Senator Joe Biden has "stepped up to the plate" to give us an outline of what American plans in Iraq should be over the next year and a half. As a leading contender for the Democratic Party nomination for president it is suitable that he should do so.
In this OP/Ed piece he lays out a strategy which is not based on conditionality, that is, he does not say, as the administration says, that we will not withdraw from Iraq until the Iraqis indicate that they are ready for us to leave, and that we agree that they are ready.
No, he says that there are "X" number of specific but difficult things to be done as part of a deliberate program of withdrawal, and that then we will be gone. Perhaps we will leave a "small" force in the country, perhaps we will leave a somewhat larger force in an adjoining country, perhaps we will leave a large force somewhere "over the horizon" in the Indian Ocean area, but essentially we will be gone from Iraq in 18 months to two years.
The difficulties he foresees are all real and daunting:
-The internal politics of this state made up of many nations remain very divided. The reported "feelers" from Iraqi insurgents to members of the government are, nevertheless, encouraging, and point to a situation in which the Iraqi elements in the revolt might be "split off" from the international Jihadi elements.
– The new Iraqi forces have yet to prove themselves capable of holding population centers cleared of insurgents for them by American forces. The Iraqi forces also have to prove themselves capable of recruiting and operating forces made up of Sunni Arabs. The technique of using Kurdish or Shia Arab troops to police and defend Sunni Arab towns against Sunni Arab guerrillas and terrorists is a "loser."
– Biden’s belief that Iraq’s neighbors all share an interest in a united and stable Iraq seems baseless to me. This may be true of Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but it is a "shaky" presumption when applied to Turkey, Iran and Syria.
As long as Syria is under severe pressure from the US in the direction of regime change, there will be a considerable faction in the government in Damascus that favors making or allowing trouble in Iraq as a distraction for the US.
Turkey has irredentist inclinations in the north of Iraq. Turkey has never fully accepted the "Arabness" of Mosul or Kirkuk, much less the idea that only Iraq has "interests" in these places and the oil fields in the area. The treatment of the Turkmen minority of Iraq is a continuing excuse for Ankara’s aversion to acceptance of Iraqi re-distribution of lands and towns in the north. Turkey’s aversion to the consolidation of Kurdish political institutions is well known and will undoubtedly not disappear.
Iran has been relatively quiescent in the period of our occupation of Iraq. They see our time in the country as temporary and likely to lead to a weakening of the power of all the Sunni Arab states in the region. The last Iranian election did not lead (as the Bush Administration expected) to a Western inclined youth revolution. Instead, it brought to power a hard-line Islamic Revolutionary government headed by a man who calls for our withdrawal and for the destruction of our major non-Islamic ally, Israel. Do we imagine that the Iranians are going to stand idly by while a government inclined to the US consolidates power in Baghdad?
Are these obstacles and difficulties so great as to make Biden’s outline "moot?" I think not. We are now in Iraq. We are not in some other situation which we would have preferred. It is time for the "loyal opposition" to oppose. Biden’s plan should provide an "umbrella" of thought under which to do so.