"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Dirty bombs

The nightmare scenario of a rogue state passing nuclear technology and/or materials to a terrorist network is sometimes described as unlikely or unrealistic. There is probably something in the contetntion that most states would be slow to hand shadowy individuals the means with which to destroy one of its own cities. But there are plenty of scenarios in which it is perfectly plausible to imagine that, one way or another, terrorists could get their hands on at least the components of an elementary working dirty nuclear bomb. In that case, there has been a worrying development in the U.S.:
Two teams of government investigators using fake documents were able to enter the United States with enough radioactive sources to make two dirty bombs, according to a federal [Government Accountability Office] report made available Monday.

The investigators purchased a "small quantity" of radioactive materials from a commercial source, ... posed as employees of a fictitious company and brought the materials into the United States through checkpoints on the northern and southern borders, the report stated.
Yesterday the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations began an investigation into what has been done by the federal government to protect that country from the threat of nuclear terrorism. The GAO report certainly clarifies the dangers.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Check this out

I have added Wulfbeorn, Watching to the list of blogs you see to the left. I intended to add it when I first created the list last month. Now that it's there it'll remind to check up on it often. I encourage readers to do the same.

A letter from Tal Afar, Iraq

Our city was overrun by heartless terrorists, Zarqawi and his followers, who unloaded their bloodthirsty and voracious action of evil on this city for several months by indiscriminately killing men, women and children. Tal Afar was a human slaughterhouse. Simple services were not possible, causing the people to suffer, till the day you dispatched your troops, who were our lion-hearted saviors. Your troops came to rescue Tal Afar led by our heroes, whom Tal Afar will never forget. After the major operation, your wonderful soldiers started nursing the wounds of this city by rebuilding the damaged lives and buildings with great compassion and speed. These soldiers have done more than their original mission required of them. ... God bless this brave [3rd Armored Cavalry] Regiment; God bless the families who dedicated these brave men and women. From the bottom of our hearts we thank the families. They have given us something we will never forget. ... Let America, their families and the world be proud of their sacrifice for humanity and life.
Najim Abdullah al-Jubouri, mayor of Tal Afar to Gen. George Casey, Commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq, January 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cultural relativism and decadence

Here is an essential read have only just come across. It is a provocative critique by Keith Windschuttle of "cultural decadence". This is a flavour of it:

According to this ideology, instead of attempting to globalise its values, the West should stay in its own cultural backyard. Values like universal human rights, individualism and liberalism are regarded merely as ethnocentric products of Western history. The scientific knowledge that the West has produced is simply one of many “ways of knowing”. In place of Western universalism, this critique offers cultural relativism, a concept that regards the West not as the pinnacle of human achievement to date, but as simply one of many equally valid cultural systems. Cultural relativism claims there are no absolute standards for assessing human culture. Hence all cultures should be regarded as equal, though different. It comes in two varieties: soft and hard.

The soft version now prevails in aesthetics. Take a university course in literary criticism or art theory and you will now find traditional standards no longer apply. Italian opera can no longer be regarded as superior to Chinese opera. The theatre of Shakespeare was not better than that of Kabuki, only different. The hard version comes from the social sciences and from cultural studies. Cultural practices from which most Westerners instinctively shrink are now accorded their own integrity, lest the culture that produced them be demeaned.

The piece finishes by discussing freedom of expression in what the author describes as the West's "adversary culture":

The Western concept of freedom of speech is not an absolute. The limits that should be imposed by good taste, social responsibility and respect for others will always be a matter for debate. But this is a debate that needs to be conducted within Western culture, not imposed on it from outside by threats of death and violence by those who want to put an end to all free debate. The concepts of free enquiry and free expression and the right to criticise entrenched beliefs are things we take so much for granted they are almost part of the air we breathe. We need to recognise them as distinctly Western phenomena. They were never produced by Confucian or Hindu culture. Under Islam, the idea of objective inquiry had a brief life in the fourteenth century but was never heard of again. In the twentieth century, the first thing that every single communist government in the world did was suppress it.

But without this concept, the world would not be as it is today. There would have been no Copernicus, Galileo, Newton or Darwin. All of these thinkers profoundly offended the conventional wisdom of their day, and at great personal risk, in some cases to their lives but in all cases to their reputations and careers. But because
they inherited a culture that valued free inquiry and free expression, it gave them the strength to continue.

Sistani and Iraqi democracy

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the supreme religious authority of Shiite Islam in Iraq, has been lauded over the last few years as being one of the few forces in that country willing or powerful enough to hold that country together. He has often called for restraint in the face of assaults on Shiite civilians, including worshippers at mosques. I read recently that he had issued a decree to the effect that if he himself were murdered he forgave his murderers in advance and wished there to be no reprisal. Such forbearance in the face of intense provocation has led him to described as a key ally of the democratic project in Iraq.

In the sense that he has been a force for stability, this is accurate. In the broader sense of promoting individual freedom and human rights, some of his recent comments present a different picture. Andrew C. McCarthy of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies argues that "that the grand ayatollah is familiar with the practice, turned into an art form by Yasser Arafat, of shielding gullible Westerners with whom one is ingratiating oneself from some of the more alarming things one says to Arabic-speaking audiences". He bases this on Sistani's supposed view that non-Muslims should be considered in the same category as “urine, feces, semen, dead bodies, blood, dogs, pigs, alcoholic liquors, and “the sweat of an animal who persistently eats [unclean things]” and a recent decree that homosexual conduct was “forbidden” and that those who engage in it should be “punished, in fact, killed. The people involved should be killed in the worst, most severe way of killing.”

This type of pronouncement is disturbing. If this is the authoritative version of Shiite Islam held by Iraq's Shi'ites - who hold a majority in parliament under a constitution under a constitution which posits Islam as a fundamental source of law - what sort of democracy is likely to emerge? The most worrying aspect of Sistani's thought is that its attitude to non-Muslims seems consistent with that of al-Qaeda's spokespersons. Sistani doesn't advocate terrorism but such an attitude is inconsistent with any sort of cultural understanding or openness. The lesson one supposes is that democracy in Iraq and the broader Middle East is ultimately a project for the people there and one that will take many years. America and its allies can oust a regime like Saddam's and try to hold the line while democratic institutions are stood up, but they cannot create democracy in any real sense - only an opportunity for it to take root.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mozart and Sid Vicious

...have what in common? "Primitivism", according to Stephen Brown.

Ronald Dworkin on free speech

In today's new edition of the New York Review of Books, Ronald Dworkin, a professor of law at NYU and UCL, discusses on the the fallout from the "Muhammad" cartoons earlier this year. Dworkin is an interesting and provocative writer; his earlier works Taking Rights Seriously, A Matter of Principle and Law's Empire have become recognised as among the major works of modern legal philosophy. His "right answer" thesis alone occupies a seminal place in late 20th century legal thought. I disagreed with the last article of his I came across - a rather excitable warning as to the dangers of appointing Samuel Alito to the supreme court. But today's piece I go along with.

With regard to the cartoons, I argued that free speech must encompass the right to express ideas or opinions that may, or indeed necessarily, insult others' beliefs. At the same time, I thought discretion had a role to play. Newspaper editors therefore, I thought, were write to hesitate to publish such material after the violence and riots. But I was never entirely happy with that conclusion. Dworkin makes the argument that, since the violence was mostly manufactured - remember it took place four months after the publication of the cartoons in Denmark - "keeping the issue boiling by fresh republications would actually serve the interests of those responsible and reward their strategies of encouraging violence." I tend to agree. But then, he goes on:

There is a real danger, however, that the decision of the British and American press not to publish, though wise, will be wrongly taken as an endorsement of the widely held opinion that freedom of speech has limits, that it must be balanced against the virtues of "multiculturalism," and that the Blair government was right after all to propose that it be made a crime to publish anything "abusive or insulting" to a religious group.
This is exactly my fear. The cardinal rule in such disputes (and if Jean Baudrillard is even close to being right, there are more such flashpoints to come), though, is the one put forward by Dworkin, namely that:
"religion must observe the principles of democracy, not the other way around. No religion can be permitted to legislate for everyone about what can or cannot be drawn any more than it can legislate about what may or may not be eaten. No one's religious convictions can be thought to trump the freedom that makes democracy possible."
P.S. On a related note, philosopher Andre Glucksmann draws a line between criticising a religious faith and disputing historical facts, such as the fact that the extermination of Jews in Europe during the Second World War took place. And Sonia Mikich demands: "that Hamas, the spokesman of the French Muslims and the Director of the Al-Azhar-University apologise to me. Otherwise I will never spend a holiday at the Taj Mahal, I will call for a boycott of Palestinian fruit and I will set the embassies of Tunisia, Qatar and Bangladesh on fire."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ireland must stand against protectionism in the EU

From today's Financial Times:
"Britain, Italy and the Netherlands are preparing a joint denunciation of protectionism in the European Union, wrecking hopes that the issue could be ducked at an economic summit starting in Brussels on Thursday. Giulio Tremonti, Italy’s finance minister, is drafting a joint letter criticising “economic nationalism” and is assembling a coalition of liberal-minded colleagues to sign it ahead of the summit.
Finance ministers in Denmark, Ireland and Sweden are understood to be among the other free-marketeers invited to sign the letter."

Brian Cowen should sign on the dotted line. The Italian initiative is a worthy one. (It can, of course, validly be argued that Italy itself is not consistent in its free trade posture, give, for example, its support for tariffs on Chinese textile imports.) The news report in the FT cites fears that it "throw into disarray plans by the EU’s Austrian presidency to keep protectionism off the agenda of the two-day summit, to be attended by finance ministers." Such disarray can only be for the good. There are few more crucial arguments to be won in Europe today than the arguments in favour of open markets. Ireland's economic success is attributable in large degree to the openness of our economy. Foreign investment, job creation and labour have been crucial to the dynamism and growth of the last decade or so. For once this "five feet high nation" has the chance to show the way.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Iran and the military option

"We can dig those things out. We can destroy them"

Gary Berntsen, a former senior CIA operative, is reported as suggesting US air strikes - using "bunker-buster bombs and other weapons" - could destroy Iran's nuclear facilities in two days. Richard Perle, according to the same report, believes the operation could be carried out in a day. Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's former chief of General Staff, has also recently said that the Israeli Defence Forces have the capbility to carry out such an operation also. Also, yesterday, president Bush stated:
"The threat from Iran is of course their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That's a threat, a serious threat. A threat to world peace, a threat in essence to a strong alliance. I made it clear, and I will make it lear again: we will use military might to protect our ally Israel."
That is as strong a statement as has publicly been made to date.

As to what should be done next, Bernsten says the political options should be exhausted:
"We should do what we're doing right now. That means taking them to the United Nations and make this 'the world against Iran,' because the Iranians appear determined to create a weapon. If by chance they disarm, then we can avoid this, but if they don't disarm we will need to take care of this ourselves. The Iranians have to know that we mean business. They will either disarm or we will destroy their facilities. No ifs, ands, or buts. They present a threat to peace in the Middle East. They present a threat to Israel. We cannot accept that."
The great problem is that, seemingly, since a major intelligence disaster in 2005, which resulted in the CIA's entire network of spies in Iran being "rolled up", that the outside world has little or no actual hard intelligence as to what stage Iran's nuclear programme has reached. The outside world should have no doubts, however, as to the programme's purpose. The options seem quickly to be diminishing to two: a nuclear-armed Iran, or some form of military action. The time for preferrable choices seems to be running out. Indeed, it may already have gone.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Culture Thursday (TM)

Taking my cue from the charming pieces on music and poetry (and sometimes both) written by the ever-impressive Kevin Breathnach of Disillusioned Lefty (who well deserved his recent award), I feel a little diversion is in order. Or rather a test. It being Thursday, I accept no liability for ripping off DL's Culture Monday.

This is the first paragraph of a review. It struck me as stream-of-consciousness-cool. Which usually means it reads great the first time and is less and less amusing or impressive each time thereafter - half-life literary attraction maybe. Anyway, who can guess - without cheating - what is being reviewed? Bonus points for identifying the source of the Lexington 125 reference.
New York cool, then, turned out to be a phantasm: a seductive promise and at first, an exotic thrill - but one that, when you hit the sidewalk, dissipated like smoke from a Manhattan manhole. You landed hoping to rub shoulders with cheekboned axe-slingers on the subway, meet your man on the corner of Lexington 125, let the city grip you in a Bacchanalian hug of rock'n'roll excess. Instead, you discovered CBGBs was a Hard Rock Café for shit punk bands, you couldn't dance in bars without feeling the leather glove of the NYPD, and the baton of innovation had been left to the freaks, geeks and outsiders: the likes of deranged folk primitives Animal Collective, literate dance-punks LCD Soundsystem and frocked-up cabaret émigré Antony Hegarty.

Answer: here.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Abortion, South Dakota and consitutional law

The governor of South Dakota has recently signed a bill banning abortion in that state in almost all circumstances. The only exception is where the life of the woman is threatened. The legislation was described by one New York Times columnist as "an intentional provocation meant to set up a direct legal challenge to Roe v. Wade". Abortion activists are reported to describe the new law as '"blatantly unconstitutional," dangerous and counter to what a majority of Americans would support'. On the first point, they mean it blatantly goes against the way the American Constitution has been interpreted since 1972 i.e. Roe v Wade. "Dangerous" is empty rhetoric. And the fact that the bill is counter to the wishes of the American majority as a whole should be beside the point. This should not be an issue decided by a decree of the federal judiciary. In reality though, it has been. The virtually certain legal consequence of this new statute is that, having been resoundingly shot down by the lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court will likewise uphold Roe v Wade and strike down this legislation. At least five of the nine supreme court justices, on past form, would do so.

It is unclear how Justices Roberts and Alito would approach the issue. Both expressed strong attachment to the doctrine of stare decisis (precedent) in their confirmation hearings. Both were asked about Roe v Wade. Roberts, while unable or unwilling to answer the question directly, seemed to imply that what was decided in 1972 could not now be uprooted. Alito was less clear on the point, and some of his questioners produced a memo from the 1980's in which he seemed to express a belief that Roe was wrongly decided. I would be surprised if either broke faith with their conservative judicial instincts and voted to overturn Roe. Were I wrong and both Roberts and Alito were inclined to restrict or overturn existing abortion precedents, one must factor in the possibility that by the time of the next major abortion case, president Bush or his successor will have appointed another new justice, further tilting the balance of the court. The possibility of a majority for overturning Roe would then emerge. Indeed State Representative Roger Hunt, sponsor of the South Dakota bill, has pointed to what he considers the likelihood that Justice Paul Stevens (who is 86 years old) will soon retire, to be replaced by a conservative justice. We shall see. There is at least one comparable example of a highly contentious Supreme Court precedent being overturned many years later. In 1954, in Brown v Education, the Court overruled a 58-year old decision (Plessy v Ferguson) and decided that segregation in schools was, after all, unconstitutional.

On the question of the decision in Roe itself, in my view it is one of the worst pieces of constitutional "interpretation" one could ever wish to read - "one of the most egregious pieces of judicial activism ever visited on the the United States". It is one thing to assume an implicit right to privacy in a constitution - though it is not entirely legitimate either - but it is quite another thing to read an almost unqualified right to abortion into a document that is unquestionably explicitly silent on the matter. For one thing, it overrides the power of the states to decide such issues for themselves. And, in any event, the consequence, were Roe overturned would be a reversion to (general) constitutional silence on the matter: Each state could make up its own mind. South Dakota could ban abortion; Massachusetts could have it on demand, and so on. Social mores and opinions already shape the extent of availability of abortion in the various states: In South Dakota, for example, there seems to be only one abortion clinic.

On the broader issue of abortion, I believe it should be illegal in most circumstances. In fact, the South Dakota law to my mind strikes a reasonable balance, although it seems to lack an exception where a woman is pregant as a result of rape. (Admittedly such an exception would prove difficult in practice.) I appreciate women can find themselves in difficult circumstances, for which they were not prepared and had wished to avoid. But in my opinion, counselling and support at such a difficult time is far, far preferrable to terminating a nascent human life.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What surveillance might have heard

I wrote last month about the controversy over surveillance by the U.S. authorities of phone calls made to abroad. The Chicago Tribune has a crucial new piece of information that should frame any such debate. According to a classified report from the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel seen by the newspaper, "206 international telephone calls were known to have been made by the leaders of the [9/11] hijacking plot after they arrived in the United States--including 29 to Germany, 32 to Saudi Arabia and 66 to Syria." Interestingly, and somewhat worryingly too, 54 months to the day after 9/11 "the hijackers' connections to Saudi Arabia and Syria are far from fully explained." If these calls could have been intercepted, the plot that resulted in the atrocities om New York and Washington - and which intended an assault on either the Congress on Capitol Hill or the White House - might have been avoided. But the key lesson is that president Bush's instinct was right: the surveillance statute was insufficient for the new war. He wasn't right, however, to fail for so long to put the required changes on a secure legal footing.

OECD: Lots more to do

I meant to post on this earlier in the week, but better, perhaps, than never.

In March 5th's Sunday Business Post, Dan O'Brien summarises the findings of the OECD's latest assessment of economic policy-making in Ireland. The report recognises and applauds the economic growth of the recent past. For more than a decade, after all, Ireland has been the OECD's star performer in growth terms. The report notes that the additional wealth-creating capacity has, in O'Brien's words, "benefited the poor most". But, on other counts, the verdict is less complimentary. Two and a half years ago, the OECD recommended 24 specific measures of structural reform: only has been fully implemented, 11 have been partially implemented. Five years ago, in a report launched by the Taoiseach, Tanaiste and then Minister for Finance, the OECD recommended 20 specific regulatory reform measures to increase price competition. Only four have (or are set to be) achieved; on 13, no action has been taken.

I will say no more for now, except to encourage readers to have a look at the report itself. It is available here.

Guantanamo Bay

Two bloggers I follow closely - and usually agree with - Richard (of Sicilian Notes) and Scott Burgess (of Daily Ablution) have written in recent days about Guantanamo. Richard argues that the narrative of Guantanamo portrayed by media and other critics and opponents of America and the war against terrorism is "running aground". The pieces he cites certainly indicate that the wilder criticisms, comparing Camp Delta to one of the Soviet Union's Gulags, are reprehensible. Such commentary belittles the treatment handed out in the Gulags and unjustly besmirches the reputation of a great democracy. The prisoners in Guantanamo have been described, Richard notes, as treated better than Belgian prisoners. Scott Burgess' piece illustrates, similarly, that the prisoners seem well-treated. A few even seem quite appreciative of how well they are treated. Some of the complaints they have made border on the ridiculous. So it appears the general treatment of prisoners, whether regarding food, provision of Qu'rans or visits by the Red Cross, there is humane - which is what one would expect. (One recalls Andrew Sullivan's description, in 2002, of Camp Delta as Camp Holiday Inn. I leave aside for now the recent reports of force-feeding.)

But my problem with Guantanamo is on a different point: indefinite detention without trial. I can't support such an absolute policy. Quite simply, it goes against the principles of justice on which America was founded. US commanders argue that, if released, there is a strong chance some prisoners will resume their previous activities. At least one - there are probably more - prior Guantanamo resident returned to Afghanistan and was killed fighting American forces. But the evidence on which such assumptions of recidivism are based can surely equally be used to convict and sentence such individuals. Over four years after the this war began, it is time to apply due process for once and for all. As George Perkovich argues in the July/August 2005 edition of Foreign Affairs, justice must be given its due. The fact that proponents of America's strategy of spreading democracy have gone quiet on the "battle for hearts and minds" suggests the ground to be made up. I say all of this a strong advocate of the view that the world needs engaged and enlightened leadership and that the United States of America is best placed to provide it.

Back again

Hello, hello, I'm back again. Technical difficulties and college commitments have conspired against much posting recently. I hope to get back to previous levels for the next few weeks.
I appreciate those who have taken the time to date to comment on my posts. The more, the better.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

March for Free Expression

At just the right moment, a laudable new initiative is taking shape. The March for Free Expression will take place in London's Trafalgar Square on March 25th, 2006. Other marches are planned for Sydney, Montreal, Toronto and Chicago. How about one in this country, in Dublin? Is there yet time enough? While you're thinking about that, read this statement of principle from the March's homepage:
"The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time. The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them."

Galloway outdoes himself

If in future anyone tries to argue the case that George Galloway deserves is a critic or commentator worth listening to, they should be directed here. My opinion of the man never ceases to descend.

Darfur and international legitimacy

"In Rwanda, the killing was done in 100 days. In Sudan, this thing has strung on for 17 months. Sudan is Rwanda in slow motion. It’s unfolding in a way that has ironically given the world the chance to redeem itself for the failures in 1994. And the world has just dropped the ball."
John Prendergast, quoted by CBS October 20, 2004

The lack of outside action with regard to Darfur's "slow motion" ethnic cleansing is a black mark against the leaders of the rich democracies of the world. What has been going on there goes against every moral tenet we so loudly proclaim and parade on other occcasions. It is an unavoidable result, however, of arguments (or affectations) in favour of:
i. opaque sovereignty;
ii. non-interventionism as a cardinal rule of foreign policy; and
iii. the viability of a rule requiring the consent of each of the five post-1945 great powers for force to be valid.

International law is a useful and necessary concept. In the area of international trade, the WTO, although in need of reform, has been a force for good. The United Nations does much good unseen work. However its Security Council, under the presently constituted rules of membership and voting, has diminished to the point where the United States - and/or, depending on the occasion since (and including) the intervention in Kosovo, various of its allies - have used force without its authority. This is not to be celebrated. I do not argue that it makes the interventions wrong per se. But it means the system needs to be modified and updated. The Security Council, as arbiter of legitimacy in relation to the use of force in international affairs, died a death in the early 1990's after its shameful lack of action in regard to Bosnia. Legitimacy is required, however, in a legal as well as a moral sense. It is not necessary (indeed it would be counter-productive) to add to the Security Council's number of veto-wielding members. The challenge for all those inclined towards order in international affairs is to honestly and openly re-think this issue. Law already trails developments in history and strategy to a disconcerting degree.

For an option I believe to be a more flexible, yet durable, alternative to the current unsatisfactory position, see here.

Update March 3rd 11a.m.
I hadn't seen this before I wrote my post, but The Economist is arguing that NATO should commit forces to prevent and deterring the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Darfur. As the article makes clear, a UN force is being discussed. The African Union, having assigned a small few thousand troops to an area the size of Texas, and been largely without serious external logistical supoort, has failed. This was entirely predictable. As The Economist writes:
"Naive, ill-equipped, underfunded, outgunned, they now look an embarrassment. Darfur needs fixing. So do the international mechanisms supposed to prevent such
A step towards reform of those mechanisms was supposed to have been taken at last September's UN summit:
when every member, including Sudan, signed an agreement recognising a so-called
“responsibility to protect”, allowing intervention in cases where “national authorities [are] manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” That is precisely the case in Sudan, except for the twist that its government is not just failing to protect its people but also conniving in their persecution.
The Economist concludes as follows:
There is, however, another reason why the UN has not intervened in Darfur. It lacks the means. A record of incompetence deters capable western powers from lending it peacekeeping troops. Of more than 60,000 UN peacekeepers currently deployed around the world, only a few hundred are from the world's best armies. Which is why the rescue of Darfur cannot be a job for the UN alone. Putting together a UN force would in any case take many months. In the meantime, without serious troops on hand to stop it, the killing will continue. Someone needs to secure Darfur's border. Someone must force the Sudanese government's helicopters to stay on the ground. Someone must deter the janjaweed from continuing their attacks. At present, only NATO forces are capable of achieving this. The Security Council should give NATO its blessing. And NATO members should take a deep breath, and send in their troops.
I agree. A coalition should be put together via NATO. American domestic pressures emanating from Iraq are no excuse. It is unfortunate, but probably true, that nothing of the required scale will happen without American leadership. Better late than never.

ICG on US presence in Iraq

“Sunnis and Shiites are not yet in an all-out fight”, asserted an Iraqi journalist, “because the Americans are still there. A huge part of the insurgency is fuelled by the American presence. If the Americans leave, or announce a timetable for their withdrawal, the insurgents will start an all-out fight with the Shiites. And the Shiites will know they no longer have the Americans to protect them”. Left without their protectors, the Shiite parties will have no choice but to face the insurgents directly – with the aim to crush them. “We will take care of the problem” once U.S. forces leave, a member of the Sadr movement predicted confidently. A prolonged presence, of course, is not cost-free, as it mobilises anti-American sentiment and support for the insurgency. Indeed, some Iraqis argue that the Bush administration is using the threat of civil war as an excuse to maintain its troops. Having found no weapons of mass destruction and unable to prove a link between the Baathist regime and al-Qaeda, “what alternative argument do the Americans have for not leaving?”, asked Wamidh Nadhmi. “This is why they are using the pretext of civil war to stay”. Nonetheless, there is every reason to fear that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal, or a withdrawal before establishment of an inclusive government and creation of a largely self-sustaining, non-sectarian military and police force, likely would unleash a full scale civil war. In the end, the question of a troop drawdown is likely to be determined by domestic U.S. concerns. But any assessment of the consequences that can reasonably be expected from such a move should take into account the risk of an all-out civil war.
(International Crisis Group, The Next Iraqi War? Sectarianism and Civil Conflict Middle East Report N°52 27 February 2006)

What conclusion should one take from this picture? Mine is that there should no drawdown/withdrawal of US troops whatever. Perhaps they should be removed from frontline duties, to be replaced by the new government forces. But there is plenty still to be done, not least in the area of training. Standing firm is the only viable option in the near term, arguments about the merits of the war notwithstanding.