Has Canada ever given up liberalism

Canada: It was a mistake to be in favor of the Iraq war

The Iraq disaster casts a shadow over a president's political judgment. But it also casts a shadow over the judgment of many others - myself included - who supported the invasions as commentators. Many of us believed, like an exiled Iraqi friend among my friends, that war would be the only chance for people of his generation to lead a free life in their country. How far away has this dream now apparently moved.

After finishing my professorship at Harvard University in 2005, I returned to my native Canada to pursue politics myself. However, the Iraq debacle has continued to preoccupy me. I am trying to understand how the decisions I now make in day-to-day politics differ from those I proposed as an outsider. In doing so, I learned that developing good political judgment begins with knowing when to admit your mistakes.


The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that the problem with academics and columnists is that it matters more to them whether the idea is interesting and not whether it is true. Politicians live on ideas just as much as professional thinkers, but they have to deal with the small number of ideas that are true and the even smaller number of ideas that apply to real life. The intellectual's responsibility for his idea is to remain aware of its consequences, whatever they may be. The politician's responsibility, however, is to direct these consequences and prevent them from causing harm.


I've learned that good judgment in politics is different from good judgment in academia. Intellectuals are concerned with generalization and the interpretation of individual facts as instances of a great idea. In politics, each individual only stands for himself and does not refer to anything else. Special features are more important than the general. Theory stands in the way.


The basis of good political decisions is a sense of reality. “What we call wisdom in the statesman,” wrote Berlin, referring to figures like Roosevelt and Churchill, “is understanding rather than knowledge ... a certain kind of acquaintance with relevant facts such that those who have this gift in the They are able to say what fits together, what can and cannot be done under certain circumstances, which measures are effective in which situation and in which way, and all of this without being able to explain how they know this or even how what they know. ”Politicians must not confuse the world as it is with the world they would like it to be. You have to see Iraq (and everything else) for what it is.

As someone who has taught political science myself, I have to admit that this discipline promises more than it delivers. In practical politics there is no science of making right decisions. All of the key judgments a politician has to make day in and day out revolve around people: Who can I trust? Who can i believe Who do I have to avoid? Anyone who has good judgment, a healthy sense of reality in this regard, must be able to rely on some very unscientific intuitions about contemporaries.

A sense of reality relates not only to the world as it is, but also to the world as it could be. As great artists, great politicians see opportunities that others do not see and then try to turn them into reality. To create the new, a politician needs good timing that tells him when to jump and when to hold still. Bismarck has stated in a well-known aphorism that political judgment is the ability to hear the distant hoofbeats of history's horse before anyone else.

Few of us hear the horses coming

Few of us hear the horses coming. In the face of unexpected developments, a virtuoso of politics must be able to improvise and appear as steadfast as humanly possible.

Improvisation may not rule out failure. Political careers often end abruptly because politicians find themselves in an all too human situation: They have to weigh between different goods and can only rely on their ordinary instinct and incorrect information. Certainly, better information and fact-based policies can reduce uncertainty. For example, deadlines for progress in Iraq policy can make it easier to decide how long America should stay there. But in the end no one knows - and no one can know - what exactly America must do to create stability in Iraq.