In this erudite essay Ignatieff--an articulate advocate of toppling Saddam Hussein--has discovered that there are consequences for errors in judgment, his own included.
The essay is less important as an intellectual product than it is as a act of contrition by a respected thinker.
The essay will appear in the New York Times Magazine on August 5, 2007.
Iraq - Washington - Military Forces - Politics and Government - New York Times
"As a former denizen of Harvard, I’ve had to learn that a sense of reality doesn’t always flourish in elite institutions. It is the street virtue par excellence. Bus drivers can display a shrewder grasp of what’s what than Nobel Prize winners. The only way any of us can improve our grasp of reality is to confront the world every day and learn, mostly from our mistakes, what works and what doesn’t. Yet even lengthy experience can fail us in life and in politics. Experience can imprison decision-makers in worn-out solutions while blinding them to the untried remedy that does the trick."
"Good judgment in politics, it turns out, depends on being a critical judge of yourself. It was not merely that the president did not take the care to understand Iraq. He also did not take the care to understand himself. The sense of reality that might have saved him from catastrophe would have taken the form of some warning bell sounding inside, alerting him that he did not know what he was doing. But then, it is doubtful that warning bells had ever sounded in him before. He had led a charmed life, and in charmed lives warning bells do not sound.
"People with good judgment listen to warning bells within. Prudent leaders force themselves to listen equally to advocates and opponents of the course of action they are thinking of pursuing. They do not suppose that their own good intentions will guarantee good results. They do not suppose they know all they need to know. If power corrupts, it corrupts this sixth sense of personal limitation on which prudence relies.
"A prudent leader will save democracies from the worst, but prudent leaders will not inspire a democracy to give its best. Democratic peoples should always be looking for something more than prudence in a leader: daring, vision and — what goes with both — a willingness to risk failure. Daring leaders can be trusted as long as they give some inkling of knowing what it is to fail. They must be men of sorrow acquainted with grief, as the prophet Isaiah says, men and women who have not led charmed lives, who understand us as we really are, who have never given up hope and who know they are in politics to make their country better. These are the leaders whose judgment, even if sometimes wrong, will still prove worthy of trust."