As the New York Times headline helped the Obama campaign point out, Obama’s Pick Adds Foreign Expertise to Ticket: "In Mr. Biden, Mr. Obama selected a six-term senator from Delaware best known for his expertise on foreign affairs."
The most recent example of that expertise is Biden’s 2006 proposal for dividing Iraq into three cantons and withdrawing American forces:
The idea, as in Bosnia, is to 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. We could drive this in place with irresistible sweeteners for the Sunnis to join in, a plan designed by the military for withdrawing and redeploying American forces, and a regional nonaggression pact.
It is a matter of profound good fortune for both America and Iraq that Biden’s plan was never given serious consideration. It imagined that Iraq’s neighbors would respond to American withdrawal with generosity and understanding:
Fifth, under an international or United Nations umbrella, we should convene a regional conference to pledge respect for Iraq’s borders and its federal system. For all that Iraq’s neighbors might gain by picking at its pieces, each faces the greater danger of a regional war. A "contact group" of major powers would be set up to lean on neighbors to comply with the deal.
Iran would like nothing more than to turn Shia Iraq into another southern Lebanon. A U.S. withdrawal would likely have allowed Iran to instigate exactly the regional war that Biden says Iraq’s neighbors didn’t want. And Biden’s trust in the adherence by regional powers to a "pledge" of non-interference at a "regional conference" is completely unserious. During the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, Iran’s foreign minister pledged non-interference in Iraq to the British foreign secretary at the same time the regime was planning the infiltration of the country. The tradition in the Middle East of observing treaties, borders, and agreements is not a strong one.
And then there is the unilateralism of the plan. Middle East states, including a great many of those in the American sphere, are not premised on minority rights or democratic pluralism and in fact brutally oppress ethnic and religious minorities. This incongruity of borders and peoples lies, I believe, at the heart of the Middle East’s instability and authoritarianism. At present, the United States is not prepared to acquiesce to the kind of bloodshed that would result from re-drawing the map around the natural geographic enclaves of Kurds, Shia, Maronites, Sunnis, Azeris, and the like. But if Iraq was to be broken up into three ethnic states, the United States would be supporting exactly that–and its effect on our allies could be unsettling to say the least. Biden, the great foreign policy expert and multilateralist, apparently never thought to call up Turkey and Saudi Arabia and ask them what they thought of the United States attempting to establish Kurdish and Shia states on their borders.
This is the unilateralism that goes unmentioned in liberal circles–the abandonment of our allies and the precipitous retreat from fights to which we pledged our total commitment. Someone should ask Biden: knowing what you know today, do you still believe that the right strategy for Iraq in 2006 was the division of the country? Perhaps he will take a page from his running mate and answer in the affirmative.