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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Should the C-in-C be able to distinguish hostile from friendly fire?

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), in the opening paragraphs of a Wednesday WaPo op-ed entitled "Federalism, Not Partition":

The Bush administration and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki greeted last week's Senate vote on Iraq policy — based on a plan we proposed in 2006 — with misrepresentations and untruths. Seventy-five senators, including 26 Republicans, voted to promote a political settlement based on decentralized power-sharing. It was a life raft for an Iraq policy that is adrift.

Instead, Maliki and the administration — through our embassy in Baghdad — distorted the Biden-Brownback amendment beyond recognition, charging that we seek to "partition or divide Iraq by intimidation, force or other means."

Yes, damn those Republicans and their Iraqi stooges, always making their misrepresentations and untruths! Why, here's one:

Today, I joined with many of my colleagues in voting for Senator Biden’s plan — slightly different that he’d been presenting it, but still the basic structure was to move toward what is a de facto partition if the Iraqi people and government so choose.

Ah, except that was Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), speaking at the September 27th debate among Democratic presidential hopefuls, standing about ten yards away from Sen. Biden. Now, I know Old Joe is Slow, but is his eyesight and hearing so bad that he really couldn't recognize Hillary's rather distinctive appearance and voice on the stage with him? He thought she was a Republican?

Well, at least Sen. Biden didst protesteth Hillary's misrepresentation and untruth, thusly:

BIDEN:  What we voted on was not partition.  I don’t want anybody thinking it was partition.  And it’s the only time we got 26 Republicans to reject the president’s policies.

KUCINICH:  You’re splitting...

RUSSERT:  All right, fine.

KUCINICH:  ... Iraq up.

RUSSERT:  Fine.  Fine.

KUCINICH:  That’s what it does.

Yes, that was noted hard-line Republican Dennis Kucinich, on that same stage on the same night, busily engaging — right to Sen. Biden's face! — in more Republican misrepresentations and untruths.

In fairness, Biden's op-ed also notes that "our plan is not partition, though even some supporters and the media mistakenly call it that." He simply expects the Iraqis and their struggling government to make more sophisticated and nuanced political distinctions than, say, a political neophyte like Hillary Clinton can manage to make.

Seriously, true federalism is a luxury — a finely calibrated system that the fledgling American states weren't able to embrace until years after they'd secured their own independence and a relatively stable (if highly unsatisfactory) sort-of central government under the Articles of Confederation. Even in the most enlightened American political debates today — e.g., that which recently went on between Sen. Fred Thompson and National Review pundit Ramesh Ponnuru — highly educated thinkers can have trouble reaching agreement on whether particular policies do or don't represent "true federalism." (With due respect to Ramesh, Fred kicked his butt in that argument, even though Ramesh is a very smart man.)

Encouraging the Iraqis out onto a tightrope that looks, tastes, and feels like "partition" — but that Sen. Biden (and, with equal blameworthiness, Sen. Brownback (R-KS)) insist on calling a fine-tuning of Iraqi "federalism" — is either a very foolish or very cynical approach. But Biden, of course, will always blame Dubya even for what Biden perceives to be the "shortcomings" in understanding on the parts of Hillary Clinton or Dennis Kucinich.


UPDATE (Wed Oct 3 @ 6:00am): Here's a not-bad ABC News piece on just what the "Biden-Brownback Amendment" is, and what it means. Biden wants to claim that this is some sort of triumph on his part — that he's engineered a long-sought "defeat" for the White House that marks some sort of significant new direction in Iraq. And that's just baloney.

This was a vague, non-binding sense of the Senate resolution that could be read to say nothing more than that the U.S. and other countries ought to respect and encourage the existing Iraqi federal system as part of the maturation of that nascent government. Nobody at the White House or anywhere else has a problem with that.

I'm dismayed, though, that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and quite a few other Republican senators voted for this amendment because of the surrounding context, which is quite unhelpful. Biden, Brownback, and others have been making vague and exceedingly ill-informed noises for months and months to the effect that (my paraphrase, not a direct quote) "This Iraq mess is likely going to end up in a three-way partition between the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds." At a minimum, the kind of "federalism" that Biden seems to have in mind is something that's a partition in all but name. In his op-ed, Biden writes,

[W]e are not trying to impose our plan. If the Iraqis don't want it, they won't and shouldn't take it, as the Senate amendment makes clear. But Iraqis and the White House might consider the facts. Iraq's constitution already provides for a federal system. As for the regions forming along sectarian lines, the constitution leaves the choice to the people of its 18 provinces.

So Biden clearly doesn't have in mind the kind of large-set federalism we have in the United States, with 50 "laboratories of democracy" coexisting and interacting with one another and with a robust and unified central federal government. He's not thinking in terms of the existing 18 provinces remaining the active elements of federal interaction, he's thinking in terms of only three. And that history and context, of course, is why — contrary to what Biden insisted at the debate and repeats in his op-ed — people like Hillary Clinton and Dennis Kucinich will take one look at this and immediately understand, "Ah, sure: This is about partition."

In another ill-advised Dallas Morning News op-ed from last March, Sen. Hutchison effectively endorsed partition. She wrote:

Such a plan would create at least three separate, semiautonomous regions in which local law enforcement, commerce, security and education would be managed by local authorities. A limited central government would be responsible for ensuring an equitable division of oil revenue, conducting foreign policy and protecting national security....

An international peacekeeping force would need to be utilized. Much as the long-term success in Bosnia has depended on the involvement of peacekeeping efforts by NATO and the European Union, long-term success in Iraq will require the involvement of many nations. Regional neighbors with a large stake in a peaceful outcome could make a major contribution to a successful transition in Iraq.

I'm sorry, Sen. Hutchinson, but this is the kind of drivel that I'd expect from John Kerry. "Let's all have an international conference and this will just sort itself out!" The only way that this makes sense is if the second paragraph I've quoted is a disguised code for, "We're going to keep sufficient American combat troops there that we'll be able to prop up the so-called Iraqi central government forever." Many of the "regional neighbors" — among them Iran, Syria, and Turkey — have their own agendas, and not even Turkey can be counted upon to always work with us to ensure a "peaceful outcome." Indeed, Iran and Syria both have vested interests in continuing the bloodshed. If the only thing the Iraqi central government is doing is dividing up national loot and "conducting foreign policy" (a/k/a hosting the American embassy), there's no reason for anyone to continue to pretend that there is an "Iraq." This only makes sense as a recipe for either overt American imperialism or failure.

Things may yet someday come to a partition. But there are a large number of reasons why that would be an awkward, unfortunate, and profoundly dangerous result. Because Slow Joe is looking for easy solutions in Iraq that redound to his political credit in D.C., he's overlooking or under-appreciating those risks (which include handing a huge victory to Iran on a silver platter and creating an enormous rift that could potentially lead to military conflict involving America's strategic ally Turkey). Ultimately, "Biden-Brownback" — toothless though it is — can't be seen as anything but indirect promotion of partition. And the U.S. Congress, in the guise of Slow Joe Biden, ought not be in the business of promoting that result, directly or indirectly.

Biden, though, wants to have his cake and eat it too. He — and here again, he's joined by the earnest but thoroughly naïve Sam Brownback — wants to claim some broad bipartisan achievement by the Congress in bringing about a change in course. But they know they wouldn't have picked up all of those Republican votes if they were candid about their real intended direction — toward not genuine federalism, but effective partition. So that's why you have the silly spectacle of Biden writing an op-ed insisting that what's really important is the fig leaf, and that all the naked partition ambition behind it should be ignored — and then blaming Dubya when members of his own party refuse to play along.


UPDATE (Thu Oct 4 @ 9:30am): In this WaPo op-ed, David Ignatius seems to be saying the same thing I've been trying to say, with some additional supporting historical details.

Posted by Beldar at 12:43 AM in 2008 Election, Global War on Terror, Politics (2007) | Permalink


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(1) Boyd made the following comment | Oct 3, 2007 9:42:16 AM | Permalink

"But they know they wouldn't have picked up all of those Republican votes if they were candid about their real intended direction — toward not genuine federalism, but effective partition."

So, are you saying that the 26 Republican Senators who voted for this are too stupid to recognize the partition hiding under the federalism rhetoric?

Not that I necessarily believe that there aren't a lot of stupid Senators, but I just want to be sure I understand what you're saying here.

(2) cboldt made the following comment | Oct 3, 2007 9:53:20 AM | Permalink

I think Biden's amendment is more in the nature of predictive than formative.

In one sense the debate is purely over semantics. Certain government sponsored functions might well be done locally, e.g., education, "police," civil courts, some criminal offenses, etc. To what extent does responsibility in overlapping jurisdiction have to lean to the local side, in order to change the label from federalism" to "partition?" Or how much local control has to be removed in order to far find "absence of federalism?"

Still, Biden's amendment is rightly seen as approval of what was a very contested vote among Iraqis. Contested to the extent that it was boycotted by a substantial fraction of the Iraq parliament. Iraqi federalism vote: Behind the Contradictory numbers.

I wonder though, if the US State Depart and embassy in Iraq were to encourage a similar approach (international participation, federalism per Iraq constitution, etc.), would it be seen as "wrong" or "meddling in a sovereign country's affairs?"

(3) Carol Herman made the following comment | Oct 3, 2007 10:43:08 AM | Permalink

Joe Biden is just a whore. And, a plagerist. When he makes an "offer," you can be sure his only goal is to get space given to him by his media darlings.

While over in Irak, the parliament overwhelminging tossed away Biden's idea.

Nor is it any American's business. The Iraqis are free to choose.

Will they live in multi-culti neighborhoods? I doubt it.

But then, multi-culti has become part of the unworkable affirmative action "plan." That's been a failure. The disgrace, though, has yet to catch up to it. Because of the media elites.

As Clarence Thomas says in his new book; "When he decided to become a Supreme Court Justice, he decided that he would always do a better job at it, than journalists do at their pundit jobs. Smears just don't pass muster.

And, though Clarence Thomas waited a long, long time to show he can speak, well. With a great deal of intelligence. And, he's nobody's sock puppet ... Biden works for the Bonkeys. And, he wants the "presidency" to fall into his lap.

Sometimes, it's hard to tell this "chorus" of fools apart. John Kerry. Joe Biden. Tom Harken. There are just way too many fools in that pool.

It's even hard to tell the real nut job, Mike Gavel, from all the rest.

As to Iraq? Bush GOT WHAT HE WANTED! Took time. The Saud's funded the first waves of terror. And, the Wahabbi's bought "that" ... instead of using common sense.

Now? Patraeus has shown that the worst of the terrorists hideouts, can be flattened into parking lots. (Michael Totten supplied the pictures. And, the commentary.)

When was the last time the WaPo supplied anything at all? Well, it would be news to me if you could find something. Heck, they still have Bob Woodward inside the upper echelon, and we know what treasonous stuff HE DID! With the #2 guy in the FBI, giving him forbidden "secrets."

You'd think at least the lawyers would tell the truth, ya know? It pays to guard the secrets that courts obtain. Instead of using them to bait and switch voters AFTER they elect presidents.

No wonder Monica's interactions with Bubba, never amounted to a hue and cry for Bubba to resign. Guess what? The majority of Americans have grown up!

(4) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 4, 2007 6:03:07 AM | Permalink

Boyd: The amendment was watered down from the version Biden originally proposed by adding language to stress that this is all subject to the wishes of the Iraqi people. I assume that so weakened, it acquired some sort of attractive shine. My guess is that it looked like something that "moderates" of either party could point to as a "course-changing vote" they'd cast, a piece of political symbolism they hope to use as shelter from anti-war, anti-Bush constituents. And because it's toothless, and because, after all, there's plenty of potential for strife between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq even without our senators encouraging them (and thus it will be hard to ever trace blame back to the Senate if bad things come to pass from a partition someday), it seemed like something that was unlikely to come back and bite them in the butt later.

Ultimately I don't think it will matter much. And to the limited extent it does, I think I'd choose the phrase "unwise and unhelpful in this instance" rather than "stupid" to characterize those of either party who voted for it. But I remain very, very disappointed in this particular instance with Sen. Hutchinson, a senator who is almost always pitch-perfect in representing the enlightened views of a majority of her constituency (myself included), but whose vote on this issue was more than casual, and who certainly ought to know better than to associate herself even symbolically with something like this.

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