Biden Weighs in on Iraq

I seem to have gotten myself on Senator Joe Biden’s mailing list. Unlike the rest of the spam that turns up on my account, I usually click on Biden’s links to see what he has to say. Although Biden is widely believed to be running for president, he never says anything about that. Usually he has something to say about Iraq, which makes me wonder if the buzz about his presidency isn’t just to make people pay more attention to the policies he’s advancing.

This week Biden addresses the problem of recommendations from the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission that everyone is waiting for. The more cynical say the commission is to spread the Iraq blame around some so legislators will be more likely to vote on some legislation.

Biden makes the following points in an op ed piece in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Our current policy in Iraq is a failure. We are past the point of an open-ended commitment. We are past the point of adding more troops. We are past the point of vague policy prescriptions. It is not an answer just to stay. Nor is it an answer — though it may become a necessity — just to go with no concern for what follows. The fundamental question we must answer is whether, as we begin to leave Iraq, there are still concrete steps we can take to avoid leaving chaos behind.

Six months ago Les Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, and I proposed a detailed answer to that question, which can be found at We had two fundamental premises: first, that the main challenge in Iraq is sectarian strife, for which there is no military solution; second, that putting all of our chips on building a strong central government cannot pay off because there is no trust within or of the government and no capacity on the part of the government to deliver basic services to the Iraqi people.

We argued instead for a strong federal system, as provided for in the Iraqi constitution, that gives its main groups breathing room in regions while preserving a central government to deal with truly common concerns; a fair sharing of oil revenue to make those regions economically viable; a jobs program to deny the militia new recruits, and a major diplomatic effort to secure support for a political settlement from Iraq’s neighbors.

Biden calls for a phased troop withdrawal without a hard deadline, a sustainable political settlement that deals with federalism, sharing oil revenue (especially with the sunnis who have no oil in their region) and the militias, and the involvment of all of Iraq’s neighbors in the political solution.

There can be no sustainable peace in Iraq without the support of its neighbors, including Iran, Syria and Turkey. All major Iraqi factions should be included in the conference — and, as at the Dayton Conference for Bosnia, we should keep them there until all agree to a way forward.

Biden is also calling for hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in close collaboration with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar.

These intensive and extensive hearings will put a light on what options remain for America to start bringing our troops home without trading a dictator for chaos.

Most of that sounds pretty good. Talking is always better than not talking, and political solutions should be arranged directly by those who are affected by them, not imposed by outsiders. But something a blogger with the nickname of American Mick said in another discussion made me pause.

Iran is primarily Shiite. Syria is primarily Sunni. Each of them supports militias on the respective side of that fence. I have believed since Saddam Hussein was deposed that the only real end to hostilities in Iraq would be cooperation between those two countries in brokering a truce, and the total withdrawal of westerners. The result would be a fiercely anti-American coalition government rife with distrust.

I don’t think it’s at all inappropriate to say America wants to have some of its own interests represented here and to say what those interests are. We should expect a government in Iraq that can get along with our government, as Germany and Japan did after WWII, and as the Balkans did.There are way too many governments in the world that make political hay by merely being anti-American, without making any contribution to any policy discussion, in order draw attention away from domestic problems and keep the ruling party in power.

My lifelong ambition to vacation on the Euphrates seems even further from reality.

Posted in Arabs, Election 2008, Government, Iraq, Middle East, peace. Comments Off on Biden Weighs in on Iraq