Three weeks after the beginning of the latest Middle East crisis, Michael Ignatieff, the purported front-runner in the Liberal leadership race, finally came back from holidays to present his position on the issue, in an op-ed article published in this newspaper.
His belated stand is somewhat troubling, coming from a renowned specialist on human rights. Nowhere in his opinion piece does he distribute moral blame; nowhere does he chastise Hezbollah for starting the conflict, for hiding behind civilians and for aiming at the destruction of Israel.
Instead, Mr. Ignatieff espouses an eschatological view: Both sides, he claims, are engaged in "this march to the abyss," the abyss being the risk of a nuclear war between Israel and Iran. He believes that Hezbollah cannot be defeated, so Israel should withdraw from Lebanon, go back to square one and pray that an "international force" can protect its inhabitants from Hezbollah's attacks.
"Canada should be saying to Israel that there are no further military options in Lebanon that do not risk destroying Lebanon and ultimately endangering its own security," Mr. Ignatieff writes. If he were the PM, would he really have the chutzpah to call Ehud Olmert and tell him he knows better than Israel what's good for Israel?
Actually, Mr. Ignatieff seems more worried about what the crisis does to Canada. "The conflict is sowing discord among us," he laments -- as if in Canada, as elsewhere, the Mideast conflict hasn't been controversial for decades.
His Canada-centred view of the conflict then takes a strange turn. He thinks Canada can play a major role because it is "a country of peace-makers" with "a special vocation for peace." This vocation, he says in a very questionable assertion, comes from Canada's being "a country of immigrants."
A special vocation for peace? Does this mean that other nations have a special liking for war? Canada has no such "vocation." It has just been very lucky never to have had a war on its territory since Confederation.
A country of peace-makers? Far from it. Canadians bravely fought alongside their natural allies in all of the 20th century's major conflicts, the sole exceptions being the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. As for Canada's much-touted, albeit fictional, role as an "honest broker" in recent world conflicts (this is the mantra of the opposition parties), one would be hard-pressed to find a case where Canada played a key role in bringing belligerents to a peace agreement. (We tried in Haiti, but without much success.)
Like other Liberal luminaries, Mr. Ignatieff calls for an immediate ceasefire and the deployment of an international force. The former Harvard professor is a bit more explicit than his colleagues, though. He suggests the international force "should be deployed at all Lebanese ports and land borders" and "should be authorized by the Security Council to seize any weapons destined for Hezbollah." But, in an apparent contradiction, he then says the force should not "engage in direct confrontation with Hezbollah or with the Israelis." Missiles are not delivered by FedEx. Wouldn't seizing them necessitate a confrontation with Hezbollah?
And Mr. Ignatieff doesn't explain how a United Nations-led force patrolling a buffer zone between Israel and Lebanon would be more effective than the existing UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which was supposed to prevent cross-border attacks and to supervise the disarmament of Hezbollah after Israel retreated from Lebanon in 2000. A collection of teddy bears wouldn't have been less efficient than UNIFIL. For six years, its observers watched passively as Hezbollah fired rockets into Israel.
On the whole, Mr. Ignatieff's position on the Middle East is in perfect sync with his party's (as well as with the polls). What is truly original is his inflated view of Canada as a country whose mission is to bring peace to the world.
But then, maybe Mr. Ignatieff felt the need to ingratiate himself with those who suspect him (unfairly, I think) of not being "Canadian" enough and of being a warmonger cozying up to the Americans. Now he embraces Canada to the point of going overboard.