The five-point plan Les Gelb and I laid out [...] calls for maintaining a unified Iraq by decentralizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own regions. The central government would be left in charge of common interests, such as border security and the distribution of oil revenue. [...]Biden hauls in Bosnia to explain what he's talking about:
The example of Bosnia is illustrative, if not totally analogous. 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.There is no meaningful comparison between Bosnia and Iraq in this argument because Bosnia is not swimming in oil; nor is it sitting next to Iran.
Yet Biden's editorial is not the first time in recent weeks I've come across similarly flawed reasoning. So let me see if I understand the argument for the balkanization of Iraq:
A great failure of the American experiment in nationhood is that wars between Italian and Irish gangs for control of the bootleg liquor trade did not produce Bostonia and Chicagoia.
This failure built on Lincoln's catastrophic mistake in not allowing the southern states to become The Americas Republic of England and Teddy's wrongheaded decision not to cede Texas to Mexico.
My pen drips with sarcasm when I observe that the only condition under which the Iraqis should consider balkanization is if Iran would also agree to undergo the balkanization process so that the border of Shiastan is finally and fairly drawn.
But of course Iran would not tolerate a molecule of their nation ceded to a "tribal area," nor does Iran lust solely for Iraq's south. They want the whole enchilada, and in particular the oil-rich Kurdish region.
If Iraq is balkanized into three regions it will be impossible for each to muster an army capable of standing up to Iran's military. So Iran would not need to invade to gain control of the Kurdish region; they would only need to cut a deal with Turkey to harry the Kurds from two sides until so much oil tribute is paid to both that the Kurds can barely afford the price of Iran's tea.
To say that US muscle would prevent such an outcome is to argue for a large permanent US troop deployment -- across a region fragmented into competing tribal areas!
A balkanized Iraq simply means that the Arab gulf states and Iran's gulf state have more pawns to play against each other in their cold war for control of the Strait of Hormuz.
The Western powers that carved up the Iraq-Iran region did a typical botched job of drawing borders. But they got one thing right. They imposed the idea of nationhood on tribal peoples. That is a very good thing in an age when fabulous natural resources in a region invariably install the cruelest of pashas in place of the fatherly chieftain.
To support the argument for balkanization Senator Biden observes:
In December's [Iraq] 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.Have Biden and Gelb no sense of the history of American politics in cities that saw ethnic strife and non-government militias during America's peak immigrant decades?
Recall the time when New York was run by the Five Points gang, which controlled Tammany Hall and terrorized the fledgling police force. This was not reason to turn New York out of the Union, or to see in the power of gangster militias cause to balkanize the American Union. Why, then, not accord the same tolerance to the Iraqis' struggles to make their nation work as a democracy?
Or does Biden fear that tolerance equates to Congress writing out more checks to send more US troops to Iraq, so the Bush Administration can finally get the job of post-conflict stabilization done right?
In the end, those who argue for balkanization of Iraq are making a contradictory argument. On the one hand they recognize that Iran foments much trouble and supports the most powerful militias in Iraq. On the other hand, they want to exclude Iran from the discussion while observing that 'sectarian violence' is tearing the country apart anyhow!
The only ones who profit from the contradiction are al Qaeda and Iran's IRCG.