Welcome to the second, less frequently-posted decade of RevMod.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Ideology? Not on this blog!

Tom Tomorrow had some choice words for Iggy on his blog yesterday. Ignatieff wrote the unfortunately-titled Getting Iraq Wrong for Sunday's New York Times magazine. The essay is largely not about Iraq at all, but about how leaders have to make decisions, what they must consider, and how that differs from the "big ideas" that academics toss around with what he perceives as few or no consequences.

I have some disagreements with the piece (notably, the parts about the responsibilities of academics), but not with the sentences Tom focused upon:
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.
Tom sees this as a cheap swipe against war opponents:
Ignatieff essentially promises to do better next time, but until he can admit to himself that the DFH's out marching in the streets were right not in spite of their ideology, but frankly because of it, he still has a long ways to go. [I'll leave you to follow my link back if you're wondering what "DFH" stands for - Don]
Tom, I think you missed it. Iggy's saying, I think, "I was wrong because I let my view of the invasion be filtered through the goggles of my experience in Iraq in the 90s. George Bush was wrong because he saw Iraq through the goggles of the PNAC desire to remake the middle east in the image of middle America (or perhaps more correctly, was and is surrounded by people who see the the world that way). And some people in the anti-war movement were just as blinded when they made their pre-war judgements, seeing through a set of ideological goggles."

Iggy argues that for a leader, having an obscured view is a luxury the constituents cannot afford, something I fully agree with. I place myself on the left because I share a number of baseline beliefs with much of the left, most notably the value of individual human dignity, and the financial and social responsibilities we have toward one another to preserve that.

I think Tom found ideology useful in the leadup to the war, because he and others were thereby instinctively armoured against the vast volumes of bullshit coming from the White House and parroted by a passive press corps. But it wasn't ideology to make logical arguments against war. We didn't need Kreskin to see where the war would lead, to see that the justifications for war were nonsense - the evidence was all around us. Ideology didn't make us right, but it opened us to the possibility that Iggy and others were wrong.

Governments tend to learn from their mistakes - at least the smart governments. I think this actually goes a long way to explaining why many governments tend to become increasingly pragmatic as they govern, moving from the ideologies that they campaigned from. I'm heartened that Iggy has learned this lesson without governing, or at least, intellectually understands it. I hope the academic doesn't let his emotions blind him again.

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