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Biden's Counterproductive Iraq Proposal

By Dennis Byrne

Just as the Iraqis were finally putting together a unity government, along comes Sen. Joseph Biden with a "detailed plan" to unravel it.

Brilliant.

As brilliant as Abraham Lincoln preparing a detailed plan to end the Civil War upon the fall of Vicksburg.

In a much heralded and publicized op-ed in the New York Times (where else?), Biden said the only way to prevent chaos was to divide Iraq into three autonomous regions, along religious and ethnic lines. Give each their own army and, I suppose, let them have at one another.

Biden pops up with this lunacy just as Norui al-Maliki, Iraqi's new prime Minister is trying to put together a cabinet under a three-week deadline and form the long-sought unity government. Biden's timing couldn't have been more self-serving or destructive.

Everything Biden does is self-serving, so no need to dwell on that. As for destructive: the Bush administration long has been pressuring Iraqi factions to work better together. Their joint decision now to replace an inept prime minister with al-Malik is a major milestone on the road to Iraqi independence and self-government, an accomplishment surely as significant as crafting its new constitution and holding successful elections.

This step toward overcoming centuries of hatred and bloody warfare apparently isn't all that stunning for Biden, whose op-ed virtually ignored this accomplishment. Nor is it newsworthy for the American media, which suffered the indignity of having to mention it at all. Constitution, elections, unified government; skeptical politicians and media said none of it would happen. And after each happened, they quickly moved on to find the next thing "that'll never happen."

For the Iraqis, this process requires huge gulps of pride, self-sacrifice and an admirable tolerance for danger. Every Iraqi participating in this process risks getting his throat cut. So, along comes Biden's wrench in the works, as if just another form of American abandonment of Iraq is a serious and credible alternative. Iraqi unifiers now can only wonder if America will betray them.

Here's hoping that they pay less attention to Biden then does our fawning media.

Give Biden credit for one thing, though. After endless vague carping, Biden at least is one Democrat who finally has come up with a "detailed plan to end the Iraqi civil war," instead of issuing the usual "let's-just-stop-what-we're-doing" demagoguery.

But, what a proposal. Of course, it includes the threadbare progressive formula to "convene a regional conference," so that everyone can to agree to "respect" Iraq's borders. Be sure to pick up your Hello nametags at the registration desk and get to know your neighbors at this evening's meet-and-greet. What is it with liberals that they see themselves as global event planners who believe that "if only" we can get Iran, Syria and other belligerents to "sit down together," we can "work out our differences."

Okay, that's just a small part of his proposal, which essentially would take apart a country that the Iraqis are trying to put together. Biden says it will work, just like it did in Bosnia.

Aside from Iraq not being Bosnia, the plan has a few flaws. Consider: He says Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would be responsible for their internal affairs and each have their own "internal security," i.e. army, I guess. Baghdad would become a "federal zone, while densely populated areas of mixed populations would receive both multisectarian and international police protection." That's such a fine solution, why doesn't he propose it for, say, Jerusalem as well.

Actually, the idea of a federal zone, protected by an international force, sounds familiar: It's what we're already doing in larger Iraq, Joe. Or trying to do, but pretty much by ourselves, not that we haven't asked for some help. So, what are we supposed to believe--that we could get a truly international armed presence to police violent Baghdad, any more successfully than we've been able to get a truly international force to protect the more peaceful hinterland? What do you suppose France will say when Biden comes knocking for 20,000 grenadiers to patrol Sadr City?

If Bush's strategy is fanciful, Biden's is absurd.

It is so mainly because it fails to consider the reason for a unified Iraq in the first place. The idea of, for example, the Sunnis (in other words, Baathists, in other words Saddamists) singly running any part of the nation is an invitation to disaster. It's an invitation for the fascist phoenix to rise in the heart of the nation, with our official endorsement. So, what would Biden do if the Sunnis decided to return to despotism? Hold another regional conference?

Much of the Sunnis leadership, if left on their own, pose multiple and sobering dangers to democracy, human and civil rights (especially those of women and minorities) and everything else that progressives such as Biden are supposed to hold dear. Any policy that fails to temper their history of violence and tyranny under Saddam Hussein with the significant checks of a unified, strong central government is dangerous beyond words.

Under Biden's plan, the only inducement for the Sunnis to behave is offer some "irresistible sweeteners." Biden didn't say what the sweeteners are; maybe he doesn't know. And I can't imagine.

In truth, I think that Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is experienced and smart enough to know that. Which makes his op-ed, especially at this moment, all the more despicable.

Dennis Byrne is a Chicago Tribune op-ed columnist and freelance writer. Email: dennis@dennisbyrne.net

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