By Peter Feaver
I am thinking about the intersection of personnel and policy, I wonder what to
make of this bit of news: apparently VP Biden will be tapped as the "unofficial
envoy to Iraq." This appears not to be the same role as that filled by General Lute,
President Bush's "Iraq czar" who was primarily responsible for knocking heads
together back in DC to help the mission overseas. Lute still remains (for
the time being) but his position has been downgraded several levels from an
Assistant to the President down to a Special Assistant to the President. And,
obviously, it is not the same position as the official envoy to Iraq,
Ambassador Chris Hill -- the President's personal civilian representative in
Baghdad -- although it sounds like it will overlap heavily with that position. Having someone at a senior level focused on Iraq makes sense and it does
not get much more senior than the Vice President. So on paper, at least,
this is not a bad idea. What concerns me is precisely what Rahm Emanuel
told Newsweek, namely that Biden "... knows the players...He brings a lot
of experience and expertise on this issue to the table..."
He knows the players alright and, more to the point, the players know him. What they know him best for is his prominent embrace of the Galbraith plan of a forced partition of Iraq into three parts -- one dominated by the Kurds in the north, one dominated by the Shia in the south, and the remainder dominated by the Sunnis. This plan was later picked up by Les Gelb and eventually by then-Senator Biden. By the time the presidential campaign was in full swing, the media was calling it the Biden plan. It certainly was a bold and strategic idea -- one might even call it Churchillian. Unfortunately, except for the Kurds -- for whom Galbraith was a long-time advocate - it was not popular in the region. On the contrary, it was viewed much the way that Churchill was viewed -- as colonialist meddling that would plunge the region still further into war. Indeed, the terrorists had claimed that the purpose of the US invasion of Iraq in the first place was to divide up Iraq and grab its oil and so the Galbraith-Gelb-Biden plan may have felt like a recruiting bonanza. I bet one could find jihadi websites touting it as the secret "real plan" for Iraq. Of course, Vice President Biden is now working for President Obama and President Obama has largely embraced the Bush plan for Iraq not the Galbraith plan. I have no reason to doubt VP Biden's current commitment to this same plan which aims to make Iraq a unified and stable partner. But I wonder if the famously conspiracy-minded folks in the Middle East will have the same benign view or whether instead they will believe that Biden will be seeking to implement partition. If their perceptions veer off in that direction, transition policy in Iraq could get even tougher than it is likely to be -- and that is more than tough enough.