Three Years Later, Partition Talk Heats Up
Image courtesy of ThinkProgress
Yes, it was three years ago today that the worst president ever took a victory lap aboard the Abraham Lincoln, and every lie told by the administration since then can be seen here, courtesy of our friends at ThinkProgress.
A day after the Washington Post ran a piece talking about the possible partitioning of Iraq in order to save it from civil war, Joe Biden and Leslie Gelb in a NYT Op-Ed tout partition as a way out for the United States. And yes, there seems to be a growing movement towards a Balkans-type partitioning of Iraq among the Bigfoots in the foreign policy community, something that both Gelb and Peter Galbraith suggested years ago. Biden went further this morning in a speech in Philadelphia, suggesting that a residual force of, at most, 20,000 American troops stay behind in Iraq to keep Al Qaeda from moving their base of operations from Afghanistan to Iraq, and assist the Iraqis to maintain border and internal security. Biden borrows from John Murtha by calling for the military to draw up plans to redeploy from Iraq by the end of 2008, thereby ensuring that Iraq be solely a headache that falls on Bush to deal with, rather than passing this catastrophe onto a successor.
You can consider this to be Biden’s sales pitch on foreign policy in his 2008 campaign for president, and despite what many of us think about him for his 1988 campaign meltdown over plagiarism charges, his grandstanding, or his water carrying for in-state MBNA, the prescription for Iraq laid out by Biden and Gelb makes as much sense, if not more, than anything the Administration has put forward these last three years. At a time when our rebuilding programs have failed due to a lack of security, planning, or outright corruption and fraud, and at a time when successive Iraqi central governments have failed to bring unity to quell the sectarian violence that is now forcing 100,000 people to leave their homes due to sectarian violence, Biden and Gelb argue that America needs to move beyond the Bush Administration’s refusal to acknowledge defeat and pursue the managed breakup of the country while maintaining a central government and making Baghdad an open city.
There are five basic elements and arguments in the Biden/Gelb proposal, which is based on the following assumptions:
It is increasingly clear that President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq. Rather, he hopes to prevent defeat and pass the problem along to his successor. Meanwhile, the frustration of Americans is mounting so fast that Congress might end up mandating a rapid pullout, even at the risk of precipitating chaos and a civil war that becomes a regional war.
As long as American troops are in Iraq in significant numbers, the insurgents can't win and we can't lose. But intercommunal violence has surpassed the insurgency as the main security threat. Militias rule swathes of Iraq and death squads kill dozens daily. Sectarian cleansing has recently forced tens of thousands from their homes. On top of this, President Bush did not request additional reconstruction assistance and is slashing funds for groups promoting democracy.
Iraq's new government of national unity will not stop the deterioration. Iraqis have had three such governments in the last three years, each with Sunnis in key posts, without noticeable effect. The alternative path out of this terrible trap has five elements.
The first is to establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues. Baghdad would become a federal zone, while densely populated areas of mixed populations would receive both multisectarian and international police protection.
Decentralization is hardly as radical as it may seem: the Iraqi Constitution, in fact, already provides for a federal structure and a procedure for provinces to combine into regional governments.
Besides, things are already heading toward partition: increasingly, each community supports federalism, if only as a last resort. The Sunnis, who until recently believed they would retake power in Iraq, are beginning to recognize that they won't and don't want to live in a Shiite-controlled, highly centralized state with laws enforced by sectarian militias. The Shiites know they can dominate the government, but they can't defeat a Sunni insurrection. The Kurds will not give up their 15-year-old autonomy.
Some will say moving toward strong regionalism would ignite sectarian cleansing. But that's exactly what is going on already, in ever-bigger waves. Others will argue that it would lead to partition. But a breakup is already under way. As it was in Bosnia, a strong federal system is a viable means to prevent both perils in Iraq.
The second element would be to entice the Sunnis into joining the federal system with an offer they couldn't refuse. To begin with, running their own region should be far preferable to the alternatives: being dominated by Kurds and Shiites in a central government or being the main victims of a civil war. But they also have to be given money to make their oil-poor region viable. The Constitution must be amended to guarantee Sunni areas 20 percent (approximately their proportion of the population) of all revenues.
The third component would be to ensure the protection of the rights of women and ethno-religious minorities by increasing American aid to Iraq but tying it to respect for those rights. Such protections will be difficult, especially in the Shiite-controlled south, but Washington has to be clear that widespread violations will stop the cash flow.
Fourth, the president must direct the military to design a plan for withdrawing and redeploying our troops from Iraq by 2008 (while providing for a small but effective residual force to combat terrorists and keep the neighbors honest). We must avoid a precipitous withdrawal that would lead to a national meltdown, but we also can't have a substantial long-term American military presence. That would do terrible damage to our armed forces, break American and Iraqi public support for the mission and leave Iraqis without any incentive to shape up.
Fifth, under an international or United Nations umbrella, we should convene a regional conference to pledge respect for Iraq's borders and its federal system. For all that Iraq's neighbors might gain by picking at its pieces, each faces the greater danger of a regional war. A "contact group" of major powers would be set up to lean on neighbors to comply with the deal.
If you think that you’ve heard this before, it is because you have. Galbraith first suggested a breakup of Iraq when it became clear a year after “Mission Accomplished” that the Bush Administration had not thought about an endgame after regime change. In the wake of the administration’s criminally negligent ineptitude, Galbraith suggested we cut to the chase of partitioning Iraq a full two years ago, when Timothy Noah at Slate did also. Gelb for his part endorsed partition even before Galbraith did, way back in November 2003.
There are several reasons why the Bush Administration opposes any partitioning of Iraq. First, a partitioning of Iraq is a tacit admission of failure and incompetence on the part of this administration. Second, partitioning Iraq would mean that Bush found himself in the same mess that Clinton did and followed the same course, which is a nonstarter for this president. The difference is that Clinton wasn’t the imbecile that took Tito out of power and drove the chaos, whereas Iraq is solely Bush’s fault.
Third, a partitioned Iraq means that Bush, Cheney, the neocons, and Big Oil cannot control the oil through a central oil ministry.
And lastly, a partitioned Iraq means that the regional governments would get veto power over permanent US bases in their provinces, and that also goes against the PNAC plan.
The Bush Administration will howl that partitioning Iraq is defeatism, that such talk now undermines the “progress” that the latest new government has been making in trying to negotiate with the insurgents. But the truth is that Bush lost Iraq three years ago, and there is little reason for this country to spill more blood and treasure trying to hold something together that George W. Bush blew apart with his criminal negligence and cataclysmic ineptitude. If Bush wants to hold Iraq together, he should send the twins to Baghdad and show the rest of us his true commitment to his rhetoric.
Democrats who are looking for an alternate policy on Iraq that uses Murtha's call for redeployment and no long term engagement would be wise to chew on Biden and Gelb's plan. This proposal defeats the GOP's "cut and run" smear against Democrats by showing an alternate way that Iraqis can embrace their new independence, free from not only Saddam, but also Big Oil, Bush, and the neocons. Our troops have died to liberate Iraq, not to deliver Iraqis from Saddam into the arms of Big Oil.