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May 03, 2006

Heading for the Exits
Posted by Derek Chollet

Speaking of Biden...the Biden-Gelb federalism/soft-partition strategy for Iraq has kicked up considerable conversation and debate among the policy cognoscenti.  But one thing that seems to be getting lost amid all the talk about if and how Iraq should be split was Biden’s announcement on the future of U.S. troops there – he says that most should be out by the end of 2008.

According to his speech announcing the plan Monday in Philadelphia:

“…the President should direct U.S. military commanders to develop to withdraw and redeploy almost all U.S. forces from Iraq by 2008.  If the military can do it sooner without precipitating a meltdown, so much the better.  Regardless, the President should make it clear that the direction we’re heading in is out, and no later than 2008.”

This is nuanced shift for Biden, but it is an important one.  Up to now, whenever he has talked about the future of U.S. troops he’s always discussed a drawdown as inevitable given the strain on our forces and their rotational schedules.  The argument has always been that there’s really no decision to make – we have to start getting out so let’s adjust.

But now he’s saying that we should outright plan for a drawdown by a date certain.  In doing so, he has joined many leading Democrats to argue that U.S. troops should be getting out.  In fact this week the Center for American Progress is outlining a similar redeployment strategy (updating their original plan from last fall – before this was fashionable) to be endorsed by Senator Dianne Feinstein, and presumably others.

That’s significant on its own, but what’s interesting to me is that during the past few weeks it has become clearer that this sentiment is shared by a strange bedfellow: Donald Rumsfeld.

As former Generals and Democrats (and many Republicans) call for Rummy’s head, it is now more evident that he wants to get out of Iraq.  As George Packer wrote in his must-read New Yorker piece about the fight against the Iraqi insurgency, “It’s an open secret in Washington that Rumsfeld wants to extricate himself from Iraq.”  The Defense Secretary never really believed in staying for long – that’s why we went in too light and never had a plan for the peace. 

But while he has always parroted the line about staying the course, it now seems harder for him to do.  This was obvious to the reporters who witnessed the Rumsfeld-Rice trip to Iraq last week.  Reading Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post report of the contrast between the two Secretaries in Baghdad, it is striking how disinterested Rumsfeld now is in Iraq’s future.  “He seemed disengaged and bored, both to reporters traveling with him and to some U.S. officials,” Kessler wrote.  “Some said he seemed irritated by the whole exercise.” 

The New York Times’ Steve Weisman saw the same thing: “Mr. Rumsfeld made plain his eagerness to hand off the task of nation-building to Ms. Rice, and his lack of interest in the process. He was, for example, seen doodling at a news conference while Ms. Rice went on at length about her hopes and dreams for Iraq's future.”

Of course, there’s a big difference between Biden and Rumsfeld – Biden is genuinely interested in building a better Iraq.  But what’s clear is that there’s a growing consensus on the need to get out.


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I think Biden is genuinely interested in building a foreign policy rep on Iraq that looks semi-respectable to the Beltway media so that he can mount some sort of Presidential run in '08.

Biden's plan to split up Iraq is a good one, although I suggested it over a month ago on my blog. Perhaps he decided to plagiarize me too.

Well I suggested breaking these Ottoman domains in three when I was a paid consultant to Kurdish warlord Sheikh Sami "Terminator X" Abdulaziz during the Sevres Treaty negotiations in 1920. I think Biden plagiarized me, but the point is that people are finally realizing the absurdity of forcing "Iraqis" to remain united. You only have to spend five minutes in Kurdistan to comprehend the depths of separation, and indeed racism against Arabs, that permeates the society. Genocide does that. Until the US abandons the folly of a united Iraq (not ruling out a very loose, VOLUNTARY, federation), ethnic cleansing 10x worse than former Yugoslavia is what we can look forward to watching unfold on the news. (Might be a good time to invest in mass grave digging equipment).

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