Michael Ignatieff's The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror

Michael Ignatieff's The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror

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“The U.S. need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.” This statement by George Kennan, criticizing U.S. policies during the Cold War, is relevant in questioning today’s principles of American policy combating terrorism. In his book, The Lessor Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, Michael Ignatieff challenges antiterrorist policies, proposing the need to maintain public review and accountability of governmental actions. A critic of the “lesser of two evils” philosophy utilized by U.S. leadership to fight religious extremism, Ignatieff contends that the government should uphold international standards of morality and human rights to the legitimacy of adversarial review. Political, judicial, and military institutions require oversight and accountability to international obligations. Ignatieff argues, if supporting moral standards of conduct constrains America’s ability to effectively fight terrorism, so be it. “It is the very nature of a democracy that it not only does, but should, fight with one hand tied behind its back. It is also in the nature of democracy that it prevails against its enemies precisely because it does.”
It has been over a decade since the declaration of war on terror. During the past ten years, each branch of the U.S. government has been culpable in the violation of civil liberties and basic human rights in their effort to combat terrorist organizations. The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012 continues to expand the limits of government and erode the foundation of American democracy. This purpose of this essay is to measure actions and legislation of the U.S. in comparison to the counter-terrorism e...


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...es of Counterterrorist Policies in Israel,” in Martha Crenshaw (ed.), The Consequences of Counterterrorism, 343.
Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil, 109.
Pedahzur and Perliger, “The Consequences of Counterterrorist Policies in Israel,” 345.
Ibid., 355.
Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil, 77.
Shlomo Gazit, “Israel,” in Yonah Alexander (ed.), Combating Terrorism: Strategies of Ten Countries, 249.
Gazit, “Israel,” 248.
Byman, The Five Front War, 195.
Pew Research Center, “U.S. Image in Pakistan Falls No Further Following bin Laden Killing,” June 21, 2011, accessed online: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2032/pakistan-public-opinion-osama-bin-laden-india-terrorism-al-qaeda-american-image.
Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil, 133.
Byman, The Five Front War, 123.
Michael Sfard, quoted in Byman, The Five Front War, 120.
Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil, xi.
Ibid., 144.

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