The president said nothing wrong or stupid in his broadcast last night, but like many people I am wondering why anybody in the White House thought it was good idea to do it. The last thing Obama was going to say was, “mission accomplished”. His message had to be a lot more complicated than that, and was bound to raise at least as many questions as it answered. Was the country pressing for a prime-time statement from the Oval Office to mark the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq and the retention there, for the time being, of 50,000 non-combat forces? It was not. The idea that this is a turning-point is regarded with some scepticism, and Obama was not going to be able to allay that feeling. So what, exactly, was to be gained?
Fred Kaplan at Slate found the speech frustrating and unfocused. Richard Haass at CFR was also unimpressed:
The fifty thousand U.S. troops still in Iraq are there to advise and assist. But what happens if Iraqis cannot deal successfully with the continuing threat posed by terrorists, their own sectarian divides, and the meddling of neighbors? What is the continuing U.S. stake in Iraq, and what is the United States prepared to do on its behalf?
What is more, the president reiterated his commitment to ending the U.S. military presence in Iraq entirely by the end of 2011. But would this be wise? Doing so would increase the odds that Iraq would become far messier. Iraqis themselves realize this, and if and when a new government is formed, its leaders are likely to ask that tens of thousands of American troops stay on for an extended period.
The report of the InterAcademy Council on the IPCC is a real step forward. The council, representing academies of science and equivalent bodies all over the world, assembled a review committee on the IPCC at the request of the UN and the IPCC itself. Its team was chaired by Princeton’s Harold Shapiro. How refreshing that it surveyed opinion very widely, and has grappled intelligently with the most persuasive criticisms that the panel’s adversaries have been pressing. I think it struck just the right balance between recognising the panel’s accomplishments and criticising its methods and organisation. The best part, though, is that its judicious stance may well achieve some useful results, because its recommendations are going to be difficult to ignore.
Climate-change sceptics are mostly celebrating a report that, they say, slams the IPCC. A little to my surprise, champions of the panel and its work see a report that, in the words of RealClimate, appears mostly sensible and has a lot of useful things to say. (The Washington Post, in one of the strangest pieces of commentary I have read in some time, sees the IAC report as an actual endorsement of IPCC procedures, as though the report calls on the panel to keep up the good work.) Contrary to what you might think, these apparently conflicting interpretations are encouraging. They mean that neither side is dismissing the report’s recommendations — which (whatever the Post may imagine) are substantive and far-reaching. Finally, consensus. Governments should get on with it, and make the recommended changes forthwith.
Everybody with the slightest interest in the subject should look at the executive summary, but the whole document is well worth reading.