On another thread here on Gather, we had a very lively (and relatively civil) discussion about Iraq, and the Biden plan became a focus of it.Â I thought it would be helpful to post the whole plan for further discussion.
I don't believe there is a GOOD option for this situation, but I do believe this is the best of the options so far put forth.Â It's well reasoned, insightful, forthright and clear.Â Easy?Â Hell no, but doable for people with strong diplomatic skill and the commitment to building something good out of something bad.
Iraq: A Way Forward
President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq. His strategy is to prevent defeat and to hand the problem off to his successor. As a result, more and more Americans understandably want a rapid withdrawal, even at the risk of trading a dictator for chaos and a civil war that could become a regional war. Both are bad alternatives.
There is a third way that can achieve the two objectives most Americans share: to bring our troops home without leaving chaos behind. The idea is to maintain a unified Iraq by federalizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis breathing room in their own regions. The central government would be responsible for common interests, like border security and the distribution of oil revenues. The plan would bind the Sunnis - who have no oil -- by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of oil revenues. It would convene an international conference to secure support for the power sharing arrangement and produce a regional nonaggression pact, overseen by a Contact Group of major powers. It would call on the U.S. military to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2007, with a residual force to keep Iraqis and their neighbors honest. It would increase economic aid but tie it to the protection of minority rights and the creation of a jobs program and seek funding from the oil-rich Gulf Arab states. The new, central reality in Iraq is deep and growing sectarian violence between the Shiites and Sunnis. In last December's elections, 90 percent of the votes went to sectarian lists. Ethnic militias increasingly are the law in Iraq. They have infiltrated the official security forces. Massive unemployment is feeding the sectarian militia. Sectarian cleansing has forced at least 250,000 Iraqis to flee their homes in recent months. At the same time, Al Qaeda is now so firmly entrenched in Western Iraq that it has morphed into an indigenous jihadist threat. As a result, Iraq risks becoming what it was not before the war: a haven for radical fundamentalists.
There is no purely military solution to the sectarian civil war. The only way to break the vicious cycle of violence - and to create the conditions for our armed forces to responsibly withdraw -- is to give Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds incentives to pursue their interests peacefully. That requires an equitable and viable power sharing arrangement. That's where my plan comes in. This plan is not partition - in fact, it may be the only way to prevent violent partition and preserve a unified Iraq. This plan is consistent with Iraq's constitution, which provides for Iraq's 18 provinces to join together in regions, with their own security forces, and control over most day-to-day issues. This plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the militia, which are likely to retreat to their respective regions. This plan is consistent with a strong central government, with clearly defined responsibilities. Indeed, it provides an agenda for that government, whose mere existence will not end sectarian violence.
The example of Bosnia is illustrative. Ten years ago, Bosnia was being torn apart by ethnic cleansing. The United States stepped in decisively with the Dayton Accords to keep the country whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations. We even allowed Muslims, Croats and Serbs to retain separate armies. With the help of U.S. troops and others, Bosnians have lived a decade in peace. Now, they are strengthening their central government, and disbanding their separate armies.
The course we're on leads to a terrible civil war and possibly a regional war. This plan is designed to head that off. I believe it is the best way to bring our troops home, protect our fundamental security interests, and preserve Iraq as a unified country.
The question I have for those who reject this plan is simple: what is your alternative?
Joe BidenA Five Point Plan for Iraq
1. Establish One Iraq, with Three Regions
- Federalize Iraq in accordance with its constitution by establishing three largely autonomous regions - Shiite, Sunni and Kurd -- with a strong but limited central government in Baghdad
- Put the central government in charge of truly common interests: border defense, foreign policy, oil production and revenues
- Form regional governments -- Kurd, Sunni and Shiite -- responsible for administering their own regions
2. Share Oil Revenues
- Gain agreement for the federal solution from the Sunni Arabs by guaranteeing them 20 percent of all present and future oil revenues -- an amount roughly proportional to their size -- which would make their region economically viable
- Empower the central government to set national oil policy and distribute the revenues, which would attract needed foreign investment and reinforce each community's interest in keeping Iraq intact and protecting the oil infrastructure
3. Convene International Conference, Enforce Regional Non-Aggression Pact
- Convene with the U.N. a regional security conference where Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, pledge to support Iraq's power sharing agreement and respect Iraq's borders
- Engage Iraq's neighbors directly to overcome their suspicions and focus their efforts on stabilizing Iraq, not undermining it
- Create a standing Contact Group, to include the major powers, that would engage Iraq's neighbors and enforce their commitments
4. Responsibly Drawdown US Troops
- Direct U.S. military commanders to develop a plan to withdraw and re-deploy almost all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2007
- Maintain in or near Iraq a small residual force -- perhaps 20,000 troops -- to strike any concentration of terrorists, help keep Iraq's neighbors honest and train its security forces
5. Increase Reconstruction Assistance and Create a Jobs Program
Plan for Iraq: What It Is - and What It Is Not
- Provide more reconstruction assistance, conditioned on the protection of minority and women's rights and the establishment of a jobs program to give Iraqi youth an alternative to the militia and criminal gangs
- Insist that other countries take the lead in funding reconstruction by making good on old commitments and providing new ones -- especially the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries
Some commentators have either misunderstood the Plan, or mischaracterized it. Here is what the plan is - and what it is not:
1. The Plan is not partition.
In fact, it may be the only way to prevent a violent partition - which has already started -- and preserve a unified Iraq. We call for a strong central government, with clearly defined responsibilities for truly common interests like foreign policy and the distribution of oil revenues. Indeed, the Plan provides an agenda for that government, whose mere existence will not end sectarian violence.
2. The Plan is not a foreign imposition.
To the contrary, it is consistent with Iraq's constitution, which already provides for Iraq's 18 provinces to join together in regions, with their own security forces, and control over most day-to-day issues. On October 11, Iraq's parliament approved legislation to implement the constitution's articles on federalism. Prior to the British colonial period and Saddam's military dictatorship, what is now Iraq functioned as three largely autonomous regions.
But federalism alone is not enough. To ensure Sunni support, it is imperative that Iraqis also agree to an oil revenue sharing formula that guarantees the Sunni region economic viability. The United States should strongly promote such an agreement. The final decisions will be up to Iraqis, but if we do not help them arrange the necessary compromises, nothing will get done. At key junctures in the past, we have used our influence to shape political outcomes in Iraq, notably by convincing the Shiites and Kurds to accept a provision allowing for the constitution to be amended following its adoption, which was necessary to secure Sunni participation in the referendum. Using our influence is not the same as imposing our will. With 140,000 Americans at risk, we have a right and an obligation to make known our views.
3. The Plan is not an invitation to sectarian cleansing.
Tragically, that invitation has been sent, received and acted upon. Since the Samarra mosque bombing in February, one quarter of a million Iraqis have fled their homes for fear of sectarian violence, at a rate now approaching 10,000 people a week. That does not include hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - many from the professional class - who have left Iraq since the war. Only a political settlement, as proposed in the Plan, has a chance to stop this downward spiral.
4. The Plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the sectarian militia.
It offers a realistic albeit interim solution. Realistic, because none of the major groups will give up their militia voluntarily in the absence of trust and confidence and neither we or the Iraqi government has the means to force them to do so. Once federalism is implemented, the militias are likely to retreat to their respective regions to protect their own and vie for power, instead of killing the members of other groups. But it is only an interim solution, because no nation can sustain itself peacefully with private armies. Over time, if a political settlement endures, the militia would be incorporated into regional and national forces, as is happening in Bosnia.
5. The Plan is an answer to the problem of mixed cities.
Large cities with mixed populations present a challenge under any plan now being considered. The essence of the Plan is that mixed populations can only live together peacefully if their leadership is truly satisfied with the overall arrangement. If so, that leadership will help keep the peace in the cities. At the same time, we would make Baghdad a federal city, and buttress the protection of minorities there and in the other mixed cities with an international peacekeeping force. Right now, the prospect for raising such a force is small. But following a political settlement, an international conference and the establishment of a Contact Group, others are more likely to participate, including countries like Saudi Arabia which have offered peacekeepers in the past.
6. The Plan is in the self-interest of Iran.
Iran likes it exactly as it is in Iraq - with the United States bogged down and bleeding. But the prospect of a civil war in Iraq is not in Tehran's interest: it could easily spill over Iraq's borders and turn into a regional war with neighbors intervening on opposing sides and exacerbating the Sunni-Shiite divide at a time Shiite Iran is trying to exert leadership in the Islamic world. Iran also would receive large refugee flows as Iraqis flee the fighting. Iran, like all of Iraq's neighbors, has an interest in Iraq remaining unified and not splitting into independent states. Iran does not want to see an independent Kurdistan emerge and serve as an example for its own restive 5 million Kurds. That's why Iran - and all of Iraq's neighbors -- can and should be engaged to support a political settlement in Iraq.
7. The Plan is in the self-interest of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
The Sunnis increasingly understand they will not regain power in Iraq. Faced with the choice of being a permanent minority player in a central government dominated by Shiites or having the freedom to control their day-to-day lives in a Sunni region, they are likely to choose the latter provided they are guaranteed a fair share of oil revenues to make their region viable. The Shiites know they can dominate Iraq politically, but not defeat a Sunni insurgency, which can bleed Iraq for years. The Kurds may dream of independence, but fear the reaction of Turkey and Iran - their interest is to achieve as much autonomy as possible while keeping Iraq together. Why would Shiites and Kurds give up some oil revenues to the Sunnis? Because that is the price of peace and the only way to attract the massive foreign investment needed to maximize Iraqi oil production. The result will be to give Shiites and Kurds a smaller piece of a much larger oil pie and give all three groups an incentive to protect the oil infrastructure.