My Old Bus Stop

When I lived in Boston I waited for the bus in front of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. It was a pretty nice spot, since you could pick up the Allston-bound #66 or #86.

Every so often the streets around my bus stop grew crowded with town cars and catering trucks. That meant important things were happening at the Kennedy School: Important evening lectures by heads of state. Important parties.

I always fantasized about sneaking into those parties. I knew they'd be more fun than waiting for the bus. I imagined brie, lobster, and champagne. Maybe Boutros Boutros-Ghali would let me bum a cigarette. Maybe Henry Kissinger would show me the bloody claw hidden inside his fake arm.

Alas, I never partied at the Kennedy School. I did, however, once temp at the Kennedy School--for a day. I spent a couple hours photocopying before being sent home for lack of work. Needless to say, it was a great commute. Just walk out of the school, and BAM! there's my bus stop.

Anyway, these days a guy named Michael Ignatieff rules my old bus stop. He's the Carr professor of human rights at the Kennedy School of Government. If you wait for the #66 bus in front of the Kennedy School these days, you pick up a very, very strong human rights vibe.

And yet… and yet…

As a tribute to my old bus stop, I'd like to link to Ignatieff's most recent essay, which appeared in Sunday's New York Times and which is a pile of malarkey. Had I known, back in 1995, that the Kennedy School was populated by disingenuous, dewy-eyed, goo-typers like Michael Ignatieff, I would have waited for the bus in front of the goddamn Sunglasses Hut.

According to Ignatieff, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was about one thing: Spreading Thomas Jefferson's dream of liberty and democracy. President Bush was "lured" into the Iraq war by "the hope of planting democracy." Bush is the heir to Thomas Jefferson's dream, and its chaperone.

What does Thomas Jefferson's dream do, exactly? According to Ignatieff, its "ultimate task in American life is to redeem loss, to rescue sacrifice from oblivion and futility and to give it shining purpose." (If you ever forget what the Ultimate Task of Thomas Jefferson's dream is, just remember: It does the same thing as the Boston Red Sox World Series victory.)

Ignatieff is so taken with his theory about why Bush invaded Iraq, he belittles those who suspect Bush might have had additional reasons for war--reasons other than the Ultimate Task of Thomas Jefferson's Dream. People who bring up the geopolitics of natural resources, and the region's instability, and Iraq's massive oil reserves, and China's burgeoning energy demand, are, according to Ignatieff, engaging in "pseudo-Marxist realism."

On the other hand, people who speak of George Bush's foreign policy being dictated from beyond the grave by the Ultimate Task of Thomas Jefferson's Dream are… the normal people. And these are the people who won the 2004 election for Bush.

You see, according to Ignatieff, John Kerry lost the election because of his "fatal incapacity to connect to the common faith of the American electorate in the Jeffersonian ideal." Kerry's criticism of Bush's Iraq policy amounted to his condemning the very notion of Thomas Jefferson. And, of course, the 2004 election results showed that "a majority of Americans do not want to be told that Jefferson was wrong."

So it's all about Thomas Jefferson.

What the hell happened to my old bus stop?

Michael Ignatieff is so far up his own ass, his ankles are coming out of his ears. To summarize, he's arguing:

1. Bush invaded Iraq to fulfill the Ultimate Task of Thomas Jefferson's Dream
2. Bush explicitly sold the war as the fulfillment of the Ultimate Task of Thomas Jefferson's Dream
3. Americans supported the war (and re-elected Bush) because they love the Ultimate Task of Thomas Jefferson's Dream.

Point #1 may or may not be true; I have my doubts. Points #2 and 3 are demonstrably false. Bush did not sell the Iraq war as a war of Jeffersonian liberation--he retroactively justified it as one. The war was sold as a preemptive strike against a looming terror/military threat. Ask Paul Wolfowitz. Americans didn't support the war because they longed to see Iraq liberated; they supported the war because they thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. (And remember, about half of Ignatieff's enlightened Jeffersonian idealists believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks.)

Here's the text of Colin Powell's February 2003 UN speech about Iraq.

I did a word search of the text:


This was the Bush administration's most important single argument for the war. Everyone on earth watched that speech. Where was Thomas Jefferson? Where was the Ultimate Task of his Dream? Where was Michael Ignatieff?

Ladies and gentlemen, I have to stop here, because I have guests coming over in a few minutes. However, I will admit that I have become obsessed with Michael Ignatieff's essay. I am convinced that within his essay we will find the distillation of every cognitive danger attendant to the support of war on humanitarian grounds.

Furthermore, I am convinced that Michael Ignatieff wrote his essay in bad faith.

So, by the power vested in me by my beloved old bus stop, I pledge to continue posting about this infernal essay until I have reconciled myself to the difficult, dispiriting, and sheer bullshitfulness of it.

See you soon…