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Tilting at Windmills

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October 1, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PARTITION....Jonathan Rauch dubs Joe Biden the "grownup" in the Democratic presidential race because he has a plan for Iraq. Here's Biden's plan: create a federal state in which there are separate Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite regions and the central government has only limited responsibilities (for example, distributing oil revenue and guarding the borders). But even though he approves, Rauch understands the downsides:

Even an inexpert Washington columnist can come up with a dozen reasons the Biden plan might fail. What if Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds can't agree on a regional framework, or on a revenue-sharing deal? What about Baghdad and other mixed areas? What if the autonomous regions go to war? What if the Shiite or Sunni region degenerates into intrasectarian chaos? What if Iran colonizes the Shiite region?

A conversation with Biden's aide yielded answers that were plausible but iffy. The more relevant answer, however, is the one Biden gave in a speech at the Brookings Institution [PDF] in February: "To those who disagree with my plan, I have one simple question: What is your alternative?"

That's not relevant. It's fatuous. The fact that all of the other alternatives in Iraq are bad doesn't mean that Biden's alternative is good. It just means that all the other alternatives are bad. So let's recap those alternatives: First it was the movement conservatives who had a plan to make Iraq into a flat-tax paradise. It didn't work. Then it was the democracy promoters, who thought purple fingers would do the trick. It didn't work. Then the key talking point changed to security: "When they stand up, we'll stand down." It didn't work. Then it was the surge, designed to provide breathing space for political reconciliation. It didn't work. Now it's "soft partition."

But the plain fact is that support for Biden's version of federalism has no support in Iraq and no support within the region. The only people who like it are disillusioned Americans desperate for something that maintains the fiction that America is somehow in control of Iraq's fate. But regardless of whether we were ever in control, even at the start, we certainly aren't now. We simply don't have the leverage to force regionalism on Iraq, not even if we — figuratively or otherwise — "get allies and neighboring countries on board, and lock Iraqis in a room."

There are dangerous delusions at work here. The first is that we have to do something because if we withdraw from Iraq the Middle East will inevitably end up in a massive region-wide war. In fact, there's little empirical evidence to support this apocalyptic view. The second is that we can force partition on unwilling actors. But what makes us think so? We haven't been able to force action on a wide variety of much simpler issues. The third is that if we did somehow force partition, the results are likely to be better than simple withdrawal. Unfortunately, the arguments on this score are as simplistic as the ones that preceded all our previous plans. In reality, civil war is neither more nor less likely in a federal Iraq than in a unitary Iraq.

Biden is pretending he can "solve" Iraq through yet another map-drawing exercise. If we could power up our Ouija boards, Sykes and Picot would tell us this was very "grownup" indeed. The rest of us, though, should recognize this for what it is: yet another plan that will eventually morph into an excuse to keep U.S. troops in Iraq. On that score, it's time to grow up.

Kevin Drum 6:16 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Comments

Nice post, Kevin. But you absolutely can't be taken seriously if you recognize that things are FUBAR.

Screaming "freedom" and waving purple fingers is the extent of deep thought among those in power.

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on October 1, 2007 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

The problem with all of this is the US *brokering* a partition, thinking this is more civilized and would result in a more peaceful outcome. BIG MISTAKE. If you think the place is a tar baby now, just wait till we start with this angle. The thing to do is get out of there and let the *Iraqis* duke it out among themselves and create their own borders and federal system, separate states, whatever. It is not going to be pretty, but I don't see *any* pretty outcome. If we meddle with an interventionist partition idea, we will try to play sides, keep different groups in our orbit, increase resentments, add unneeded complications to our lives and probably spend a hell of a lot more money while we are at it.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on October 1, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

Only Iraqis can solve Iraq's problems. Any thing we do is irrelevant unless it supports a solution the Iraqis want.

Posted by: corpus juris on October 1, 2007 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you Mr. Drum.

Posted by: Brojo on October 1, 2007 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, forcing partition is very easy. All you have to do is to turn your eyes away when the killing starts after the partition. Ask the British.

Posted by: gregor on October 1, 2007 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

"..Biden's version of federalism has no support in Iraq and no support within the region..."

Partition has almost super majority support in Iraq, though most Iraqis hate most American politicians. We went over a recent Iraqi poll which showed support for partition and I wonder why these poll numbers were ignored by Kevin.

It is the Saudis and Jordanians who do not like partition, Iran likes it. Syria, despite its rauckus noises, wants the status quo: American do the heavy lifting.

The solution to Iraq lies in Iran, ultimately. Turkey's future is tied to Iran, and the Kurdish leaning toward Iraq or toward Iran will determine the balance of power.

Posted by: Matt on October 1, 2007 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Armchair liberal intellectuals should keep their half-baked theories to themselves. Petraeus and the troops on the ground should be determining the best way to bring democracy to Iraq, and uninformed liberals should stay out of it.

Posted by: Al on October 1, 2007 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

The only people who like it are disillusioned Americans desperate for something that maintains the fiction that America is somehow in control of Iraq's fate. But regardless of whether we were ever in control, even at the start, we certainly aren't now.

This is absolutely and utterly true. We don't have the leverage to impose any "solution," regardless of its nature, on Iraq.

There are dangerous delusions at work here. The first is that we have to do something because if we withdraw from Iraq the Middle East will inevitably end up in a massive region-wide war. In fact, there's little empirical reason to support this apocalyptic view.

Here I have to quibble with you, Kevin. Setting aside the fact that "massive region-wide war" is an obvious straw man, there are certainly forces present that could lead to a bloodier conflict. First, all of the factions within Iraq are well-armed and have mutually irreconcilable goals (like, say, ruling Iraq), and the speed bump of a U.S. presence will be removed.

Second, Turkey and Saudi Arabia each have a stake in preventing the likely result of a "natural" resolution within Iraq -- i.e., Kurdish and Shiite domination in their respective areas -- while Iran has a strong stake in reinforcing the latter. It's not farfetched to imagine each incrementally ramping up their below-the-radar support of their goals until they back themselves into an open conflict.

A regional war obviously isn't guaranteed, but after the last four and a half years, I'm really not interested in any "instead of planning for the worst, let's plan for the best case" scenarios.

We need to withdraw AND own up to the very possible short-term negative repercussions of withdrawing. And since we can't impose any kind of resolution on the Iraqi factions and the neighboring countries, we should use our withdrawal as an opportunity to serve as a broker to help them avoid a worst-case scenario. That's the least-bad option we have left.

Posted by: Swopa on October 1, 2007 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

After Kevin and other blogs spent a good part of September shaving statistics to show Petraeus was lying about reduced casualties in Iraq (never mind the abuse Petraeus took personally), I'm waiting patiently for some comments on the actual September numbers.

Posted by: harry on October 1, 2007 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

I object to the idea that we should have a "plan" for Iraq at all. Iraq is NOT ours to make "plans" about. We have no right to inflict any more "plans" upon the sovereign nation and peoples of Iraq. How about this, we get the f*ck out. Period. We officially apologize to the Iraqi people and the world for going temporarily insane and then offer reparation payments to the Iraqi people and offer them economic aid, no strings attached, to help them climb out of the rubble we've inflicted upon them.
Iraq and its future in entirely and squarely for the IRAQI PEOPLE to decide. We have NO place in what they decide.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on October 1, 2007 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

Who says "WE" have to have a solution at all? If it's clear there's no war for us to win, it should be clear there's no diplomatic/political solution to win.

If conservatives want to invoke Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule, fine, we'll given Iraqs half a dozen fellowships at Heritage and AEI, and a couple of editor-at-large positions with NR and American Spectator.

In other words, I'm totally with Needlenose's post above. Let's not pretend we can do what we can't.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on October 1, 2007 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

All along, we have been expecting Iraq to fulfill OUR expectations. And as in every situation where expectations are imposed, there is resistance. (Yes, I have been a parent to teenagers!) Would it be too much to 'expect' that the lessons of history be appreciated?

Don't answer that.

Posted by: Jack Lindahl on October 1, 2007 at 7:24 PM | PERMALINK

KD: Since I criticize you when you write non-sense I need to give you credit when you hit out of the park. Kudos!

Posted by: Raoul on October 1, 2007 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

"...We officially apologize to the Iraqi people and the world for going temporarily insane and then offer reparation payments to the Iraqi people and offer them economic aid, *no strings attached*, to help them climb out of the rubble we've inflicted upon them..."
Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on October 1, 2007 at 7:24 PM
-----
You have brought up an interesting point. When a significant amount of anti-war sentiment is unfortunately code for something like, "all those brown people didn't deserve our help and can't get their shit together, so fuck 'em!", a Democratic president is going to face a lot of flack if she/he addresses the reparations issue. The longer we stay in Iraq (even in a much reduced role) the longer that issue is likely to get put off into the future. Hmmm.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on October 1, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Biden has zero influnce. GWB is the decider in Iraq and nothing happens without his OK. As Harry pointed out Patraeus is winning. Iraqi will become a stable democracy in it's present form. They'll be exceptionally anti Al Qaeda, anti Iran and very prosperous. GWB has won a history victory over Al Qaeda.

More of rdw's prescient analysis about Iraq (note the date):

As the Iraqi stand up the USA will stand down. The Iraqi military is expected to reach it designed size by late summer. A very substantial portion is well trained, increasingly well experienced and taking over large portions of the fight. Posted by: rdw on June 25, 2006 at 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

Posted by: Stefan on October 1, 2007 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan, rdw snuck these in on you...

"They'll be exceptionally anti Al Qaeda, anti Iran and very prosperous." (Sounds like something you might find in a neocon fortune cookie)

"GWB has won a history victory over Al Qaeda." (Bwwaaahhhh...)

Posted by: nepeta on October 1, 2007 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

Harry, if you want to measure the status of stability in Iraq, don't look at how ethnic cleansing is "working", i.e. fewer casualties. Look at the trend in refugees. Are they returning, or leaving in greater numbers? Or look at the stated surge goal, which was political reconciliation.

The idea of looking at casualties over all else was a stupid way to measure political and social stability.

But this one: Petraeus and the troops on the ground should be determining the best way to bring democracy to Iraq, and uninformed liberals should stay out of it. is really remarkable for its stupidity. Now you want the MILITARY making foreign policy decisions??? Which generals, birdbrain?

The winners in an ongoing US occupation are the military contractors. The list of losers is very very long.

Posted by: tubino on October 1, 2007 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

We officially apologize to the Iraqi people and the world for going temporarily insane and then offer reparation payments to the Iraqi people and offer them economic aid, *no strings attached*

What are these "Iraqi people" you speak of? Iraq isn't a real nation any more, and arguably wasn't to begin with - only continual rule by autocrats and tyrants made it look cohesive. Hence the repeated calls for a loose federal system that allows Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to maintain control of their own affairs. (And the current ethnic cleansing will ensure that none of them has to worry about large minority populations.)

Who do we give the money to? The federal government, which is increasingly friendly with Iran, and is riddled with Shiite militia members and sympathizers to the point where government agencies are actively slaughtering Sunnis? Our newfound "allies" in Anbar province, who were until very recently laying IEDs everywhere and who we've now armed for even more efficient civil warfare? The Kurds? Turkey would go apeshit.

I agree that the war was and is a total clusterfuck and we need to leave, and I agree with the Pottery Barn rule, but the optimal time for throwing money at the problem was four years ago. If we start paying reparations now we might as well just start handing out AK-47s and C4, or just hand over the money to corrupt officials and stop pretending it won't end up there anyway.

(Despite what I said above, I do think we should stand by the Kurds, for a variety of reasons, one of which is to prevent Turkey from devouring Iraqi Kurdistan, another of which is to discourage the Iraqi Kurds from doing anything to really piss off Turkey. They're also about as close as Iraq comes to a functional nation, and as close as we'll get to an ally in the region.)

Posted by: Nat on October 1, 2007 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

What if we make Iraq part of Greater Israel? Then Israel would have oil.

Posted by: Luther on October 1, 2007 at 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

"...If we start paying reparations now we might as well just start handing out AK-47s and C4, or just hand over the money to corrupt officials and stop pretending it won't end up there anyway..."
Posted by: Nat on October 1, 2007 at 10:33 PM
-------
I think that is what we are doing NOW in LIEU of "reparations". If we get out of Dodge, the gig may be up. That's why I wonder if we are going to prolong our stay and maintain the "new" status quo (of partition-talk) to prevent the embarrassment of a possible nationalist reconciliation and a demand for reparations.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on October 1, 2007 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

I think that is what we are doing NOW in LIEU of "reparations". If we get out of Dodge, the gig may be up. That's why I wonder if we are going to prolong our stay and maintain the "new" status quo (of partition-talk) to prevent the embarrassment of a possible nationalist reconciliation and a demand for reparations.

I find that almost impossible to believe. You're forgetting that the administration actually *expected* Iraq to remain relatively unified, and they completely failed to predict the insurgency (which should have been obvious), the power of the Shiite militias and their infiltration of the government, and the inability of Iraqis (with appallingly little support from us) to rebuild a country that had already been in terrible condition since the first Gulf War. All of this has been discussed many times before. I think the maxim "never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence" applies very well here.

The entire fucking country already hates us except for the Kurds. If - and it's very unlikely - the Sunnis and Shiites were actually able to stop killing each other and form a unified, non-dictatorial government that could speak for both, it would be less likely to ally closely with Iran, and it would support the administration's claim that regime change in Iraq would stabilize the region. Bush has wasted billions already while pushing tax cuts; do you really think he'd balk at reparations when he's about to leave office anyway?

As for people like Biden, most pro-war liberals are furious that we didn't spend more money on the reconstruction, and they're concerned with improving our international relations. I don't think anyone is worried about a reconciliation, or even expects one.

Posted by: Nat on October 1, 2007 at 11:27 PM | PERMALINK

In a few years Joe Biden will be regarded as a prophet, because that's what that raggedy-assed colonial construct Iraq will look like by then. It's all over but the shooting. And what an outrage to be asked to believe the generals! I've listened to those dumb ass-kissing bastards for 60 years and they've never been right yet. Other than Smedley Butler, WesClark, and Bill Odom, that is.

Posted by: buddy66 on October 1, 2007 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

Ugh...Drum, Yglesias....all you people - I wish you would think this through.

Again with the 'polls say Iraqis don't want partition' nonsense. First off, polling doesn't tell you if it's the right thing to do or not. A poll of all of George III's subjects in 1775 would have shown you a huge majority of them against letting the colonies become independent. The break was painful, but in the long run it was the right thing to do, and the just thing to do because the colonists wanted something different than the rest of the Empire.

And to review why the polls themeselves are bunk:

Shiites don't care because they get to run the show either way. They're never going to be enthusiastic about a partition - it has no direct benefit to them.

Kurds would love to be independent if they had a guarantee Turkey wouldn't eat them for lunch. But they know they'll be mostly autonomous either way. Again, it's ambivalence, not strong anti-partition feeling.

Sunnis are terrified of ending up without any oil revenue, and see a partition as a path to the poor-house.

So work out a partition scheme where everyone gets what they want. Give oil $ to the Sunnis, split the water, put UN troops along the pipelines and terminals, draw the map as best you can, make Baghdad an open city, bribe the Turks into leaving the Kurds alone....whatever it takes for everyone to go along, inside Iraq and outside.

It's like a 3-way trade in the NBA. Look at any two teams and you don't see the mutual benefit. It takes a little bit of vision to see how it fits together with all 3 teams...

The point of a 3-state solution isn't to create 3 states for the fun of it, it's just a means to an end. It's a way to give these 3 factions what they want, and to get them out of each others' hair. When folks get what they want, they eventually run out of reasons to kill each other.

(And It's going to happen with or without our help - the real question is do we want to help it along and maybe the process costs 50k lives over 2 years? or do we let the Iraqis duke it out for the next 20 years and have it cost 1m lives?)

A partition should have been the default plan. It should be all y'all wanting to keep Iraq together that carry the burden of proof for that 'plan'. I mean, the current course is clearly not working....so why is it so crazy and preposterous to even broach the subject of a partition?

Heck - it may not work...it's just strange to me to see the reactions against Biden's plan. It's as if the way forward in Iraq is so clear to you anti-partitioners that you act like the mere act of entertaining / discussing / debating a 3-state solution is a crazy waste of time...(Do any of us have a right to dismiss any idea at this point?)

Posted by: ssdagger on October 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM | PERMALINK

In reality, civil war is neither more nor less likely in a federal Iraq than in a unitary Iraq.

If the US withdraw to the 'Shi'a line' where the population changes over from majority Shi'a to majority Sunni, the Sunni would chase the Shi'a out of their areas (including Baghdad) and we would have de facto partition. We would also shorten our supply lines, increase troop density in the areas we still held, and would in effect be blocking Iran from moving in. This would be a prelude to actually leaving Iraq. I think that would work, I think it would be bloody but less bloody than the alternatives, and I've been saying that since 2004.

Simply attempting to impose a forcible removal (or not) and federalizing Iraq will accomplish nothing, you bet.

I keep hearing that various Iraqi groups oppose partition, but their idea of a unified Iraq is where they are on top and that's not going to work without Saddam.

max
['Good post.']

Posted by: max on October 2, 2007 at 12:03 AM | PERMALINK

I object to the idea that we should have a "plan" for Iraq at all.

That is how I feel, too. The only thing the US can do in Iraq is contribute to the killing. Our massive fire power means lots of people die. Noncombatants. The other thing is the US cannot help itself from political gamesmanship, meaning it will select who to protect and not protect or who to pursue and not to pursue. The US cannot be an honest arbiter to the factions in Iraq. It has failed in that role. The only thing left for the US to do is get out, pay reparations and punish the guilty.

Posted by: Brojo on October 2, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

The only thing left for the US to do is get out, pay reparations and punish the guilty.

Agreed with Brojo.

I've long thought that partition, with perhaps a long road to reconciliation and reunification, is the only way to avoid winding up with a replication of strongman rule. That is one area where I have respectfully disagreed with Prof Cole.

However, viable partition can only be achieved by the efforts of the Iraqis. The US's involvement can only assure that partition will take the bloodiest and most destructive route possible.

Posted by: Disputo on October 2, 2007 at 1:01 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think anyone is worried about a reconciliation, or even expects one.
Posted by: Nat on October 1, 2007 at 11:27 PM
------------
We provided the Shia government protection from the Sunnis if they promised to do what we wanted. Whenever we finally realized they were only using us to buy time to shore up their militias and hasten their ethnic cleansing plans then we starting arming the Sunni tribes. We've grossly overestimated the allegiance of the Sunni tribes to us and now the Shia government feels it in their interest to appeal to the popular resentment of the occupation-they didn't do that before now. When you get both groups united against our occupation-that makes a reconciliation more likely. So, it isn't reconciliation per se that is worrisome-it is the glue that makes it up that is threatening-the potential of a legitimate reconciled Iraqi government that is hostile and wants reparations - on *their terms*. We wouldn't like that, we would prefer to hang around and try to spin the situation in our favor. We do want to control the oil after all.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on October 2, 2007 at 2:25 AM | PERMALINK

A proposal for the soft partition of Iraq made at the Brookings Institution that is similar to, but not identical with Biden's proposal:

http://www.brookings.edu/comm/events/20070705.htm

The authors envision this as a "Plan B" if (and most likely when) the surge does not work in the political sense of the Iraqis making the concessions to have a relatively strong central government acceptable to the major groups. Bush is going to get the funding to keep American troops in Iraq until his presidency ends. If the surge does not lead to a political reconciliation by the summer of next year there will be more and more acceptance by everyone but Bush that there will need to be a change of strategy. When Bush leaves office the Iraqis and the next president will likely have to look at alternatives that don't involve the kind of government as it is now constituted. What viable alternative will there be at that time to a soft partition that has any hope of avoiding a full blown civil war? Of course, at that time the Iraqis may not come to sufficient consensus to institute a soft partition; if so, we can leave with at least knowing that we presented them with an option that we would help them fulfill that might have had some hope of avoiding the awful consequences of a full civil war. It may very well be that there will not be a clear enough agreement amongst the Iraqis to try a soft partition if (and probably when) the surge doesn't lead to a political reconciliation that will make the present government viable. If so, the only other alternatives I see is a decades long occupation of Iraq by Americans which is not tenable for a multitude of reasons or the Americans will withdraw (get out of the way) and the Iraqis will have their full blown civil war.

Posted by: TK on October 2, 2007 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

Morons with crayons

Posted by: Sean Scallon on October 2, 2007 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you're wrong in two respects:

1. It's a hell of a lot more relevant to say "This is what I would do-- what is YOUR alternative?" than to say (as the big three do) "I will make a very, very, very good plan for solving Iraq, but I can't tell you exactly what it is because I won't know what conditions in Iraq really are until after you elect me."

Biden's plan might be extraordinarily stupid, but IT IS A PLAN. "Elect me and trust me to do the right thing"-- basically what Hillary, Obama and Edwards were saying the other day-- is not.

2. You're quite right that Biden's plan won't work. 100% of the Iraqi people agree on what the form of government should be: "A theocracy where we have complete control and the other two groups serve as our slaves". The only sticking point is who the "We" is (Sunni, Shiite or Kurd).

Yes, if we set this up, it would last for maybe 20 minutes after we got everyone one-- at which point a free-for-all would erupt.

So what? You're always saying "It's politically dangerous to just pull out." I think that's BS, but let's pretend it isn't.

Here is a semi-respectable (i.e., some people think it might work) idea that provides enough cover to let us get out of Dodge without looking like Dennis Kucinich. 20% of the country will still scream that we cut and ran, but they'll do that no matter what.

But you don't like this one, either. To channel Biden, "So what's YOUR plan?"

Posted by: Woody Goode on October 2, 2007 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Fixing Iraq is not an engineering problem (rocket science) that can be solved by skill and effort. It is simply hubris for us to believe that smart people here can (eventually) figure out how to put Iraq back together. We broke it, we pay, but it is still broken. Time to apologize for the mess, beg forgiveness, throw the pieces in the junk heap and move on.

Posted by: steve on October 2, 2007 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Sen. Joe Biden has been promoting Iraqi federalism for several years. His proposal is finally getting the attention it deserves. I’m not sure it is the ultimate answer to the current unpleasantness in Iraq, but it does attempt to do one thing completely overlooked by the Bush White House. Biden is proposing a solution that actually has some popular support among those whose lives are most affected—the Iraqi people. It is a realistic approach—let the Shiites live with Shiites, Kurds with Kurds, and Sunnis with Sunnis. Doesn’t that sounds like a sensible idea?

The Biden proposal makes sense for another good reason: it is grounded in history. From 1535 to 1918, the geographical entity now known as Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire. In the late 19th century, the Ottoman Empire had almost as many provinces as the United States has states. Three of those provinces were Baghdad, Basra, and Mosul. Sound familiar? At the end of World War I, the League of Nations granted the Mandate of Mesopotamia to the British. Initially, the Mandate included Baghdad and Basra; in 1926 Mosul was added. The British forced three former semi-autonomous administrative provinces to live under one roof. It has been that way ever since.

Federalism restores the Ottoman framework that survived for three centuries. Once again, Baghdad would be mostly Sunni Arabs, Basra would be mostly Shiite Arabs, and Mosul would be mostly Sunni Kurds. We tried the top-down, neo-colonialist approach orchestrated from the Bush White House. Like every other idea that sprang from the Big Brain of George W. Bush, it has been a miserable failure. The Biden proposal is a bottom-up, organic solution.

Iraq is supposed to be a sovereign nation. Iraq is not our 51st state. Maybe it is time for the United States to get behind some version of the Biden proposal. Let the Iraqis decide how they want to live, now and into the future. It is their land, not our land. It is their oil, not our oil. Whatever form of government they decide to implement, so be it. We should wish them well and move on. How they sort out their differences is up to them. As for us, we need to disengage from Bush’s misbegotten Iraq project and turn our attention to other national and international priorities.

http://oregonpundit.blogspot.com/

Posted by: daveb99 on October 2, 2007 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK
The fact that all of the other alternatives in Iraq are bad doesn't mean that Biden's alternative is good.

Biden's "alternative" isn't good, and its not something the US can make happen. OTOH, the US pushing for it may be a good way to give Iraqis something in common to react against and strengthen national identity and willingness to compromise between factions and thereby remove the main barrier to a strong, unified Iraq.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 2, 2007 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

How about four partitions? The three standard ones plus a "mixed" one for Baghdad. Decisions in the Baghdad district could be subject to unanimity among the three groups to prevent two groups from squeezing out the third.

Posted by: Randall Flagg on October 2, 2007 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

I cannot think of any example where partition has ever succeeded, with the exception of placing Native Americans on reservations. India and Pakistan are perpetually on the verge of nuclear war. Iraq's partition after WW I is still a source of conflict. Britain's partition of Palestine is still a cause of war. Yugoslavia's breakup reignited thousand year old animosities. Vietnam's partition allowed the US to kill millions of people.

When Biden calls for partition what exactly is his motive? I do not think it is to save Iraqi lives, but to save Iraqi oil for US companies. If Biden wanted to save Iraqi lives, then he should call for the removal of the greatest killer in Iraq: the US military. Our military power is so great that we cannot help but kill Iraqi citizens. The propaganda from the president and the generals tell us the people we kill are al Queda, but that is a lie. Even if the people the US kills are combatants, they are fighting for their political/sectarian faction in a legitimate war started when the US invaded and deposed Saddam. But many of the people the US kills are civilians.

The US has no moral authority to interfere with the fighting being done between various Iraqi groups. The US cannot choose the correct group to support or prosecute. The fact the US has always attempted to kill al Sadr and his followers and is arming and training Sunnis demonstrates my point. The US cannot help but support the faction that represents the most oil profits and oppression and oppose the majority of the people in Iraq.

The excuse for staying is that the US military can prevent wholsale slaughter amongst Iraqis. This theme is used despite the fact that the US is flying dozens, if not hundreds, of aerial bombing raids daily. Of course, it is under reported in the US. These bombing raids kill lots of noncombatants, but the Americans who support them think they are somehow preventing worse carnage. The differing factions in Iraq will continue to fight each other until one demonstrates it can impose its authority, even with a US military presence. In no way, however, will this fighting between factions ever reach the level of violence that the US military uses to prevent sectarian violence. The Iraqis do not have the weapons nor the institutions available to commit mass slaughter the way the US does. The US is incapable, both ideologically and materially, from being able to broker any reasonable political settlement in Iraq.

The motives of Biden and the Brookings Institute are the same as the petro mercantilists. The US military is so powerful it kills the very people they say they are protecting. The Iraqis do not have the capability to commit genocide. The attribution the Iraqis will commit genocide is borne from a reflection of our motives and our actions. Americans must insist their military be removed from Iraq to stop its overwhelming contribution to the violence.

Posted by: Brojo on October 2, 2007 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

harry: I'm waiting patiently for some comments on the actual September numbers.


usa deaths in Iraq - 2006: 822

usa deaths in Iraq - 2007: 804 (with 3-months to go)

(icasualties.org)

smells like victory to me...

and consider this...with the previous yearly high at 849...

2007 will see the most usa deaths in iraq since the war began 4.5-years ago..

surge that..

Posted by: mr. irony on October 2, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Having multiple "states" or "provinces" with a limited "federal" government could never work!

Posted by: doug r on October 3, 2007 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

The alternatives Kevin mentions are not even plans, they are fantasies. Partition will happen, whether we plan for it or not, it would be better for all if we have a plan and can steer it to a relatively quick and painless partition.

I am not whistling in the wind here. Partition is pretty much a fait accompli already. Baghdad is mostly divided,and the ethnicization of Kirkuk continues apace. Kurdistan is de facto a separate state, with its own army and own foreign policy: it has already signed treaties with other countries and yesterday stated that it would not abide by a treaty signed by the central government. Of course the Kurds pretend that a belief in federalism: it keeps the Turks off their backs and gives them a lever into the government of their neighbors.

Iraq will be partitioned, face up to it.

Posted by: McDruid on October 3, 2007 at 4:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure exactly what point you're trying to make--yes partition is an imperfect plan, no more than " a map drawing activity." But the last map drawing activity did last for more than 50 years. Biden at least offers thoughts of substance based on a significant grasp of the realities of the situation. What he is suggesting certainly won't elicit anything but yawns from the electorate, so he is to be commended for his political courage.

Yes, the reality of Iraq is daunting, but bless Joe Biden's gaffe-prone heart for at least trying to get the dialogue to a higher level.

Posted by: powder_monkey on October 3, 2007 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

buddy66 says: "In a few years Joe Biden will be regarded as a prophet, because [partition is] ... what that raggedy-assed colonial construct Iraq will look like by then. It's all over but the shooting. And what an outrage to be asked to believe the generals! I've listened to those dumb ass-kissing bastards for 60 years and they've never been right yet. Other than Smedley Butler, WesClark, and Bill Odom, that is."

I can't give this post enough 'thumbs up'. Total bulls-eye on both counts.

Meanwhile, Brojo says: "I cannot think of any example where partition has ever succeeded, with the exception of placing Native Americans on reservations."

Um, I hardly call that a success.

"India and Pakistan are perpetually on the verge of nuclear war."

And while that's bad, can you imagine the bloodshed that would have resulted had the Pakistanis been forced to live under Indian rule since independence from Britain? Think of Iraq times 10. These groups were only under one government because the British imposed it in the first place. Sound familiar?

"Iraq's partition after WW I is still a source of conflict."

Iraq was NOT partitioned after WWI - it was consolidated, you boob. Before that the region was administered by the Ottomans, peacefully, for 300yrs, as three distinct provinces; one for the Sunni, one for the Kurds, and one for the Shia.

"Britain's partition of Palestine is still a cause of war."

No, the UN allowing European Jews to set up a homeland there is the cause of war. Right or wrong, that is the reason for the troubles there.

"Yugoslavia's breakup reignited thousand year old animosities."

No again. Nationalist flames in Yugoslavia were fanned by those ethnic leaders who only liked living under one government when it was they that controlled it. The fighting resulted when all sides couldn't agree on which ethnic group should be top dog over the others. Again, sound familiar? Yugoslavia was broken up, via the Dayton Accords, only after it became obvious that no one was going to be able to put Humpty back together again. I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but ... again, sound familiar???

"Vietnam's partition allowed the US to kill millions of people."

And the North & South Vietnamese too - lets not forget all the players. But the point is that if this is supposed to be some prime example of partition not working in Asia, then how do you explain the Koreans? Or the Germans in Europe? I actually don't classify these as 'real' partitions anyway, as they are/were based on silly political/economic ideas. But divisions based on ethnicity and/or religion - those go much deeper. But regardless; if the populations in question think of themselves as different, then for all intents & purposes that IS the reality.

"When Biden calls for partition what exactly is his motive? I do not think it is to save Iraqi lives, but to save Iraqi oil for US companies."

Cause there's just sooo much of THAT being pumped out now, right? Look, the only thing that's going to affect Iraqi oil output is peace between the warring parties. Whether the territory is unified or partitioned will make absolutely no difference on that score. From that perspective, if you want to save Iraqi lives, you will get more oil; and if you want more oil, you have to start valuing Iraqi lives. Thus you in many ways are making a distinction without a difference.

You kind of go off on a bender for a few paragraphs, and then come back to the point:

"The US has no moral authority to interfere with the fighting ... between various Iraqi groups. The US cannot choose the correct group to support or prosecute... [Under the current situation] The US cannot help but support the faction that represents the most oil profits and oppression and oppose the majority of the people in Iraq."

Isn't this all the more reason to just separate the parties? The US doesn't have to - indeed probably can't - favor any one side in accomplishing that. And the oil thing simply falls to the ethnic regions that happen to have it.

You go off on another tangent, then get back to:

"...The differing factions in Iraq will continue to fight each other until one demonstrates it can impose its authority, even with a US military presence. In no way, however, will this fighting between factions ever reach the level of violence that the US military uses to prevent sectarian violence. The Iraqis do not have the weapons nor the institutions available to commit mass slaughter the way the US does. The US is incapable, both ideologically and materially, from being able to broker any reasonable political settlement in Iraq."

Then what exactly is your beef with partition?!?!? If the US is doing so much to impede any reconciliation between the parties in the present circumstances, how is it wrong to want to change the circumstances? Especially in a way that essentially takes US judgement out of the equation? There are plenty of ethnic & religious maps of Iraq - we would simply be pulling back to those historic lines (at least as a first step).

"The motives of Biden and the Brookings Institute are the same as the petro mercantilists. The US military is so powerful it kills the very people they say they are protecting."

The motive of the petro mercantilists are simply to keep the dollar going as the monopoly currency for all oil deals. That's why they don't care if Iraq is held together in a state of perpetual war. Iraq not selling oil isn't ideal, but not allowing them to sell in Euros is even more important (otherwise the value of the dollar collapses completely). That was what Saddam announced he was going to do in 2000, and why BushCo attached him to the WarOnTerror - as a pretext for taking him out so he wouldn't turn the 2nd largets supply of oil into a Euro Zone. And that's ALSO why they don't like partition - it's 3 entities that might 'go euro' instead of just one!

I don't think Biden is 'in the loop' enough to get that the above has been the underlying dynamic for our actions over there all along (and why we now want to attack Iran too - another new Euro using oil power). So, whether you agree with him or not, I wouldn't lump him together with the Oil Patch & the financeers on Wall Street. Biden's heart is in the right place on this one.

"The Iraqis do not have the capability to commit genocide. The attribution the Iraqis will commit genocide is borne from a reflection of our motives and our actions. Americans must insist their military be removed from Iraq to stop its overwhelming contribution to the violence."

I'll agree with the latter, but the former is just foolishness. No one outside of the monks in Tibet & Burma have ever shown themselves to be immune from ever committing Genocide. Normally I would say it's time for you to wake up & get real, but your entire post is devoted to being either factually confused, or making good points and then not understanding the logical conclusions, so I don't know if that's even possible.

Posted by: Odyssey67 on October 3, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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