Senator Joseph Biden–with Leslie Gelb–has published a NYT Op-Ed arguing for ethnic federalism in Iraq:
America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way… The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.
My ZNet article on Iraq focuses primarily on Republican strategic orientations, especially battles between Zionist and Arabist factions. Given the political dominance of the Republican party, there has been some urgency to mapping their views on Iraq. There are, however, parralel lines within the Democratic foreign policy establishment. The chief difference may be that Republican Zionists (so-called “neocons”) are still relatively rare within the foreign policy establishment. Not so with the Democrats. The challenge, within the Democratic party is to find any Arabists; Dem Zionists are quite plentiful.
Critics of the war in Iraq have often–and correctly–suggested that the neo-cons favor ethnic federalism in Iraq. After all, it was fear of ethnic federalism–and its regional consequences–that led Right Arabists to prop up Saddam’s rule at the end of the 1991 Gulf war and it was the Right Zionist embrace of this federalism within the administration of George W. Bush that guided the decision to end Sunni Baathist dominance of a centralized Iraq power structure. This issue has always been at the crux of the politics of war in Iraq.
There is nothing new about leading Democrats supporting plans for ethnic federalism. Back in 1991, when the first Bush administration indicated it was backing a military coup, rather than ethnic federalism and democracy, Democrats were quite critical:
“We should do what we can to encourage a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein,” said Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “And above all, we should not accept the replacement of Saddam Hussein with another general … who will run yet one more authoritarian Iraqi regime.” (“U.S. Sees Successor to Saddam Coming From Military,” Associated Press, March 2, 1991)
Peter Galbraith, an aide to Senator Pell, went on to become a leading proponent of ethnic federalism. At the height of the 2004 Presidential campaign, he championed such a plan in the New York Review of Books.
The fundamental problem of Iraq is an absence of Iraqis… In my view, Iraq is not salvageable as a unitary state… The best hope for holding Iraq together—and thereby avoiding civil war—is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants.
His proposal drew the support of Kerry’s chief foreign policy advisor, Richard Holbrooke, who indicated to the New York Times that Kerry himself was very enthusiastic about the Galbraith article.
If there is nothing particularly new about Democratic party foreign policy figures supporting such a plan, would the implementation of such a plan signify anything new in Iraq? Yes and no. On the one hand, Biden and Gelb acknowledge that their “third way” isn’t really much of a bold departure from events on the ground.
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… a breakup is already under way.
On the other hand, they may be quite right to signify a departure from current Bush administration policy. Although they represent their position as a break from Bush’s determination to “stay the course,” the truth is that the Bush administration has not stayed the course. As early as September 2003, the Bush administration began to retreat from a full embrace of ethnic federalism and began to favor Iraqi proxies–chiefly former Baathists like Iyad Allawi–who favor a restoration of something like Saddamism without Saddam. That policy has not managed to close pandora’s box; a breakup is already under way. But it is not currently US policy. As US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad never tires of repeating, the US favors a government of “national unity,” not ethnic federalism.
Biden and Gelb’s third way is, in fact, the first way. It is the way the Bush administration started the war.
Juan Cole provides a helpful clarification of the battle lines regarding the Biden/Gelb “Third Way”:
The Arab world would never forgive the United States if it broke up Iraq. You would never be able to convince them that it hadn’t been done primarily for the benefit of Israel. Iraq in the late 1970s was a comer as potentially the most powerful Arab country. To see it broken and in fragments, supine before imperial and regional powers, would be heartbreaking to Arabs and would certainly provoke anti-Western sentiments and attacks in retaliation.
Farewell to neo-cons; here come Dem Zionists.