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David Rees: Shorter Michael Ignatieff

David Rees writes:

Shorter Michael Ignatieff: It was right for me to support the Iraq war when I was an academic, because academics live in outer space on Planet Zinfandel, and play with ideas all day. But now, as a politician in a country that opposed the war, I'll admit I screwed up, because politicians must deign to harness the wild mares of whimsy to the ox-cart of cold, calculated reality.

There is more. It is, Ezra Klein says, the greatest essay ever published on anything. There is more. A lot more:

I wrote a "cyber-essay" on the Huffington Post a couple years ago about Ignatieff. (Oh, sorry, you didn't know I blog on the Huffington Post? Yeah, not to brag or nothing, but I totally do. Also, my friend has a flickr.) My cyber-essay concerned itself with a masterpiece of foreign-policy fan fiction: Ignatieff's 2005 NY Times Magazine essay justifying the Iraq war.... Ignatieff said the reason the American public wanted to invade Iraq was to spread "The Ultimate Task of Thomas Jefferson's Dream." (I am not making a joke. This is for real.) And, he implied, anyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq did so because they hated Thomas Jefferson-- and they didn't believe in the Ultimate Tasks of Dreams!

So far, so GREAT, right?

Ignatieff's latest essay is what Latin people call a "mea culpa," which is Greek for "Attention publishers: I am ready to write a book about the huge colossal mistake I made." I imagine the book will be about a man struggling to do the right thing-- a man who thinks with his heart and dares, with a dream in each fist, to reach for the stars. It's about a journey: a journey from idealistic, starry-eyed academic to wizened, war-weary politician.... I was excited when I first saw this new essay: At last, Ignatieff was going to come clean about his super-duper-double-dipper errors. I expected a no-holds barred, personal excoriation. In fact, I assumed the first, last, and only sentence of the essay would be: "Please, for the love of God, don't ever listen to me again."


The first nine-tenths of Ignatieff's essay, far from being an honest self-examination, is a collection of vague aphorisms and bong-poster koans. It hums with the comforting murmur of lobotomy. I refuse to believe this section was actually written by a member of the Canadian government, because that would mean Canada is even more "fuxxor3d" than America. (A little hacker-speak, that. There will be more; I finally bought the B3rlitz tapes.)... [A]lthough his judgments were objectively wrong, [he thinks] they were contextually appropriate. Sweet! You've been totally 0wn3d by Michael Ignatieff! And so have all those dead Iraqis....

Politicians cannot afford to cocoon themselves in the inner world of their own imaginings. . . ."

Why do I hear Geddy Lee singing this phrase over a 6/13 time signature? All that's missing is the phrase "telescopic zodiac / whispering secrets into my cerebellum" and you've got a killer Rush lyric!...

"A sense of reality is not just a sense of the world as it is, but as it might be. Like great artists, great politicians see possibilities others cannot and then seek to turn them into realities. . ."

Winston Churchill is Leonardo daVinci. George W. Bush is Thomas Kinkade. Michael Ignatieff basically helped us buy a half-trillion dollars' worth of Thomas Kinkade paintings. Thanks.

"To bring the new into being, a politician needs a sense of timing, of when to leap and when to remain still. . . ."

Come, now: If you're gonna steal from Kenny Rogers, you at least gotta grow the beard....

Seriously, let's repeat this quote: "Few of us hear the horses coming." We are really getting into Cormac McCarthy territory here:

"They saw the WMDs over the hill, staggering under the weight of their own nonexistence like some funereal assemblage of bent-backed phantoms. Ignatieff crouched in the mulberry copse, glassed his target, cursed the Chomskian dust that risked his weapons ruin, then raised The Ultimate Task of Thomas Jeffersons Dream and sent its buckshot tearing into Iraq-- tatterdemalion, sanction-wracked-- and the rocks behind were splatter-stained with a crimson decoupage like some chromatic inversion of all that is holy and lawful. I kindly reckon we just shot the shit out of Iraq, Ignatieff said. And Friedman said, Lets move in to get a better look at her. And they tried hailing a cab with an anecdotaholic driver but they couldnt find one because they were stranded in a featureless semantic apocalypse, meaning-raped and apostropheless like some joy-smudged, italicized parody of Cormac McCarthy. And on the crest of the hill they heard Kanan Makiya weeping soundlessly like the very enabler of evil itself."...

"(Bush) had led a charmed life, and in charmed lives warning bells do not sound. . . . People with good judgment listen to warning bells within. . . ."

Ding-dong! There's my warning bell within! What are you saying, warning bell? Ding-dong! Don't keep reading this essay! Your HMO won't cover the neurological damage! Ding-aling-dong!

"A prudent leader will save democracies from the worst, but prudent leaders will not inspire a democracy to give its best. . . ."

This reminds me of something I had stitched on the back of my denim jacket once: "An eagle with a broken wing may fly high enough to avoid the quicksand, but it cannot soar above possibility's treetops at the dawn of a new day." Boy, did everyone in town hate that denim jacket!...

Now, let's move on to the other part of the essay! Are you still with me? Let's DO THIS! I still have some water in my canteen; I'll share it with you. No, don't be silly, there's plenty of light left-- sunset's at least an hour away. . .

Next is the part of Ignatieff's essay that I initially thought would be the whole essay: The part where Ignatieff admits he made a boo-boo.

"We might test judgment by asking, on the issue of Iraq, who best anticipated how events turned out. But many of those who correctly anticipated catastrophe did so not by exercising judgment but by indulging in ideology. They opposed the invasion because they believed the president was only after the oil or because they believed America is always and in every situation wrong."

"Always and in every situation wrong?" Come on, we all like it when America wins at the Olympics, right? I bet even Ward Churchill had a crush on Mary Lou Retton, back in the day. Good thing they didn't make a baby together, though! Wow! That would have been an intense baby-- unlimited negative energy vs. unlimited positive energy and all that! For real, though: You anti-war people have got to admit, Ignatieff has you nailed. You dumb-asses who were right about everything for the wrong reasons, instead of wrong about everything for the right reasons. You lose.

"The people who truly showed good judgment on Iraq predicted the consequences that actually ensued but also rightly evaluated the motives that led to the action. They did not necessarily possess more knowledge than the rest of us. They labored, as everyone did, with the same faulty intelligence and lack of knowledge of Iraq's fissured sectarian history. What they didn't do was take wishes for reality. They didn't suppose, as President Bush did, that because they believed in the integrity of their own motives everyone else in the region would believe in it, too. They didn't suppose that a free state could arise on the foundations of 35 years of police terror. They didn't suppose that America had the power to shape political outcomes in a faraway country of which most Americans knew little. They didn't believe that because America defended human rights and freedom in Bosnia and Kosovo it had to be doing so in Iraq. They avoided all these mistakes."

Yeah, you're right, they did. Do you know why? Because they're not retarded.

"I made some of these mistakes and then a few of my own. The lesson I draw for the future is to be less influenced by the passions of people I admire -- Iraqi exiles, for example -- and to be less swayed by my emotions. . . ."

And here, finally, is where my skull cracked open, my heart combusted, and a murder of crows flew out of my ass. Michael Ignatieff is drawing lessons for the future. Michael Ignatieff has a future in public policy. Sure, it's CANADIAN public policy, so it doesn't really count, but still-- it's like the guy can't be stopped. You know why? Because he's at that level where you literally can't make a big enough mistake to be fired, shunned, or indicted. I'd like to visit that level someday. First thing I'd do is get rip-roarin' drunk and rob a bank using Richard Perle's face as a weapon. (JOKE!)

Then again, I guess it's for the best-- because if people like Michael Ignatieff were ignored, how would we know what to think about the world?

Oh, wait: We could ask the bus drivers.

But now that I think about it, why ask bus drivers when we could ask RACE CAR DRIVERS? Race car drivers are smarter than bus drivers, right? After all, they make more money, are held in higher esteem, and have sexier wives!