"Politics is theatre," Michael Ignatieff writes in today's issue of the New York Times Magazine, where he admits he blundered in supporting U.S. President George Bush's disastrous invasion of Iraq.
By that standard, Canada's deputy Liberal party leader and public intellectual puts on a credible sackcloth-and-ashes show for his American readers, mincing no words about just how badly he goofed.
"The unfolding catastrophe in Iraq has condemned the political judgment of a president," Ignatieff writes under the headline "Getting Iraq Wrong." "But it has also condemned the judgment of many others, myself included, who as commentators supported the invasion."
Indeed it has. But why address this message principally to an American audience, rather than a Canadian one?
A cynic might suggest Ignatieff continues to look reflexively toward the United States, and where nothing prevents his eventual return. But the Times ran Ignatieff's main pro-war articles, so a mea culpa there to set the record straight, however belatedly, makes some sense.
How much political courage Ignatieff's about-face demonstrates is another matter entirely.
A majority of Canadians had the good sense to oppose the 2003 Iraq invasion from the start as unnecessary, unlawful and unwise. Former prime minister Jean Chretien was never more popular than when he prudently refused to involve us in that conflict. And by now, even Americans have soured on the war.
So Ignatieff's show of regret simply brings him in line with mainstream public sentiment on both sides of the border.
At the margin, it also may help ease corrosive concern within the Liberal family about Ignatieff's longer-term suitability as party leader. Stephane Dion beat Ignatieff for the leadership, in part because of a perception that Ignatieff was pro-American, hawkish and out of touch with public sentiments here. That view will be harder to sustain, now.
Careful readers of the Times will notice, too, that Ignatieff's political theatrics don't end with his confession.
After disposing of Iraq, Ignatieff goes on at considerable length to argue that he is a changed and better man today. Time spent in Ottawa and in his Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding has given him a clearer sense of the different worlds of politics and academic life. He learned valuable if harsh lessons from his leadership bid and on the opposition bench. He has a firmer grasp of what makes for good and bad leadership.
The Iraq mess has taught him to value prudence in leadership, as well as vision and daring. "I blew it, but I've grown," he seems to say.
That, surely, is not a message that Americans would be especially interested in hearing. Rather, it seems aimed at a Canadian audience, looking for leadership they can trust.