Dan Senor: Biden Wanted to Break Up Iraq

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[Mr. Senor is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a founder of Rosemont Capital. He served as a senior adviser to the Coalition in Iraq and was based in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004.]

At the Democratic convention, Joe Biden had the opportunity to showcase his foreign policy experience. Yet his principal and most recent foreign policy initiative -- his plan for the soft partition of Iraq -- was glaringly absent from his acceptance speech. When Barack Obama named his running mate, he ticked off Mr. Biden's work on a range of other foreign policy issues -- from chemical weapons to Bosnia. But there was no mention of Mr. Biden's plan for Iraq.

This was a remarkable omission. Mr. Biden's Iraq plan had been a central theme of his own presidential campaign, and the subject of numerous addresses, television appearances, and op-eds. He authored a Senate resolution, passed in September, that reflected his plan, and he even created a Web site to promote it: www.planforiraq.com. But there is no more talk about that Senate resolution. And the Web site has been quietly taken down.

Why the sudden silence?

When Mr. Biden first proposed his plan with much fanfare just over two years ago, it was greeted with deep concern by a number of Iraqi political leaders. They loosely understood the Biden plan to mean a Kurdish state in the provinces north from Mosul up to the Turkish and Iranian borders; a Shiite state in the provinces south of Baghdad down to the Kuwaiti border; and a Sunni state in the provinces immediately north and northwest of Baghdad.

Mr. Biden was well known to Iraqi leaders. He had visited Iraq more than other Senate critics of the Bush administration. As a supporter of the war and later as a pivotal voice on the early congressional funding debates, he had been constructive in his criticisms. For those of us advocating for increased troop levels early on, Mr. Biden was an ally. Indeed, even before the war, he said on the Senate floor that "we must be clear with the American people that we are committing to Iraq for the long haul; not just the day after, but the decade after." And despite his reputation for lecturing, he actually would listen to U.S. officials on the ground.

His case for soft partition was based on the Bosnian model where, he argued, the U.S.-brokered Dayton accords had "kept the country whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations." There was a logic to it. Unlike post-World War II Germany and Japan, both Bosnia and Iraq had disparate ethnic and sectarian communities; both were modern creations, established out of the ashes of the Austrian and Ottoman Empires, respectively.

But that is where the similarities ended. As a model for a tripartite federation of secure, semi-independent regions, Bosnia offered few actionable lessons for us in Iraq.

First, the 1995 Bosnia peace agreement was possible only after the momentum in the Balkan war had turned markedly against the Serbs. Until then, the Serbs had been on offense, were successful, and had no incentive to compromise. But by the mid-'90s, the Serbs suddenly found themselves defeated, with no viable alternatives to cutting a deal.

When Mr. Biden was arguing for a similar plan for Iraq, however, the Sunni extremists -- al Qaeda in Iraq, the 1920s Revolutionary Brigades, and other members of the Sunni resistance -- were in ascendance. So were the Shiite extremists, including Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and the Islamist Badr Brigades. The radicals had not been defeated.

Second, the key leaders behind the Bosnian war were in a position to sign a deal and deliver their proxies. Who would Mr. Biden have proposed we bring to the table to negotiate on behalf of the Sunnis and Shiites? Did he have confidence that they would be able to rein in the militias? The Shiite political leadership in Iraq's Parliament, for example, had very little influence over the Sadrists, whose movement was growing and whose leader had national -- not regional -- ambitions. Meanwhile, moderate Sunni leaders were losing hearts and minds in Sunni dominated areas to a violent campaign of intimidation by jihadists.
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