Friday, April 27, 2007

Senator Joseph Biden and Iraq

A “surge” in Baghdad alone won’t quell the nation’s civil war – it needs to be nationwide if the intention is for meaningful military success. It has taken four years for Iraq to deteriorate under the noses of American policy makers to the point it is now and it will take a long time across the entire country to stabilize. And unless the United States engages Iraq’s neighbors and the international community, as recommended by the Baker Commission, into assisting in various ways then regardless of what the military does the mission is doomed. Iraq should be everyone’s problem – not a U.S. problem. However, the Bush administration refuses to do the political work necessary and even is working against stability in Iraq by antagonizing Iraq’s neighbors. The current policy is clearly a failure.

The Democrats in Congress, on the other hand, while seeking to fill the leadership vacuum left by the White House is spending too much time simply reacting to the Bush administration’s missteps and not enough time putting together a plan for what’s next following the setting of timetables for the withdrawal of American troops. Democrats should be under no illusions about the dangers of an unstable Iraq. The war doesn’t end with the withdrawal of American troops – rather, in all likelihood it will intensify and could spread throughout the region outside Iraq’s borders.

Given the importance of the issue of the Iraq War to our nation it is a shame that the most Democratic candidates for President have not articulated to the public a detailed plan about Iraq. Like the congressional leadership they tend to be reacting to Bush’s bungling rather than presenting concrete policy alternatives.

At least one exception has been Senator Joseph Biden who, as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, it quite familiar with the Iraqi disaster and have given quite a bit of thought to an alternative policy of a “soft” partition with a continued but reduced U.S. presence. This partition simply recognizes what is already happening (and the U.S. military is acknowledging by building walls separated Baghdad neighborhoods).

Unfortunately, as a second-tier candidate with a motor-mouth personality he is unlikely to be a serious contender in next years’ primaries. That said, it would reflect well on the top tier candidates to include Biden in their shadow cabinet.

This is Michael Hirsh’s assessment in Newsweek:
Biden, on the other hand, has been on the record for a year with a fully thought-out vision for Iraq that offers a real alternative to the bleak choice we’re getting from everyone else. Let’s face it, the “debate” pits the Bush administration’s model-democracy delusion against the Democrats’ let’s-just-get-out state of denial. The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee—far and away the most experienced foreign-policy hand among the Democratic candidates—has proposed a quasi-partition plan that actually does reflect the bloody reality emerging on the ground. His scheme calls for dividing Iraq into three or more separate regions held together by a loose central government, thus clearing the way for withdrawing most U.S. troops by 2008. It’s a solution, not a surrender, and it’s what they used to call realpolitik.

History, in fact, has moved decisively in Biden’s direction. The Bush “surge” plan is utterly bogged down, as Gen. David Petraeus came close to acknowledging in remarks to Pentagon reporters Thursday. And with the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seemingly paralyzed over plans for federalism, oil-revenue sharing and amnesty for Baathists, the dream of reconciliation is turning into dust. “I think we’re moving toward a de facto partition,” says a U.S. Army officer involved in training U.S. advisers to the Iraqi Army at Fort Riley, Kansas (a program that is moving at the same slow pace as it was last fall because U.S. combat brigades are now on the front lines in Iraq rather than being rotated out so their commanders and noncommissioned officers could be turned into advisers). U.S. counterinsurgency officials working under Petraeus have begun to acknowledge the reality of the spheres of influence carved out by tribesmen and Shiite militias. They even went so far as to try to erect an Israeli-style barrier between Shia and Sunni neighborhoods, though that was voted down by the ever-cautious Maliki.

Biden predicted much of this. …

And for a guy best known for putting his foot in his mouth—the very day Biden announced his candidacy, he almost sunk it with some ill-considered comments on Obama that rankled African-Americans—the Delaware senator has mustered some real eloquence about Iraq. Consider what he said in his floor speech this week on the spending bill:

“History suggests only there’s only a couple … ways to keep together a country driven by sectarian strife. And it’s not to put American troops into a city of 6.2 million people to try to quell a civil war. Throughout history four things have worked. You occupy the country for a generation or more. That’s not in our DNA—we’re not the Persian Empire or the British Empire. You install a dictator. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony for the United States—to go back after taking one down and install another one? You let them fight it out until one side massacres the other—that’s not an option in that tinderbox part of the world. Or lastly, you make federalism work for the Iraqis. You give them control over the fabric of their daily lives. You separate the parties. You give them breathing room. Let them control their local police, their education, their religion and marriage.”

That’s about what’s happening on the ground right now. Partition of some kind—with a nominal but weak central government—is probably no longer a choice in Iraq. We can either help it along responsibly or stand in its way while once again we misread the situation. Biden has this one right. He may have little chance to win the presidency—he’s way down in the polls—but the word was that John Kerry would have made him his secretary of State in 2004. If Clinton, Obama or any of the other Democrats gain the White House in 2008, they might want to make Joe Biden the same offer.

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