The Corner

Key Phrase For Iraq Policymakers

Baghdad, Belfast. When Sinn Féin’s terrorist campaign against Northern

Ireland’s Protestants was at its height, there was a certain phrase current

in British government circles. The phrase was only uttered behind closed

doors, and politicians were embarrassed when it showed up in the press, but

everyone knew it caught the essence of government policy. The phrase was:

“an acceptable level of violence.” The implication of it was: “We can

never root out all of these lunatics, not without taking actions that our

own electorate would find unacceptable. They will always be able to pull

off the occasional car bombing or assassination. We just have to keep

things down at a level where everyday life can continue more or less


My guess is that this phrase resonates rather strongly with the people

currently trying to administer the affairs of Iraq. If Britain, a stable

and wealthy nation with a centuries-long tradition of public service and

well-equipped and experienced security forces, could not prevent occasional

atrocities by a few hundred crazy terrorists, what are the odds that

downtown Baghdad will resemble downtown Stockholm any time soon?

What it will actually resemble, for the foreseeable future, will be downtown

Belfast circa 1974 (deaths from terrorism in N.I. 303)… or at best,

downtown Belfast circa 1984 (deaths from terrorism in N.I. 72). Given the

state of affairs in the Arab world, I wonder if anything better can be

expected of any Arab country that is not a despotic police state with a

vigilant secret police force unrestrained by any considerations of


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