Biden Was Right on Iraq and Afghanistan–and More

Biden Was Right on Iraq and Afghanistan–and More



Professor of international relations, George Washington University


The media’s reports on Vice President Joe Biden’s possible presidential campaign have focused on his personal attributes–his tragedies, gaffes, charm, warmth, age, and even his odd habit of giving unexpected backrubs to startled public officials. Instead of focusing on these traits, the media should pay more attention to Biden’s policy positions. At least regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, heeding Biden’s council would have spared us a lot of grief.

After the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, J. Paul Bremer, decided to form a highly centralized government, which Bremer assumed would make it possible for him to run Iraq from Baghdad. He naïvely believed that he could turn Iraq not only into a stable state, but also into a blooming democracy. By contrast, Biden strongly advocated a relatively weak government “based upon the principles of federalism” and with strong Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish regional administrations. In 2007, Biden introduced a bill to this effect in the Senate, and although the bill passed 75 to 23, it was ignored. (Full disclosure: At the time, I ran a symposium on the Hill in collaboration with Biden’s staff to examine this idea and found that my colleagues strongly favored it.)