Only Self-Determination Equals Liberation - 05.02.2006

Today marked the three year anniversary of President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement. Marking that anniversary, Senator Joseph Biden has again demonstrated that the Democratic opposition to the Bush agenda also has little to offer the Iraqi people.

By weighing in on the issue of borders and statehood in Iraq, Biden is playing the Arnold Wilson to Bush’s David Lloyd George. To those of you who might consider yourselves stronger scholars of Iraq than I, perhaps this seems a bad analogy.

You might suggest that Biden is the Gertrude Bell to Bush’s Arnold Wilson. I think this gives Senator Biden too much credit for possessing innovative thinking and real knowledge regarding the situation in Iraq.

Toby Dodge, in his work, Inventing Iraq, discusses the ramifications of Lloyd George’s (then Prime Minister of Britain) initial overtures toward leaders in the Middle East. According to Dodge,

On January 5, 1918 Lloyd George gave a speech calling for Mesopatamia, along with other non-Turkish areas of the Ottoman Empire, to be recognized as having “their separate national conditions.” Lloyd George, in announcing British war aims and encouraging Arab nationalist hopes, was careful to avoid using the potentially costly and destabilizing words “self-determination.”

From Charles Tripp, another noted historian of Iraq, we hear some interesting commentary on Arnold Wilson, then civil commissioner in Baghdad for Britain. Arnold Wilson was heavy-handed and believed only he knew what was going on in Iraq, because he was on the ground. Much like Senator Joseph Biden however, he seemed to feel he knew best for Iraq, and even put together statistics to demonstrate this. From Tripp’s A History of Iraq:

Arnold Wilson organised a survey (musleadingly labelled a ‘plebiscite’) of the opinions of notables in the three provinces in early 1919. When asked about the future shape and constitution of the state, they returned a variety of answers.

Arnold Wilson greatly exaggerated the degree to which there existed general acquiescence to continued British control…in the absence of a decision on the future of Iraq, the civil administration continued to entrench itself.

While Iraqis struggle on, seeking the chance to experience democracy and self-determination, the Iraqi government continues to entrench itself. This government, comprised of ex-patriates, intellectuals, and possibly relatives of the same notables who knew Mr. Wilson, can hardly be said to be representative.

According to Senator Joseph Biden,

It is increasingly clear that President Bush does not have a strategy for victory in Iraq. Rather, he hopes to prevent defeat and pass the problem along to his successor. Meanwhile, the frustration of Americans is mounting so fast that Congress might end up mandating a rapid pullout, even at the risk of precipitating chaos and a civil war that becomes a regional war.

As long as American troops are in Iraq in significant numbers, the insurgents can’t win and we can’t lose.

Perhaps Senator Biden’s opinion is accurate, and President Bush has no strategy for “victory in Iraq.” In my opinion, and I’ve discussed this previously, those behind the Bush Doctrine measure victory in Iraq by the degree of destruction meted out to its chances for contiguity and national sovereignty. Furthermore, Biden’s intimation that Bush intends to “pass the problem onto his (presumably Democrat) successor,” suggests that somehow the crime of muddling around in Iraq and failing to “complete the task” is more egregious than the innumerable war crimes and massacres of Iraqi citizens meted out by the American war machine.

Biden implies that he might support a rapid pullout if necessitated by political realities on the ground in the United States. This implication, despite his apparent belief that it would precipitate “chaos and a civil war…” demonstrates the extreme cynicism with which men like Senator Biden now view the world. Somehow his own political career and that of his fellow Congress people is more important than standing on principle. But as Biden would never admit that, he turns it into a sort of attack on the President’s role in the Iraq debacle.

At this point it of course becomes important to look at Senator Biden’s voting record. Looking here we see that the Senator voted to give President Bush warpowers, without the direct assent of the Congress as each case arises-contravening the United States Constitution. Joseph Biden also voted for the use of force against Afghanistan and twice supported the Patriot Act.

Clearly his attempts to paint his own opinion as measured and valuing the interests of the Iraqi people can’t be taken to seriously in light of his disregard even for the self-determination of the American people.

Continuing with Joseph Biden’s piece:

Iraq’s new government of national unity will not stop the deterioration. Iraqis have had three such governments in the last three years, each with Sunnis in key posts, without noticeable effect. The alternative path out of this terrible trap has five elements.

Decentralization is hardly as radical as it may seem: the Iraqi Constitution, in fact, already provides for a federal structure and a procedure for provinces to combine into regional governments.

Besides, things are already heading toward partition: increasingly, each community supports federalism, if only as a last resort. The Sunnis, who until recently believed they would retake power in Iraq, are beginning to recognize that they won’t and don’t want to live in a Shiite-controlled, highly centralized state with laws enforced by sectarian militias. The Shiites know they can dominate the government, but they can’t defeat a Sunni insurrection. The Kurds will not give up their 15-year-old autonomy.

Some will say moving toward strong regionalism would ignite sectarian cleansing. But that’s exactly what is going on already, in ever-bigger waves. Others will argue that it would lead to partition. But a breakup is already under way. As it was in Bosnia, a strong federal system is a viable means to prevent both perils in Iraq.

Again, Joseph Biden appears to have little firsthand scholarship on Iraq under his belt, and with this other statement, near the end of his piece, the evidence is clear that, rather than supporting self-determination for Iraqis, and thus the will of the majority of Iraq’s populace, rather than that of a political elite, Senator Biden supports a nicer face of US hegemony than President Bush:

Fourth, the president must direct the military to design a plan for withdrawing and redeploying our troops from Iraq by 2008 (while providing for a small but effective residual force to combat terrorists and keep the neighbors honest).

You might ask yourself, what exactly does “keep the neighbors honest” mean, but it probably isn’t worth the braincells. (hint: attack Iran to “stop it from gaining nuclear weapons”)

Please see Juan Cole’s interesting post Monday regarding another plan for establishing security in Iraq, through a more nuanced establishment of a type of “federalism.”


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