Large rocks in the stream ahead

In the last days of 2005, leading thinkers and scholars from around the world share their fears, hopes and expectations of 2006. Forty-nine of openDemocracy’s distinguished contributors, from Mariano Aguirre to Slavoj Zizek, Neal Ascherson to Jonathan Zittrain – offer their predictions for the coming year. Since this is openDemocracy, we did not expect them to agree. We were not disappointed. (Part Two).
Anatol Lieven
22 December 2005


The underlying tendency of the US over the next year seems likely to be one of drift and increasing weakness. A virtually lame-duck Bush administration will be carried by the current rather than shaping its own course. In many ways, this is of course preferable to the period of 2001-03, when the administration set out boldly to reshape the world, with disastrous results.

The problem, however, is that the stream ahead contains large rocks, on which American power, middle-eastern peace, and the world economy may all strike and founder. These rocks are not submerged – on the contrary they are in plain sight. But that does not mean that American policymakers will be able to avoid them.

In Iraq, American public opinion will, in my view, compel moves towards the progressive withdrawal of US forces from the frontline. Some will be withdrawn from Iraq altogether; others will be confined to bases, from where they will sally forth if the insurgents seem to be on the verge of winning major victories. As the Congressional elections of November 2006 approach, the pressure from Republican senators, congressmen and governors for a reduction of US casualties is likely to become irresistible.

The administration will seek to cover this with a flood of rhetoric about the Iraqis being ready to take over, but the reality will probably be increased power for US-armed Kurdish and Shi’a militia. This will ruin moves to bring the Sunni Arabs into the new political order, and point the country towards full-scale civil war. The implications of this for the region as a whole may well be disastrous, but will emerge in 2007 and after, rather than next year.

Two immediate threats are those of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear sites – which would lead to various forms of violent Iranian retaliation – and a world economic crisis. Since one of the obvious potential catalysts for such a crisis is another oil shock stemming from market fears about the security of supplies from the Persian Gulf, it is easy to see how hitting the first rock could then lead to the US hitting the second. But given the deep weaknesses of America’s fiscal, debt and current account situation, an economic crisis could also be generated simply by structural factors in the US and world economies, as in 1929, rather than by a geopolitical event.

If – or perhaps rather when – such a crisis does strike, the key question will be whether the world’s leading economic powers will be capable of acting in unison to manage and contain it, or whether they will resort instead to some of the mutually destructive approaches adopted after 1929. If they fail, the political consequences across the world could be truly dire. But leading such an international response would require far greater vision than anything yet displayed by the Bush administration.


Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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