Daily Archives: June 14, 2006

Biden Time

Posted by Cutler on June 14, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Does Senator Joe Biden think that his party is so irrelevant that he can champion views on Iraq that seem completely contradictory without anybody knowing or caring?

Biden, in case you have missed it, has been all over the media in recent days arguing for appeasing Iraq’s Sunni Arab political forces even as he simultaneously champions regional autonomy for Iraqi Shiites and Kurds. In other words, he is essentially trying to woo Sunni Arabs and antagonize them at the same time. Along the way, he manages to support both of the visions for Iraq that have generated fierce factional antagonisms withing the Bush administration.

Here is Biden on the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS last night:

[E]verybody agrees three things have to happen for us to be able to leave and leave success behind, that is a stable government. You’ve got to do something about the militia, and you’ve got to purge the existing, trained Iraqis of these sectarian thugs.

Secondly, what you got to do, is you got to get the Sunnis to buy in. That’s why our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it, to provide for the opportunity to get the Sunnis to buy in by giving them a larger piece of the action.

And, three, you’ve got to keep the neighbors out.

Biden has reproduced these three bullet points on CNN, MSNBC, and in a press release.

These talking points are not particularly different from the current “Right Arabist” policies being pursued by Zalmay Khalilzad. Hence the nod to the “great job” Khalilzad is doing.These talking points are quite different, however, from Biden’s simultaneous endorsement (discussed in a previous post) of regional autonomy for Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish minorities.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, what do you say to the growing number of your fellow and sister Democrats who are saying, “Hey, it’s time to set a date certain to get America out of there, get the troops out of there”? What do you say to them?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I’m saying setting a date is not a plan. I’m not suggesting that Senator Lugar agrees with the plan I put forward, but I laid out a clear, precise plan as to how I think we should proceed, by giving more breathing room to the various sectarian groups, by sharing the oil revenue, by amending the constitution

This “clear, precise plan” is hardly the stuff of Right Arabist strategy in Iraq. Take, for example, Senator Lugar, Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who appeared with Biden on the News Hour:

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, are you on board for the Biden plan?…

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I think it should be carefully considered, but my own view is that the best option is still to try to find a unified Iraq

I think that Turks will be very nervous about Kurds heading toward more independence under those situations… quite apart from Sunnis that might hook up with Sunnis in Saudi Arabia… the Wahhabi-types that could be very dangerous for the conclusion for all of this…

Biden’s plan drew similar criticism from Anthony Cordesman in a May 9, 2006 New York Times Op-Ed entitled “Three Iraqs Would Be One Big Problem.”

[T]here is no way to divide Iraq that will not set off fights over control of oil. More than 90 percent of Iraq’s government revenues come from oil exports. The Sunni Arab west has no developed oil fields and thus would have no oil revenues…

And with Iraqi Sunnis cut out of oil money, Arab Sunni states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be forced to support them, if only to avoid having the Islamist extremists take over this part of Iraq.

Iran, of course, would compete for the Iraqi Shiites. The Kurds have no friends: Turkey, Iran and Syria would seek to destabilize the north…

[A quick detour: “The Kurds have no friends” Is it my imagination or did Anthony Cordesman just “wipe Israel off the map”? For better or worse, Israel has long aligned itself with Kurdish forces.]

Biden and Gelb responded to Cordesman’s criticism in a May 11, 2006 letter to the New York Times (subscription required):

[Cordesman] says our proposal cuts the Sunni Arabs out of oil money. But as we wrote, our plan would constitutionally guarantee Sunnis 20 percent of all oil revenues. Right now, they are guaranteed nothing.

Our suggested oil guarantee would also give Sunnis a major incentive to fight the insurgents and accept the regionalism we propose and Iraq’s constitution allows.

You will have to ask Iraqi Sunnis for yourself if they find Biden’s promise of “20 percent of all oil revenues” sufficient “incentive to fight the insurgents,” but I have yet to find any Right Arabists (including Lugar) who find in this clarification a basis for signing on to Biden’s regionalism plan.

It is worth noting, however, that Biden’s insistence here on exisiting provisions of the Iraqi constitution runs agains the grain of his News Hour praise for Khalilzad: “our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it.”

What were the changes that Khalilzad introduced days ahead of the October 2005 ratification vote? Khalilzad’s own October 12, 2005 press release is quite clear:

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad praised Iraqi political leaders for agreeing to last-minute compromises on the language of the country’s proposed constitution. The changes are aimed at forging broader consensus ahead of the October 15 constitutional referendum.

“As Iraqis prepare to vote their consciences in the coming referendum, leaders who have led the democratic process and leaders who have boycotted it have decisively settled their differences and joined together to announce, ‘Vote yes for Iraq’s constitution,’” Khalilzad said in an October 12 statement…

One agreed change would allow for the new Council of Representatives to review the document and propose changes…

This provision was important to Sunni Arab negotiators who feel that they were under-represented on the constitutional drafting committee…

Other changes include language emphasizing the unity of the Iraqi state and highlighting its ties to the Arab world.

Two new clauses state that membership in the former regime’s Ba’ath Party is not an adequate basis for referral of an individual to the courts and that the new Council of Representatives shall establish a committee to ensure that the de-Ba’athification program is carried out in a just, fair and objective manner. Sunni Arab negotiators insisted on these provisions to ensure that their constituents, many of whom were rank-and-file members of the party, are not unjustly prosecuted.

How can Biden praise Khalilzad’s constitutional amendments that won some Sunni Arab buy in only by promising the “unity of the Iraqi state” even as Biden continues to support regional autonomy?

Senator Biden: which side are you on?

At a minimum, let us pray that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee understands that his current talking points represent two antagonistic approaches to US policy in Iraq–approaches that have hitherto appeared as mutually exclusive to the Right Zionist and Right Arabist factional forces that have battled for position since the start of the Bush administration, to say nothing of forces on the ground in Iraq and the entire Gulf region.