Earlier, I pointed out that Michael Ignatieff has made several inaccurate or downright bizarre statements in defending his stand with respect to Gulf War II and the employment of torture as a method of interrogation. Here is another, particularly egregious example, from his March 14, 2004 article in the New York Times Magazine entitled "The Year of Living Dangerously:
I supported war as the least bad of the available options. Containment -- keeping Saddam Hussein in a box -- might have made war unnecessary, but the box had sprung a series of leaks. Hussein was evading sanctions, getting rich through illegal oil sales and, so I thought at the time, beginning to reconstitute the weapons programs that had been destroyed by United Nations inspectors. If he were acquiring weapons, he could be deterred from using them himself, but he might be able to transfer lethal technologies to undeterrable suicide bombers. Such a possibility might have been remote, but after 9/11 it seemed unwise to trifle with it. Still, I thought, force had to be a last resort. If Hussein had complied with the inspectors, I would not have supported an invasion, but the evidence, at least till March 2003, was that he was playing the same old games.
What concerns me here is the last sentence of the above passage, which is demonstrably false. In fact, the claim it makes has become one of several false contentions that have been put forward by war supporters and architects in their own defense as Iraq has turned into a foreign policy debacle. Now what I have done below is cut and paste a number of passages from the Wikipedia article on the "Iraq disarmament crisis timeline 2001-2003". I am assuming it is generally accurate; certainly, it is in accord with my own memories of the events of those sad days. I have bolded several passages that seem particularly important, and have included some commentary at the end.
- November 8, 2002: The UN Council votes unanimously for resolution 1441, the 17th Iraq disarmament resolution passed by the council, calling for immediate and complete disarmament of Iraq. The resolution also demands that Iraq declare all weapons of mass destruction to the council, and account for its known chemical weapons material stockpiles.
- November 13, 2002: Iraq accepts U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 and informs the UN that it will abide by the resolution.
- Weapons inspectors arrive in Baghdad again after a four-year absence.
- December 7, 2002: Iraq files a 12,000-page weapons declaration with the UN in order to meet requirements of resolution 1441. UN weapons inspectors, the UN security council and the U.S. feel that this declaration fails to account for all of Iraq's chemical and biological agents.
- December 19, 2002: UNMOVIC Chairman Hans Blix tells UNSC members that the Iraqi weapons declaration filed on December 7 "is essentially a reorganized version" of information Iraq provided UNSCOM in 1997, and that it "is not enough to create confidence" that Iraq has abandoned its WMD efforts.
- January 27, 2003: Chairmen of the inspections effort report to the UN Security Council that, while Iraq has provided some access to facilities, concerns remain regarding undeclared material; inability to interview Iraqi scientists; inability to deploy aerial surveillance during inspections; and harassment of weapons inspectors.
- February 7, 2003: The chief United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix says Iraq appears to be making fresh efforts to cooperate with U.N. teams hunting weapons of mass destruction, while Washington says the "momentum is building" for war with Iraq.
- February 14, 2003: UNMOVIC chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei present their second report to the United Nations Security Council. They state that the Iraqis have been co-operating well with the inspectors and that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, but that the Saddam Hussein government had still to account for many banned weapons believed to have been in his arsenal. Mr Blix also expresses doubts about some of the conclusions in Colin Powell's Security Council presentation of February 5, and specifically questions the significance of some of the photographic evidence that Mr Powell has presented.
-February 26, 2003: Hans Blix states that Iraq still has not made a "fundamental decision" to disarm, despite recent signs of increased cooperation. Specifically, Iraq has refused to destroy its al-Samoud 2 long range missiles- a weapon system that was in violation of the UN Security Council's resolutions and the US treaty with Iraq. These missiles are deployed and mobile. Also, an R-400 aerial bomb was found that could possibly contain biological agents. Given this find, the UN Inspectors have requested access to the Al-Aziziyah weapons range to verify that all 155 R-400 bombs can be accounted for and proven destroyed. Blix also expresses skepticism over Iraq's claims to have destroyed its stockpiles of anthrax and VX nerve agent in Time magazine. Blix said he found it "a bit odd" that Iraq, with "one of the best-organized regimes in the Arab world," would claim to have no records of the destruction of these illegal substances. "I don't see that they have acquired any credibility," Blix said.
- February 28, 2003: Iraq is expected to begin the process of destroying Al Samoud two missiles on Saturday. Hans Blix, U.N. chief weapons inspector says "It is a very significant piece of real disarmament". However, the spokesman of the White House, Ari Fleischer declares that the Iraq commitment to destroying these missiles is a fraud that President George W. Bush had predicted, and indicates that the United States wants a total and complete disarmament of Iraq. He also repeats that if the United Nations does not act to disarm Baghdad, the United States will lead a coalition of voluntary countries to disarm Saddam Hussein.
March 1, 2003: Under UN supervision, Iraq begins destroying four of its Al Samoud missiles.
March 2, 2003: Iraq destroys six more Al Samoud missiles, bringing the total destroyed to 10 out of an estimated 100 missiles ordered eliminated by the UN. The White House continues to dismiss Iraq's actions as "part of its game of deception." Iraq indicates that it may halt destruction of the missiles if the U.S. indicates it will go to war anyway.
March 3, 2003: Iraqi technicians use bulldozers to crush six more of the banned Al-Samoud 2 missiles, bringing to 16 the number destroyed in three days.
March 4, 2003: Iraq destroys three more Al Samoud 2 missiles, bringing to 19 the number Baghdad has crushed out of 100 ordered destroyed by the UN. Iraq also destroys a launcher and five engines in a rush to prove it is disarming before a crucial U.N. report on March 7. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan calls the new actions "a positive development" while the White House remains unconvinced saying, "Despite whatever limited head-fakes Iraq has engaged in, they continue to fundamentally not disarm."
March 5, 2003: Two days before his scheduled update to the United Nations on Iraqi cooperation with inspection, Hans Blix credits Iraq with "a great deal more of cooperation now", although still expressing some skepticism as to whether or not the cooperation would continue. Among the examples of cooperation that he cites are Iraq's destruction of Samoud 2 missiles, which he called "the most spectacular and the most important and tangible". He added that "here weapons that can be used in war are being destroyed in fairly large quantities." In general, he states, "you have a greater measure of cooperation on interviews in general." These statements have helped to harden the opposition to the US-led war by several other Security Council members.
- March 7, 2003: Hans Blix reports to the UN Security Council. Blix said basically the same thing as he did in previous reports. Iraq has shown some progress, but has still not yet fully disarmed. Blix also filed a 173 page document with the Security Council which said that inspectors discovered an undeclared Iraqi drone, with a wingspan of 7.45 m (24 ft 5 in), suggesting an illegal range that could potentially threaten Iraq's neighbors with chemical and biological weapons. US satellites tracked test flights of these drones, which were mentioned by Secretary of State Powell on March 5. Powell claimed that the test flight far exceeded the legal range agreed to by Iraq under UN resolutions.
- Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, concluded that the documents the US and Britain offered as "proof" that Iraq had attempted to import uranium from Niger were in fact fraudulent. This "proof" was a key part of the US accusation that Iraq was restarting its nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei said, "Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded ... that these documents, which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger, are in fact not authentic." He concluded, "We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded."
What these passages clearly demonstrate is that, in the eyes of the U.N. inspectors (who were, obviously, in the best position to know), Iraq was indeed in the process of complying with U.N. resolution 1441. Further, while at the start of the process this compliance was somewhat grudging, the situation improved during the lead-up to the invasion itself. What they also demonstrate was that no act of disarmament on the part of the Iraqis was going to be good enough for the Bush administration, who were (as has become abundantly clear since) hellbent on launching a war.
And, thirdly, they show that Iggy has, here and elsewhere, been wildly disingenuous in defending his pro-war stance.
So why is it that the war's supporters, especially those of the "Liberal Hawk" variety, have been forced to resort to pretzel logic and obvious untruths to justify their version of events? Well, in Iggy's case, I think it has something to do with the fact that he is a professional intellectual. From my (admittedly cursory) examination of his writings, it would seem to me that Iggy has alot of theories: theories pertaining to nationalism, interventionalism, human rights, and so on and so forth. Iraq was a test case for these theories and, pretty obviously, they have not panned out. And Iggy, like a scientist who has too heavily invested in his own ideas, has chosen to deny the facts rather than abandon the theory--to say, in other words, I was wrong.
Now, in the case of a historian writing histories, such behavior is usually harmless. Trees die, books are written, and the discipline as a whole corrects itself and moves forward: the pretzel logic is proven faulty, and the empirical contentions are refuted. However, in the case of Iraq, Iggy (and the other Liberal Hawks) managed to make themselves dangerous, for they split the Left and offered help and comfort to an American administration that had theories of its own to test out.
And the danger would be even greater if Iggy should manage to ascend to the Liberal Leadership and then to the Prime Minister's office. Do we really want a politician who filters the world through a set of personal theories that must work because, if they do not work, this reflects badly on their architect and creator? Do we want a Prime Minister, in short, who is incapable of admitting error in the face of obvious catastrophe? I think and hope not.