Marc Perelman | Fri. Dec 08, 2006
Just days before its publication, the much-anticipated report of the
bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission on Iraq came under attack Monday from the
Democrats' top foreign-policy voice, Senator Joseph Biden, in an address to a
Jewish group in New York.
Biden, incoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the
Baker-Hamilton report, parts of which had been leaked to the press days
earlier, does not provide a plan to reach a sustainable political settlement
there. He also derided proposals, associated with Baker, to link progress in
Iraq to the revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as "dangerously naive."
"The notion that an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement would end a civil war
in Iraq defies common sense," Biden told the Israel Policy Forum.
"Israeli-Palestinian peace should be pursued aggressively on its own merits,
period - not as some sort of diplomatic price to make the Arab states feel
good so they will help us in Iraq."
Biden, who is believed to be considering a presidential run in 2008, blasted
President Bush for "going AWOL" on the Israeli-Palestinian track over the past
six years, saying he could "not fathom" how the president did not find the
time to visit Israel even once since he was elected.
The Baker-Hamilton commission, formally known as the Iraq Study Group, issued
its recommendations Wednesday. They include a gradual and partial withdrawal
of American troops from Iraq and a call for direct talks with Syria and Iran,
as well as more vigorous American mediation on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
"The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals
directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability," the group's
executive summary said. "There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by
the United States to a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace on all fronts:
Lebanon, Syria and President Bush's June 2002 commitment to a two-state
solution for Israel and Palestine. This commitment includes direct talks with,
by and between Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians (those who accept Israel's right
to exist), and Syria."
Bush recently launched two internal administration reviews of Iraq policy, in
what some critics called an attempt to offset the impact of the Baker-Hamilton
report. In several statements last week, the president appeared to be
dismissing in advance the expected recommendations of the Iraq Study Group,
including troop withdrawals. However, his advisers have repeatedly said in
recent days that there would be a new course once the various policy reviews
Some observers saw political significance in the fact that the Democrats'
incoming foreign policy chief chose the peace-oriented Israel Policy Forum for
his first appearance before a Jewish group after the election.
At the same time, the president of the Israel Policy Forum, attorney Seymour
Reich, distanced himself afterward from parts of Biden's talk. He said that
while the senator was "technically correct" in claiming that no linkage should
be made between Israel and Iraq, the perception in the region and in many
parts around the world was different.
"Israel should take advantage of this to actually make some peace overtures,"
Reich said. "This is what Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert is already doing by
reaching out to the Palestinians."
Biden focused most of his address on his advocacy of a federalized and
decentralized Iraq, a plan he initially proposed with Leslie Gelb, a president
emeritus of the Council of Foreign Relations. Biden said he hopes the plan
will attract fellow lawmakers as the situation in Iraq continues to escalate
and as the policy of supporting a strong central government in Baghdad is
"I will push this in Congress with my colleagues and through hearings," Biden
told the Forward before his speech. "I believe other Democrats will join me,
but I doubt the administration will do so."
His Republican counterpart on the Senate committee, Richard Lugar of Indiana,
has expressed support for a federal solution and agreed to a grueling schedule
of in-depth hearings on Iraq when Congress reconvenes next month.
While Biden's plan has won few formal endorsements in Congress, his aides
claim it is gaining traction, despite widespread Democratic calls for troop
withdrawal. "The Biden plan has some good points, but we need to make sure we
don't shortchange the Kurds again," said Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New
York. "But our main focus in Congress is now on bringing the troops home."
The administration has rejected the plan, claiming it has no support among
Iraqis. A poll released in June by the International Republican Institute
found that 78% of Iraqis disagree with the idea of segregating Iraqis
according to religious or ethnic sects, and 89% believe that establishing a
unity government is extremely important to Iraq's future.
Gelb, who initially proposed the federal plan three years ago, said the
administration tried to undercut the plan by misrepresenting it. "They
purposefully claim we want to partition the country," he said. "They are
bending to pressure from the Saudis who do not want any breakup of Iraq."
Last week, Nawaf Obaid, a consultant with the Saudi government, published an
opinion article in the Washington Post claiming in no uncertain terms that the
oil-rich kingdom would consider funding and arming Sunni militias in Iraq to
counter Iran's influence if American troops withdrew. Saudi Arabia distanced
itself from Obaid and terminated his consultancy contract as a result.
However, most observers saw his essay as a calculated Saudi warning about the
possibility of a regional war if Washington decided to pull out or cater to
the different sectarian groups in Iraq.
Gelb noted that support for the federal plan was "picking up steadily" in
Congress because people are beginning "to focus on the fact that no insurgency
ends without a political deal. This leads ineluctably to a federal solution as
an alternative to what we have tried and failed to achieve in the past three
Leading Republican senators such as Lugar and John Warner of Virginia, the
outgoing chair of the Armed Services Committee, as well as Sam Brownback of
Kansas, have publicly stated that a federal solution should be seriously
On the campaign trial, several lawmakers, including Texas GOP Senator Kay
Bailey Hutchinson and newly elected Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes of New
Hampshire, expressed support for a more drastic proposal put forth by American
diplomat Peter Galbraith to partition Iraq in three states along
ethno-religious lines - Kurds, Shi'ites and Sunni Arabs.
Galbraith, a former ambassador to Croatia and an adviser to the Kurds on
constitutional issues, said the partition had already happened and that
Washington should not try to put together what is in effect already a
In an opinion article published May 1 in the New York Times, Biden and Gelb
argued that since sectarian strife has become a bigger security threat than
the insurgency and a de facto partition is already in place, the argument in
favor of maintaining a unified Iraq is becoming increasingly moot by the day.
Blaming Bush for his absence of strategy and warning that Congress could end
up mandating a quick pullout, they proposed maintaining "a united Iraq by
decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group - Kurd, Sunni Arab and
Shi'ite Arab - room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central
government in charge of common interests." The central government would also
ensure that the oil-poor Sunni Arab region receives 20% of Iraqi oil revenues.
The Iraqi parliament recently passed legislation envisioning strong regional
Some analysts said splitting the country along ethnic and sectarian lines
would ignite massive population relocations and major upheaval in Iraq's major
cities, where all three groups reside. Judith Yaphe, a former CIA analyst now
working as a research fellow at the National Defense University, termed the
Biden plan "naive" in that it fails to spell out how the regional division
would be implemented and lacks support among Sunnis and Shi'ites.
However, other experts said that populations in those mixed areas are
separating on their own because of the growing sectarian militia activity,
including in the capital.
"I do think that we are likely to hear people say that there is an informal
Biden plan underway naturally as the ethnic communities in Iraq self-align in
response to intimidation or to avoid bloodshed," said John Hamre, president
and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington
and a former deputy defense secretary official in the Clinton administration.
"Baghdad is the central problem in that regard - like Sarajevo was in the
Fri. Dec 08, 2006
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2006/12/democratic-senator-slams-iraq-study.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.