ABC News Can't Be Bothered with Iraq
By Rogers Cadenhead
Wednesday, September 10, 2008 at 03:45 PM
Here's a nice example of the thimble-deep thinking that passes for political journalism in the mainstream media these days. On ABC News, journalists Jake Tapper and Matt Jaffe mock Joe Biden for giving a substantive answer to a reporter's question about whether he still supports a tripartite solution to divide Iraq into separate Kurd, Shia and Sunni areas.
Tapper and Jaffe count the time he took to answer the reporter -- "13 minutes, 20 seconds" -- but they don't offer a single word of insight about what he actually said. They just pass along the transcript, without paragraph breaks, and ridicule him as a "verbose Blue Hen." I guess they were hoping for a soundbite that they could pair with an opposing soundbite from the McCain campaign and call it a day.
If you actually read Biden's answer, it's an intelligent and persuasive take on the subject. Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, spent more time than any other presidential candidate this year working out the details of a potential political solution in Iraq, and it shows. His answer demonstrates his expertise and passion for achieving a workable peace in the country:
The Bush administration's policy in the beginning -- and John's -- continues to be a strong, central government, democracy, that will gain the confidence of all the Iraqi people that would be a democratic institution that would make the dominoes of the oligarchies fall in the Middle East. That was success, that's what they talked about.
Now what's happened? Where there's relative peace, where is it? It's up in the Kurdish area. Where? Where they don't allow Shia troops to come up. Where they don't allow the Iraqi army to come up without their permission. There is now relative calm in Anbar. Why? They did exactly what I proposed two years ago. They turned over authority and trained homegrown local Sh-- Sunnis. And said, "We promise you, those Shia aren't coming and patrolling your streets." That's called the awakening. That's what got all of the sheikhs to come together and say OK.
I predicted if you ask the sheikhs to have their sons join the army or join the police force, the security forces, and you told them they'd protect their own area, they'd join in droves. The first day Petraeus wisely made that offer, 1,000 Sunnis showed up for the police force. Virtually none showed up before.
So, what's happening? Where's it working? It's working from the ground up. Exactly what I've proposed is happening. We're about to have regional elections. What are the regional elections? The Iraqi constitution says in article 114, 15, 16, it says that any of these areas can conclude that they want to be, not a governate, there's 18 of these things, but they can be essentially a state, like the state of California or the state of Massachusetts. They can write their own constitution. They can have their own laws relative what you teach your kids in school, like California versus Alabama. They can have their own laws, their own security force, their own cops, not a national police force sent out. That's why it's working.
And the second reason why it's working is that, so far is, what else did they do? They did exactly what I've been calling for for two years. It's the mix of forces. You may remember, if you had to cover this, my saying it's the wrong mix of forces in Iraq. We need counterinsurgency forces. And what did they do? They brought them back from Afghanistan, unfortunately, instead of adding them. And what happened? The counterinsurgency forces are now the forces that, today and yesterday, the military says are having the most success.
So, folks, they may not want to call it what I was talking about. But the end result is, there is a lot of autonomy in the Anbar province today. There is a lot of autonomy up in the Kurdish area today. And there is increasing autonomy in the Shia regions. But I've always proposed a central government. A central government that has a standing army, controls the currency, controls the banking system, controls the borders, controls the foreign policy.
And so, you know, John says he wants to have every shred of Iranian influence eliminated from Iraq. And he supports Maliki. You notice, every time Ahmadinejad comes to Baghdad, Maliki kisses him on both cheeks. Literally, not figuratively. You notice, before agreed to begin to negotiate the Status of Forces Agreement, what did, what did Maliki think he had to do? He had to get on a plane to go to Tehran and talk about it with the Iranians. 'Cause look, folks. It's a geographic fact of life, they've got a long border and a 5,000-year history.
So, it's about time we get real here and take a look at the possibilities now, if they continue along these lines, of something good happening. And the possibilities rest in two things. One, there's a genuine political accommodation. And so, you're going to have, as I said, elections in the provinces. Supposedly -- and by the way they're supposed to take place next month. I've been predicting they're not likely to take place next month. But maybe they will. If they will, do you think the people down in Basra are going to vote for a government in Basra any different than an all-Shia government in Basra? what do you think? Want to take any bets anyone? So, come on.
It's time that we had people who understand, understand what's going on in Iraq, not just sloganeering. Not just sloganeering. And the irony is, the guy who supposedly has the least experience among us, Barack Obama, got it right 14, 15 months ago. He said, "Look, let's transfer -- let's be as responsible getting out as irresponsibly we were getting in." And then he said, "We need a timeline here. And you're going to go ahead and hand off authority gradually to Iraqis, and what are you going to do? You're going to pull out American combat forces." Where, if reports are correct, and my information is based on the State Department and others, what is Maliki demanding, and what is Bush agreeing to? A timeline to draw down American combat troops. A gradual hand-off of police authority and military authority to the Iraqis.
Who's the only guy, major figure in America who's standing outside that agreement? John McCain. John.
And the other point I made today, and it's an important point, since you poor devils have to cover me, you should be aware of it in my view: John, I've never heard John utter a word about what he's going to do, after, after -- quote he establishes victory in Iraq? What's he going to do about Syria? Turkey? Iran? Saudi Arabia? What's he going to do to have some reason to believe whatever is worked out, that Iraqi's neighbors are going to sign on to it? And tell me, how is it possible to have a long-term stable, stable Iraq, free and open without some regional understanding of Iraq's independence? Barack and I, and I have laid this out in painful detail for two years, as Barack has.
That's why we've called for a regional conference. That's why we talked about the need to bring the permanent five of the United Nations in to give the imprimatur to this. To make it clear to Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia -- hands off. Hands off. Whatever deal the Iraqis work out, you've got to stand by. You need the weight of the world putting pressure on the region a little like we did in Bosnia. A little like what happened in Kosovo.
Could that have happened if the Germans didn't buy into the deal? If the Greeks didn't buy into the deal? If the Italians didn't buy into the deal? If the Hungarians didn't buy into the deal? So, what I -- what confuses me, and it does confuse me about John McCain and Sarah Palin's position on Iraq is, tell me the end of the story, John. Victory sounds wonderful. We're all for victory. What do you mean by victory?
And so, I just say, there's, you know, you can call -- and by the way, you recall when I put forward that plan, I said there's a half a dozen ways you can implement this plan. I don't have any -- It wasn't three areas, it doesn't have to be five, it can be two, it can be seven. But there's got to be a way where we finally, if you have peace -- "Hey, I'm a Shia. I'm not going to kill your Sunni family. And you don't have to worry the Kurds are going to come and get you, because the Kurds are basically with you."
Everybody has to get to the point where they conclude there's more in it for them staying together than there is in it them going separately.
Somewhere along the line, political reporters became so jaded that they started treating presidential elections as a game. Covering real issues is hard work, so media hacks spend their time trumping up non-stories, grading politicians on perception instead of substance, and obsessing constantly over polls.
Sen. Biden genuinely cares about achieving a victory in Iraq that lets us get the hell out with minimal loss of life. He's a vice presidential candidate and one of the most respected elder statesmen in the Democratic Party. You'd think that his thoughts on Iraq might be worth taking seriously.