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Biden And Iraq

Speaking of Iraq, Newsweek has an interesting nugget I hadn't seen anywhere else. Apparently Obama has asked Joe Biden to take a lead role in managing Iraq as the U.S. slowly withdraws from the country in the coming months:

Vice President Joe Biden's official portfolio is expanding. NEWSWEEK has learned that President Obama has asked Biden to take the lead role on Iraq as the U.S. begins its scheduled drawdown of combat troops, a move that comes as administration officials are expressing concerns about the uptick in violence and political instability in the region.

Biden's role will be something of an unofficial envoy to Iraq, though he won't handle day-to-day dealings with officials on the ground. The goal is to "raise the level" in hopes that Biden's stature encourages Iraqi officials to bridge their political differences, says a senior administration official who didn't want to be named talking about high-level personnel decisions. "He knows the players," White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel tells NEWSWEEK. "He brings a lot of experience and expertise on this issue to the table, and the president trusts him."

It's an interesting move. On the one hand, as we wind down our military presence in Iraq we certainly need to ramp up our diplomatic effort there--not least to ensure that political reconciliation continues and violence doesn't explode again. Biden seems to have a pretty good understanding of the country, having visited there about a dozen times. And there ought to be room in the policy making kitchen for both Biden and the new US ambassador to the country, Christopher Hill--although as Newsweek notes, Hill had no prior experience in the country, (He's a former Eastern European and, most recently, North Korean hand.)

On the other hand, Biden's circa-2006 proposal for partition Iraq into three seperate entities (he called it "federalism") earned him some animus from the country's political leadership, including prime minister Maliki, and led to some tart words in response from Biden: "I don’t know who the hell they think they are." Hopefully bygones will be bygones.

Michael Crowley