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Intellectual Author

Issue: 58 Section: Foreign Policy Geography: Canada Afghanistan, Haiti Topics: coup d'etat, R2P

March 11, 2009

Intellectual Author

Michael Ignatieff's potent mix of imperialism and human rights

by Dru Oja Jay

Michael Ignatieff at a policy conference in 2007. "Imperialism doesn't stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect," Ignatieff wrote in 2002. Photo: Canada 2020

HALIFAX–During his time as a professor of human rights at Harvard, Michael Ignatieff became something of a sensation in the US foreign policy establishment and elite circles. He wrote frequently for The New York Times Magazine, where his articles were featured on the cover no less than four times, with titles like "Could We Lose the War on Terror?," and "American Empire: The Burden."

Ignatieff's articles for the Times take the view that US military operations constitute an "Empire Lite," and "America's entire war on terror is an exercise in imperialism."

His written work strikes the tone of an unflinching observer, describing power relations in their stark reality. "The relationship between the locals and the internationals is inherently colonial," he writes of NGOs and troops in Afghanistan in "Nation Building Lite" in 2002.

"The unpleasant underside of nation-building is that the internationals' first priority is [...] increasing their budgets and giving themselves good jobs. The last priority is financing the Afghan government."

Following his usual pattern, after identifying the problem, Ignatieff goes on to endorse this reality as the only apparent recourse for "failed states."

"Imperialism used to be the white man's burden. This gave it a bad reputation. But imperialism doesn't stop being necessary just because it becomes politically incorrect," Ignatieff writes in the same article.

"Nations sometimes fail, and when they do, only outside help – imperial power – can get them back on their feet."

It is, he concludes, the "kind of imperialism you get in a human rights era."

At that time, Ignatieff backed the US bombing and invasion of Iraq, and repeatedly made the case for it by invoking human rights as a motivating factor.

In 2007, after he began his political career in Canada, and after close to a million people were killed in Iraq, he nominally recanted his views – again in the Times Magazine.

Concluding his apologia, Ignatieff recasted his support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a pitch for his political leadership. "Democratic peoples," he writes, "should always be looking for something more than prudence in a leader: daring, vision and – what goes with both – a willingness to risk failure."

During the same period, Ignatieff was intimately involved in developing the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P), a doctrine guiding the use of "humanitarian intervention" in "failed states." According to one insider, Ignatieff was one of three who drafted the initial R2P report. In a 2008 promotional video, Ignatieff explains that R2P is "the idea that if a country is unwilling or unable to protect its own people, if it's responsible for ethnic cleansing or massacres, or if it's denying relief aid to its own people, then another country should step in and help."

While R2P is theoretically intended to prevent genocidal massacres, critics maintain that giving powerful countries the go-ahead to invade "failed states" will inevitably be abused.

In a long exposé published by UpsideDownWorld.org, Researcher Anthony Fenton makes the case that the overthrow of Haiti's democratically elected government was actually the first "test case" of R2P. Fenton points to a history of activities aimed at destabilizing Haiti's government – which had resisted the excesses of externally imposed "reforms" – undertaken by US and Canadian governments. During the campaign of destabilization, Fenton notes, R2P was frequently invoked in discussions about Haiti.

In memos sent by the Canadian Embassy in Porte-Au-Prince in the weeks leading up to the coup acquired by Fenotn via an access to information request, Ambassador Kenneth Cook speculated that the international community "will have to consider the options including whether a case can be made for [R2P]."

The government of Canada has refused to release uncensored memos from the time of the coup itself.

In February 2004, Canadian troops invaded Haiti while President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was physically removed from the country by US Special Forces. Most elected officials were forced into hiding. The violence that followed dwarfed even the most puffed-up human rights concerns cited to justify the coup.

A study by The Lancet, a top international medical journal, estimated 8,000 people were murdered and 35,000 were raped in the post-coup period. During the same time, Canada had been overseeing Haiti's police force, which was a principle source of post-coup violence.

Since the 2004 coup, Haiti is seldom mentioned by R2P advocates. Fenton writes, "Dozens of papers, panels, symposiums, and conferences seem to have studiously avoided Haiti when discussing R2P [since the coup]."

One exception to the silence about R2P in Haiti stands out.

"Stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, Haiti and Iraq are testing grounds," writes policy analyst and R2P advocate Stephen Baranyi, "for fourth generation peace operations and approaches in fragile states."

"One problem is that the strategic interests of major Western powers – and not R2P criteria like massive human rights violations – drove decisions to intervene in these cases."

The credibility of R2P is "damaged," writes Baranyi, by "de facto collaboration with paramilitary leaders" and a lack of "open debate."

In calling for an "open debate," Baranyi is alone.

Ignatieff has been applauded by some for his candor in examining the results of the Iraq invasion he once backed. In the case of Haiti, however, there has been none of the introspection or public self-questioning that have proven to be such an effective component of Ignatieff's rhetorical arsenal.

As Liberal leader, Ignatieff continues to advocate for R2P. He now mentions Burma, Zimbabwe and Sudan as possible candidates for R2P interventions. The "test case" of Haiti is no longer cited.

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin remarked of Ignatieff, with unwitting insight: "Michael has inherited both a very deep understanding of Canada's role in the world and of, in fact, the kinds of upheavals that the world is capable of thrusting upon unsuspecting populations."

Dru Oja Jay is an editor with The Dominion.

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Comments

In Times of War and In Times of Peace

We are entering a new time in global relations that has both the opportunity for major humanitarian enlightenment or disaster. In Anishnabe philosophical thought we refer to these times as the age of the Seventh Fire.

We have come to recognize that there are power dynamics at work in this world of which we often have very little understanding of their complexity or danger.

The complexity frightens us into immobility, powerlessness and denial.

We think we are helpless, we think the situation hopeless.

But we simplify the issues, when we bring clarity to the causes of the conflict solutions become apparent and hope is possible.

With Courage we must examine in Truth the Heart of the matter. Throughout the world there are conflicts raging and it becomes harder and harder to determine who needs protection and who needs intervention. While we lose faith in the institutions thought to give leadership we must recognize that while we have attempted to identity and remedy injustices and human suffering we have failed to honestly examine, in proper context, our own situation, and it is because of that that we are numbed into inertia.

The issues are simple. People have needs to survive. People peacefully organized into communities have shared needs and collective resources organized and distributed in patterns and ways that have naturally developed for that group specific to their history, culture, environment and needs. It has been a complex progression. Think of polities as dynamic organisms, needing protection of the entire system if it must maintain integrity and health.

So everywhere in the world these polities, these communities, these nations have developed as multi-member living entities of human cooperation and mutual benefit; of mutual common good and prosperity and health, under different types of leadership...some forms of leadership contribute to the lasting positive and peaceful existence and preservation of the group.....some forms of leadership exploit the group and generate strife and stress both within and outside the agreed parameters of the group. Conflicts arise and peace and prosperity is lost.

We live currently in a world whose significant land mass is still controlled by polities that derived much of their wealth and power through the exploitation of others. The world now refers to that as the crime called colonialism or colonization.....but sadly, the criminals and their systems are still in their ill gotten positions of power and influence....at every level.....even the international level...but the world is attempting to shake them off, without too great a disaster.....but how?

All of our existing systems currently in those places of influence, whether it is financial, social, peacekeeping....are all still influenced by the poison systems and selfish thinking of these systems....We are trapped in the box they have created, aware of our trap but thinking there is no escape without complete exposure to vulnerability. The box offers some protection but it has also confined us and we sense there is something else that we must access if we are to survive the challenges of these times.

We have the answers. Trapped within these boxes are our Indigenous Peoples. They hold the solutions that were lost in the clamour for complexity that has brought on this demise.

Should we throw away imperialism? We cannot completely throw away our histories as they have contributed to who we have become and the systems of order that we have relied on. What we must consider doing now is redefining empire in a way more appropriate to the global context we now find ourselves in and in accordance to the further promotion of evolving international and human rights law. Many Indigenous nations had imperial systems organized under a Monarch and a certain family or group of families specifically set aside for the purposes of governance. This is very typical of Anishnabe governance systems.

These imperial systems were extensive and primarily trade oriented, rarely relying on military actions, and even then it was individually determined. So can we throw away entire systems without destroying our cultural and historical integrity?

Or must we recapture the imperialism that was consistent with some of the most successful indigenous empires? Erasing the Truth regarding indigenous societies has removed us from the sanities that existed for thousands of years before colonialism.

Indigenous peoples such as the Anishnabe had "empires". They had hereditary monarchies that held power over large societies, large confederacies. But they defined imperialism differently. They defined power differently. They defined monarchy differently and they defined the rights of the Crown differently.

The European models of empire drifted into systems of internalized oppression where the Crown became cannibalistic and parasitic against its own people, exploiting their labours, lives and resources for the increased benefit of the Crown and a select few elites...with the military power to subjugate its own people.

European peoples have waged a long battle for individual protections from their own leaders and institutions as well as competing similar institutions of neighbouring states. These administering states had wandered away from their national beginnings and generated a cycle of violence and acquisition that we are all learning is insatiable and completely destructive to everyone and everything that coes in its path, regardless how benevolent it parades itself.

In this model the Crown, as certain privileged individuals and classes, holds the rights to land, resources, profits, taxes, expropriation, expulsion, war.....The people have gained some rights to restrain the powers of this Crown. The people must continually be reacting to the assertions of power claimed by the Crown and its institutions. This is one model of imperial sovereignty.

The Anishnabe Crown is different. The Anishnabe Sovereign holds obligations while the people hold the rights. The people hold the rights to the land and resources and the associated profits and benefits. The Crown holds the responsibility to protect these rights and the obligation to ensure legitimate distribution to the individuals rather than certain privileged classes. It is a radically different model of nationhood, sovereignty and imperialism.

As one aspect of the responsibility to protect held by the Anishnabe Crown is the obligation to try to maintain peace and good external relations. It is a proactive form of protection. Rather than enter into military conflict, rather than be constantly fighting to demonstrate power and authority....lets find a mutually beneficial solution and creatively resolve this situation for the good of all without sacrificing the integrity of the nation.

That is what determines a nation from an administering state.
An Indigenous nation holds allodial title to the land. Indigenous title of nations is an inherent right of all peoples, meaning collective societies, and that right to land to sustain, preservation and prosper is a basic human right of individuals organized in nations. The Indigenous Nations in Canada were inclusive nations organized with various systems of law and holding legitimate title to the land held for the good of the community, with various forms of land tenure systems.

The Indigenous Crown is obligated to preserve that right of the nation, and the peaceful relations of the Confederacy. Power was measured by the ability to preserve peace and prosperity. Leadership success was measured by national preservation, sustainable consumption of resources that protected the rights of future generations, and expanded peaceful relations and trade....If the Sovereign was deemed succeeding at these civic obligations the Sovereign was paided tribute determined by the people.

Democratic and responsible governance was exercised by Indigenous Peoples prior to the European subjects having to fight for these rights.

Resource distribution was also very different and that is the fear....The fear of Indigenous Peoples is that their legal systems empowered individuals directly. It eliminated the need for these huge administrative systems and it removed the capacity for tremendous amounts of graft and corruption.

These laws were the first laws of Canada held by the Indigenous Nations before the interference and suppression.
But much of the true nature of the Canadian Nation is buried, lying dormant still in colonial coffins not yet pried open. Canada is still trapped as an administering state of a European model of imperial Crown that holds entail title in right of that Crown for the specific benefit of few, under the outdated system of military protection dependency.

The Crown of the European empire claimed the right to resources and taxes justified by the need to maintain large armies and expansion to acquire additional resources to maintain these large armies. Military power was then propagated then as the true measure of power and legitimacy, and the subjects were trapped within a cycle of competitive conflicts that self-perpetuated the system.

The Colonial British Imperial Crown still holds entail title to approximately 1/3 the world's land mass and resources...no matter how many layers of rhetoric, parliamentary fictional dramas are performed or semantics cited she tried to bury it under.

The true test used to determine title and nationality is if it is held communally or not. Do the peoples hold the title to the lands, or are they merely new serfs now "employed" by the elites and issued salaries and credit for economies rather than their rightful dues?

That is why, for all of Canada, the Kichesipirini refuse to participate in any process that maybe interpreted as giving entail title of adverse possession of our land and resources away to a foreign sovereign..no matter how polite it may be....no matter how long it may have been here.....In accordance to international law we cannot give away our sovereignty because we hold it as well for future generations. It is their inherent right as well.

Aboriginal Title, Traditional Aboriginal Title, Allodial Title.......these are international laws....the codified laws of nations that have been in place for thousands of years....but only making their squeaks through the colonial legal system cracks here as Human Rights and Indigenous Rights as being collectively codified through the clenched fists of the seething colonial empires and their greedy incorporated administering states at the United Nations arena.

What is needed are independent institutions that give opportunity for all Canadians to now openly examine the legal realities that the Indigenous Peoples have been trying for so long to offer to everyone interested in genuine nationhood and sovereignty.

I am an Indigenous leader of a still sovereign Indigenous Peoples. We are Canada. We were happy to share and welcome others into our land and nations.....but we refuse to let a foreign Crown hold title to our lands....and then expolit our precious resources, degrading the natural environment beyond recovery. We as Indigenous Crowns believe we have a sacred obligation to serve, a sacred obligation to protect....and that our laws offer the solutions that the world needs.

Using military power to maintain peace in situations that have failed to establish legitimate allodial title is simply modifying colonial imperialism and exacerbating situations that further the reliance on military power and war, keeping illegitimate sovereigns of all types in business and robbing those polities exercising their last rites with civil disobedience and self-protection into further oppression.

Left unresolved, the experience of the Kichesipirini demonstrates for all the world that wrongfully administered peace that fails to resolve crimes of wrongful enrichment and usurped sovereignty are in themselves not actions of peacekeepers, but criminal expansions....and are in effect then genocide missions against legitimate nations.

And any system of administration that has failed to resolve the underlying allodial title disputes of indigenous peoples appropriately, which is through the collective agreement that these are issues of international character of equal merit of other colonial type interventions is contributing to the effective destruction of polities....and is then in times of peace contributing to genocide.

Systems must be developed that give voice to the natural laws of nations.....those that are easily observed....the natural foundations of nations can easily determined through genealogy and geography.....from those natural foundations everything else is built....but nothing can be legitimately incorporated until those foundations are again set straight. The natural citizens then have the right to determine all other laws in accordance to international laws and covenants should they decide to participate in the shared benefits of the genuine common prosperity of the nations.

The de facto Crown is still in place. The rights of Indigenous Peoples are the rights of all legitimate nations, finally removed from military control and colonial administration....for the good of all citizens.

There is no need to destroy the box. There is no need to completely dismantle the existing systems....the tools are there to open doors and windows that can let in fresh air and light....and we can codify the commonsense of natural nations to protect ourselves from the complexities of "incorporations" of all types that have no real substance apart from our permission.

So do Sovereigns have the responsibility to protect their own? Absolutely if they are a legitimate Sovereign.

Is military protection the primary responsibility? Absolutely not. It is only the last resort if a people are being denied their inherent rights to their enjoyment of their lands and resources. Is military actions the only threat to that enjoyment? Absolutely not. Anything that separates a nation from their inherent allodial title can be considered a threat to the security of the nation and a breach of protection of the people. Are employment rates and incomes the only measure of national wealth? Ask your provinces, the multinational corporations, corporate executives and the banks where the wealth is.

They laugh at you everyday and hope you never realize the genuine benevolence in the United Nations Declaration on The Rights of Indigenous Peoples.....because then the global gig is up and the false hold of credit cards will collapse....unless there is a genuinely responsible intervention by a competent Indigenous Crown.

Is there a global responsibility to intervene against an irresponsible sovereign. Absolutely, but not until there are institutions in place at the international level that have the capacity to represent all potentially affected peoples, including specific Indigenous Peoples as international in character and have clearly identified all underlying causes, especially regarding allodial title, and ensure that there are numerous appropriate interventions in place that will discourage the dependency on military powers, and the provision of appropriate security measures available to all those asserting such interventions and institutions.

We must move away from looking at the external mechanics of polities and conflicts, comparing progress based on biased value systems left-over from colonialism and consumerism...and instead exercise due diligence in the examination of legitimate sovereignty based on responsible governance, based on maintaining allodial title to land and resources as the first priority and basic human right.

Imperialism and human rights can work together in balance.

We know, it has been our historical experience prior to colonial corruptions of our traditional governance systems.

Chi migwetch,
Paula LaPierre
Principal Sachem
Kichesipirini Algonquin First Nation
Kichi Sibi Anishnabe
Canada
Still Sovereign

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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