By JOHN HALL
Media General News Service
October 27, 2006
Not only will a lame-duck Congress be butting heads with the White House, but a new set of players from the Congress that takes office next year will be moving in. There could be a Cabinet shakeup. The bipartisan and congressionally created Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, is expected to recommend direct and immediate policy changes to Bush on the war in Iraq.
All of this motion could just create confusion. But the country could get some clues whether the final two years of Bush's term will bring gridlock and vetoes, or some sort of working arrangement with the loyal opposition.
Most analysts are expecting primarily strife. Even Republicans expect Congress to be more Democratic, if not in opposition hands, after this election. What's more, there doesn't appear to be much prospect for common ground between the Democratic leadership and the White House.
Ironically, the one area where there is hope things might soften up is on Iraq policy. A few Democrats are willing to stick their necks out for a plan by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., that would federalize Iraq into three states, each sharing in the country's oil wealth. Former United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke added heavyweight support to it last week at a time when many had written off the concept as dead.
Because most Democrats have been reluctant to set forth a policy for Iraq, the three-way-split proposal had been a lone contender for an official opposition alternative to the current administration position.
More than that, however, the Biden plan or some variation of it is said to have substantial support within the bipartisan Baker commission. Its special appeal is that it is modeled after the Dayton peace accords, which eventually led to peace in Bosnia and a long-range settlement in the Balkans.
While critics say three-way is a non-starter politically in Iraq, Holbrooke insists it could work if it were tied to real threats to withdraw American troops. The Iraqi parliament already has created Iraqi regions along the lines outlined by Biden and former columnist and diplomat Leslie Gelb between predominantly Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish areas. But it has delayed implementation for 18 months.
In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Holbrooke said the proposal could be the basis for American leverage to negotiate a peaceful arrangement for sharing oil wealth and power, while deploying and reducing forces in Iraq.
The weakness of the Biden-Gelb plan is that it does not alleviate Turkey's concerns. A Kurdish state could be a staging ground for a new Turkish-Kurdish war, the Turks fear.
Holbrooke's solution is to move some withdrawing American forces out of Iraq into Kurdistan to stabilize that volatile area. He thinks the Kurds would agree to it and the Turks want it. That would also allow American Special Forces to be on hand if they are needed back in Iraq.
The plan, as Holbrooke describes it, sounds much more palatable than the partitioning and dismemberment of Iraq that its authors were accused initially of putting forward. In fact, separate states formed into a single republic for a common defense and some degree of sharing wealth through the tax mechanism sounds a bit like the United States.
Besides Iraqi politics, what stands in the way of the three-state solution for Iraq is U.S. politics on both ends of the spectrum.
For the White House, a Republican victory - comfortable or narrow - will cement Bush's policy. Even a thumping Democratic victory carrying the party back to power in both houses of Congress could cause Bush to dig in his heels against tough antiwar deadlines and pullout resolutions.
For the Democrats, coming off the election with a solid mandate to stop the war could create a heavy responsibility. Moderate positions like the Biden-Gelb-Holbrooke plan, which call for troops to stay a while, won't satisfy crowds flushed with victory assembling behind "Out Now" banners. But since the plan does not call for victory in Iraq, Bush may not salute it either.
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