Surely to goodness, someone, somewhere in the Foreign Office has an exit strategy? The one that lets Britain off the Iraqi hook, and allows a proper focus on the Afghan issue. Well, it increasingly looks so.
Malcolm is prepared to put up a few bob that there is such a thing, and it looks not dissimilar to the concoction proposed by Senator Joe Biden (pictured right) and Leslie Gelb last year. [This is in a New York Times article, 0f 1 May 2006, and requires registration.]
The proposal started from observing the way settlement had been brought to Bosnia, through the Dayton accords:
which kept the country whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations, even allowing Muslims, Croats and Serbs to retain separate armies. With the help of American and other forces, Bosnians have lived a decade in relative peace and are now slowly strengthening their common central government, including disbanding those separate armies…
Biden and Gelb suggested applying the same approach to Iraq:
maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group — Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab — room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.
The result would be a loose confederacy:
… three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues. Baghdad would become a federal zone, while densely populated areas of mixed populations would receive both multisectarian and international police protection.
The main problem would, of course, be getting the Sunnis on board. As always, subtle bribery would be needed:
… running their own region should be far preferable to the alternatives: being dominated by Kurds and Shiites in a central government or being the main victims of a civil war. But they also have to be given money to make their oil-poor region viable. The Constitution must be amended to guarantee Sunni areas 20 percent (approximately their proportion of the population) of all revenues.
Three small print items would include:
- using US aid specifically to protect and develop the rights of women and ethnic minorities;
- getting US troops out, except as a “small but effective residual force to combat terrorists and keep the neighbors honest”, but doing so in a way to avoid “national meltdown”; and
- achieving a UN guarantee for Iraqi integrity and this new constitutional dispensation.
Cynics, with some good reason, thought Biden was having a laugh. He was about to put his head above the parapet for the Democratic nomination (which he isn’t going to get; but he needs traction for a post in Hillary’s Cabinet), and he chose a strange day to do it (three years to the day from Bush flying into the USS Lincoln to announce “Mission Accomplished”). George Hishmet, of gulfnews.com was particularly acerbic, and made the valid point that “partition” stank to the highest heaven because of Palestine and 1948.
Biden’s outline seems to have been accepted by the State Department, which:
has stressed a proposal to build up provincial reconstruction teams out in the Iraqi provinces, with the goal of strengthening local tribal leaders. That, in itself, points toward greater decentralization in Iraq.
The missing ingredient is the lack of any overt activity on First and 42nd to 48th (the UN compound … D’oh!).
Which may well be what is in Gordon’s breast pocket.
Whatever happens at Camp David is not going to be a group hug. By this stage of the game, in private, the Brits must be demurring from the Cheney/Rumsfeld game-plan … and even the Emperor must be realising that his new imperial clothes are a big threadbare. Brown will be at least as interested in the next President as the present lame-duck (defunction at noon, EST, 20th January 2009, and counting).
Not much will be said in public, yet. But the various utterances (Douglas Alexander, that classic “deniable denial” gambit) and appointments (Malloch Brown) are straws in the wind. The message has got through to Fox News, fortunately, reading the runes from today’s Sunday Times story by ripping Sarah Baxter’s story in full:
A SENIOR Downing Street aide has sounded out Washington on the possibility of an early British military withdrawal from Iraq.
Simon McDonald, the prime minister’s chief foreign policy adviser, left the impression that he was “doing the groundwork” for Gordon Brown, according to one of those he consulted.
Brown, who arrives at Camp David in Maryland today to meet President George W Bush, said yesterday that “the relationship with the United States is our single most important bilateral relationship”.
Downing Street remains emphatic that he will not unveil a plan to withdraw British troops, who are due to remain in southern Iraq until the Iraqi army is deemed capable of maintaining security. A spokesman said there had been no change in the government’s position.
Behind the scenes, however, American officials are picking up what they believe are signals that a change of British policy on Iraq is imminent.
Movement at last? And complicity with incoming Secretary-of-State Joe Biden? Especially if, together, Joe and Gord present Prez-Elect Hills a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.