Thursday, April 12, 2007

Biden's Plan for Iraq - An Alternative or a Complement?

For the last year, Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been advocating an innovative political proposal for Iraq.

His proposal is to explicitly acknowledge the sectarian divisions in Iraq by weakening the central government and creating three strong regional governments (one Sunni, one Shia, one Kurdish).
Before discussing his plan, Biden goes to great lengths to debunk "the president's strategy". In doing so, he makes some claims that lead me to question exactly how he would implement the plan he advocates. He states that

"The problem is that for every welcome development, there is an equally or even more unwelcome development that gives lie to the claim that we are making progress.

While violence against Iraqis is down in some Baghdad neighborhoods where we
have "surged" forces, it is up dramatically in the belt ringing Baghdad.....Essentially, when we squeeze the water balloon in one place, it bulges somewhere else."

So begins Biden's argument that the President's new strategy has already failed. Though his conclusion may yet ultimately prove right, I think his argument is not convincing and his analogy flawed.

Though it might be true that violence has increased outside Baghdad in proportion to the decrease inside, the water balloon analogy is not appropriate. The location of the violence and the number of people it affects is a tremendously important consideration.

This is because the intention of this surge is not simply to kill more insurgents or even more al-Qaeda terrorists (who incidentally claimed credit for the Iraqi Parliament attack) and thereby lower the overall level of violence (as desirable as that certainly is).

No, the overarching purpose is to provide a level of physical security in Baghdad that will enable the legitimately elected Iraqi Government one final chance to forge the political agreement that everyone agrees is the key prerequisite to a stable Iraqi nation.

When Biden begins to discuss his plan in some detail, he mentions the fact that the Iraqi Constitution supports an arrangement similar to his proposal. This is a critical and compelling point.

Nevertheless, there is a serious flaw - or at least a gap - in his plan.

Specifically, how is the Iraqi government supposed to enact such a plan without the security American troops are providing? The recent attack on the Iraqi parliament makes it clear that there are forces with the intent and capability (in the absence of American security) to kill the entire elected government - in effect destroying the Constitution Biden cites as supporting his plan.

For this reason, I believe that Biden's proposal is worth serious consideration as a complement to the surge, but not as an alternative.

Of course, there is no doubt that the surge is a dangerous option for the American military. Even before the new deployment, our reserve forces and national guard units had been exhausted by this war. Even the active army, according to experts, is nearly at a "breaking point". The current surge obviously exacerbates an enormous problem.

Nevertheless, how can any stable political environment in Iraq be forged without it?

No comments: