Biden’s Plan

Sen. Joe Biden has an op-ed in The Washington Post with his plan for dealing with sectarian strife in Iraq. He is correct in pointing out that while the insurgency has largely been crushed as an operational hazard in Iraq, the real trouble is with the massive rise in sectarian violence, especially in Baghdad.

His five-point plan (authored with the Council on Foreign Relations’ Les Gelb) involves essentially creating an Articles of Confederation-style government for Iraq. While the Articles didn’t work in the US, they did smooth over some pressing issues of federalism for a time. Would such a strategy work for Iraq?

We can already see such a system at play in the Kurdish north. Iraqi Kurdistan is a de facto independent state. They have their own flag, their own language, their own culture. Their ties to the government in Baghdad are often tenuous at best. They provide their own security, and Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the few success stories in Iraq. While their situation is not perfect, it’s much preferable to the carnage of Baghdad and the rank theocracy of the Iranian-influenced south.

In the end, we were never going to turn Iraq into Switzerland overnight. We need to establish a framework that will let the future Iraqi state work out its own issues in a peaceable way. A confederal system may be a stopgap measure, but if it works, it may just be enough to keep Iraq from falling into civil war. At some point once the security situation has improved, then talks about closer economic and political integration can take place.

The problem with that is how one would actually go about this plan. Baghdad, for instance, is in the Sunni heartland, but contains many Shi’a. Baghdad is where the majority of the violence is taking place. How would such an arrangement handle the status of this mixed city? What about Kirkuk, where Saddam evicted thousands of Kurds in an effort to make the city an Arab rather than Kurdish city? What would prevent the Shi’ite and Kurdish areas from telling the Sunnis to go pound sand while they get all the oil revenues?

Not to mention the fact that the Biden plan once again includes a phased withdrawal on an arbitrary calendar — which is a sure road to ruin by signaling to the enemy exactly when they can start laying low and how long they have to wait before tearing Iraq apart.

I do have to give Biden some credit — at least he’s trying to deal with the issue in a rational and logical manner. His ideas may be a bit on the naïve side — let’s face it, the Iranians aren’t going to honor a regional nonaggression pact, and neither will Syria. However, it is clear that Iraq is Balkanizing, and the best thing would be to establish a framework that can keep Iraq in some kind of confederal system while the very difficult issues of forming a pluralist and tolerant state are worked out. These are issues which can take years to fully resolve.

We’re going to be involved with Iraq for the long haul, although hopefully not as fully as we are now. It remains irresponsible for us to leave before the job is done, but if Biden wants to make a good-faith pitch to State and the Pentagon as to why our interests lie in a federal Iraq, he should have their ear.

At least one Democrat is thinking about how we can keep Iraq rather than lose it. It’s too bad his party is trending away from that pattern.

2 thoughts on “Biden’s Plan

  1. I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out if back in 2003 rather than invading Iraq we had instead worked out a deal with the kurds to establish a large American military presence in their territory.
    But of course that would have been, in the UN’s lights, an invasion of a sovereign nation.

  2. Biden’s “plan” is to follow the Iraqi Constitution. Your first clue was “Joe Biden,” who is incapable of original thought or critical thinking, and a well-known plagiarist.

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