Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Biden's Iraq plan detailed enough to draw praise - and critics

SUMMARY: A recent TV ad says Joe Biden is the only candidate with a plan to "get us out of Iraq and keep us out." This isn't true: Most Democratic candidates have put forward proposals for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Still, in a primary campaign where Iraq is the hottest topic, Biden issued a plan for Iraq more than a year ago that for a long time was easily the most detailed plan of any.

Biden, who is also chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, developed his Iraq plan with Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations. The plan, which was detailed in the New York Times on May 1, 2006, includes five points:

* Separate Iraq into three autonomous provinces -- Shiite, Sunni and Kurd -- with a central government in charge of border defense and distributing oil revenues.

* Guarantee the Sunnis a proportionate share of oil revenues, even though their land is oil-poor, as an incentive.

* Increase reconstruction aid, paid for by the oil-rich Arab Gulf states. Make sure the aid goes to programs that create jobs and require local Iraqi governments to protect minority rights as a condition for economic aid.

* Withdraw the bulk of U.S. troops by summer 2008, leaving about 20,000 troops to fight terrorists and keep the peace.

* Use diplomacy to draw in Iraq's neighbors and create a mechanism for enforcing regional agreements.

As the dominant issue of the campaign, candidate positions on Iraq are likely to sharpen over time. Barack Obama, for instance, released on Sept. 12, 2007, a plan that rivals Biden's for specifics. Obama's plan does not call for decentralization, but it has in common some of Biden's other points: increased diplomacy to involve neighboring states; more aid for Iraq from other countries; and increasing accountability for regional agreements.

Obama's plan also calls for a new constitutional convention in Iraq led by the United Nations, and it outlines specific proposals for Iraq's humanitarian crisis, particularly for Iraqis within their own country and in other countries.

Other Democratic candidates' plans focus on troop withdrawal. Their plans also mention political reconciliation, but give few details for how it should unfold.

* Hillary Clinton emphasizes the need for a carefully planned withdrawal. She has pressed the Bush administration and the Defense Department for detailed redeployment plans, and she has introduced legislation that would limit the number of troops and sets policy benchmarks for the Iraqi government.

* John Edwards has repudiated his 2002 Senate vote granting Bush authority to invade Iraq and now argues for a rapid troop withdrawal.

* Gov. Bill Richardson has called for the fastest withdrawal timetable, bringing most troops home in six to eight months.

* Sen. Chris Dodd has sponsored a bill that would cut off funds for the war by March 2008.

* Mike Gravel, a former senator, proposes introducing legislation immediately that would force the withdrawal of troops promptly.

* Rep. Dennis Kucinich has a withdrawal plan that includes paid reparations for Iraqis.

But for all the detail in Biden's plan, it is by no means universally loved.

Critics are especially troubled by the idea of creating autonomous provinces. The Iraq Study Group rejected such an idea, which it called devolution, in its 2006 report. The group's chief fear was that it would make things worse: "A rapid devolution could result in mass population movements, collapse of the Iraqi security forces, strengthening of militias, ethnic cleansing, destabilization of neighboring states, or attempts by neighboring states to dominate Iraqi regions."

Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said the concept of partitioning the regions underestimates the problem of mixed cities. "Baghdad, in spite of all of the violence it has seen and all of the population displacements, remains a very mixed city -- Sunnis and Shia together," he said at a September 2007 congressional hearing. "Any notion that a city of over 5-million people can be neatly divided up or painlessly cleansed of a huge number of people is just incorrect."

Biden answers his critics with several points: Baghdad could remain a mixed, federal city; the Iraqis are separating on their own; strong local governments could better prevent violence; and a stable Iraq is in the interests of neighboring states.

Biden says his fundamental disagreement with the other Democrats is over the possibility of a unified government emerging in Iraq. "It will not happen in the lifetime of anyone here," Biden said during an ABC debate held on Aug., 19, 2007.

At the same debate, Richardson said Biden's plan "has potential," while Obama said, "Joe's point about partition might be the right one. The only area I disagree with Joe on is that it is important for the Iraqis to arrive at the conclusion that partition makes sense, as opposed to it being imposed by the United States government."

Biden's plan has picked up some other interesting accolades along the way. Republican presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback has said he supports the plan, and New York Times columnist David Brooks, a conservative, wrote in January 2007 that Biden "has the most intellectually serious framework for dealing with Iraq."