the war. To imply the reverse is to substantially obscure one of the main lessons of the war, namely that we should pay more attention to what regional experts think and give substantially less credence to the idea that think tankers are really “independent” of political machinations.
The reason I harp on this is because, if we don’t remember who the idiots are that supported Operation Iraqi Clusterfuck, they’ll do it again.
Ignatieff also took bizarre and contradictory positions about Bosnia, Kosovo, and, later Lebanon.
“Michael Ignatieff on Israeli Self-Defense and Serb Ethnic Cleansing”
“Michael Ignatieff is a skilled trimmer, who has adjusted his principles and thoughts to the demands of the U.S. and Canadian power elite, and advanced accordingly–from academia to preferred commentator on human rights and other political issues in the U.S. mainstream media, and on to becoming a member of the Canadian parliament.”
“He was a strong supporter of the U.S. wars in Yugoslavia, objecting mainly to the sluggishness in the application of force. He approved the invasion-occupation of Iraq and has supported the use of torture in the abstract as well as specifically in the Bush administration’s so-called “war on terror,” and as noted he has recently been very understanding of Israel’s need to defend itself against the threats of Hezbollah and its other enemies.”
“These two wars of aggression also resulted in serial war crimes, such as the regular bombing of civilian sites and the use of illegal weapons such as cluster bombs, napalm, phosphorus and depleted uranium, that should have been anathema to a devotee of human rights. But these matters didn’t bother Ignatieff, who was troubled only by the lag in initiation of NATO violence in the Balkans and the ineffectiveness and mismanagement of the occupation of Iraq. Similarly, Israel’s long-term ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and massive human rights violations in the process, have not troubled him in the least, although he is bothered by the failure to bring “stability” and the absence of a quiet occupation and dispossession process.”
“The contrast with Ignatieff’s treatment of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon is also dramatic and revealing. With the June 25 capture of an Israeli soldier in Gaza and at least two other Israeli soldiers in still-disputed circumstances around the Israel-Lebanon border on July 12, minimal consistency with his treatment of the Serbs should cause him to regard these as “provocations” that induced an Israeli “overreaction,” and he should condemn this overreaction, which in Gaza and Lebanon has been far more deadly and murderous than the Serbs’ alleged overreaction at Racak. ”
The main reason that Ignatieff lost the leadership contest for Liberal Party of Canada in late 2006 was his support of the Iraq war. One of the most popular things that former Liberal leader and Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, did, was to say “no” to Bush on the Iraq war. Ignatieff’s position on Iraq seemed (and was) so ignorant, that it cast doubt on his decision-making abilities generally. Canadians thought the idea of the invasion was crazy, and Ignatieff was severely out of touch with his voters.