Excellent analysis, as usual, from Reidar Visser on Biden’s latest trip to Iraq.
Noting that this is Biden’s second visit to Iraq as Vice-President, Visser writes,
- If anything, what these visits have demonstrated twice is that US leverage is quickly disappearing from Iraq. Biden today informed the press that no further “benchmark legislation” would be passed this side of Iraq’s parliamentary elections scheduled for 16 January 2010 (hopefully that statement was offered as a prognosis, since this issue supposedly is for the majority of the Iraqi parliament to decide!), whereas Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki used the opportunity of his joint press conference with Biden to coolly steer clear of any reference to national reconciliation issues…
Biden’s frank assertion that he expects no major national reconciliation initiatives prior to the elections is useful in two ways. Firstly, it is good news in itself. It is often not realised that to leave these issues in suspense during the elections could actually have a positive impact on Iraqi politics in that voters may get the opportunity to discuss basic constitutional issues in Iraq in a less sectarian and confused atmosphere than that which prevailed during the two 2005 elections and ahead of the constitutional referendum that year…
Biden’s comments are also useful in that they highlight the limited window that remains for the Obama administration to exercise diplomatic influences in Iraq’s internal political process. If Biden is correct, not much more will be attempted this side of the 16 January 2010 elections. On that day, it is possible that the Iraqi people will reject the SOFA in the referendum that will coincide with the parliamentary elections, in which case the Maliki government will notify Washington that they have one year to leave the country and the logistics of getting out will likely become the preoccupation of the Obama administration. But even if the SOFA is accepted by the Iraqi people, the time that remains for the US between January and the end of 2011 is in practice highly restricted. Combat forces must be out by August 2010, and Washington has already factored in a couple of months in the post-election period to secure a stable transition – meaning that by the time a new government has been formed and serious discussion of national-reconciliation issues can recommence, probably no earlier than April 2010 if past experience is anything to go by, the mechanisms of withdrawal will probably occupy most of the Obama administration’s attention. On top of this, the first batch of constitutional revisions will be passed by a straightforward majority decision in the Iraqi parliament; any crisis over Kurdish objections will erupt only after a subsequent referendum, probably in late 2010 at the earliest…
I always thought Washington’s earlier attempt to impose political “benchmarks” on a– supposedly already sovereign– Iraqi government was patronizing, colonialist, ham-handed, and unrealistic. Now, it is being rapidly buried (and no-one in Washington is paying much heed, at all.)
It is intensely depressing, though, to see the Obama administration now ginning up an effort to define political benchmarks for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Have they learned nothing from the fate of the “benchmarks” defined for Iraq?
It is also as though people who live in the Washington policy bubble have zero awareness of how their actions are viewed by that 95% of humanity who happen not be American. Including, of course, Afghans and Pakistanis.
Erm, guys, I would like to introduce you to this thing called “the printing press.” Also, the “wireless telegraph.” And I’ve heard tell, too, of a device called “The Inter-Tubes.” Of course, if you’re still living in the days of the quill pen and the pony express, you could perhaps imagine that people living outside the US might not learn of your plans for colonialist-style arrogance.