Biden and Obama on Iraq


In addition to questions about Joe Biden’s position on Iraq in 2002-2003 a lot of people are wondering what happened to Joe Biden’s forward-looking proposal for Iraq. His plan, which has oft been characterized as a scheme of “partition” or “soft partition” but which he and Les Gelb deemed “Unity Through Autonomy in Iraq”, was unveiled in the Spring of 2006 and called, basically, for political authority in Iraq to be dramatically decentralized so as to reduce the stakes in ethnosectarian tensions. The relevant model would be, I think, Switzerland though obviously there are a lot of aspects of Swiss political cultural and the Swiss institutional framework that you couldn’t just port over to Iraq.

At any rate, it’s been quite some time since Biden was really pushing the plan hard and it was — and is — basically a non-starter with Iraqi political leaders, so where does that leave him now? Well, Glenn Thrush and Avi Zenilman have an excellent reported article in Politico about Biden, Obama, and Iraq. They report that “since January, when Biden dropped out of the presidential race, he and Obama have quietly worked to smooth over their disagreements — and Biden has sought to erase divisions between the two of them on Iraq, sources say.” Specifically:

Biden and Obama are now in nearly total agreement on the war, with both advocating a staged withdrawal of most troops within 16 months of inauguration day. Obama has even shed some of his initial misgivings about Biden’s three-region solution, saying he’d be open to the plan if Iraqis themselves signed off on it. Biden doesn’t talk about the plan much anymore, but he still supports it, aides say, and believes it will “organically” evolve as Iraq’s political structure.

Even before Biden’s name rose to the top of veep heap, there were signs of increasing coordination. Prior to Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s Capitol Hill testimony in April, Biden and Obama huddled privately to map out lines of questioning, according to a Biden insider.

They report that the rapprochement has largely been engineered by cooperation between Susan Rice and Tony Blinken, who’s Biden’s go-to guy on the Foreign Relations committee staff. Rice and Blinken worked together in the Clinton administration. Thrush and Zenilman report that “several months ago, Rice invited Blinken to work with her on the Democratic Party’s foreign policy platform” and Steve Clemons noted that Blinken went “on vacation” in Hawaii at the exact same time as Obama did.