Iraq and Gulf Analysis

VP Biden and the Great American Reposture in the Middle East

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 2 December 2011 19:35

So, it’s over, or mostly so. The visit to Iraq by US vice-president Joe Biden this week marked the symbolic end of the US-led Iraq War and the beginning of a new era in which a so-called Strategic Framework Agreement will govern US-Iraq relations.

First, don’t get fooled by that impressive framework term (yes, it’s called the SFA in US government parlance). This may sound fancy, but to Iraq it means simply a normal bilateral relationship between two independent countries. Other countries may have their own SFAs with Iraq as well, formal or informal, and in the long run it’s the realities on the ground – not how US government media advisors choose to spin it – that will count.

But the vice-presidential visit this week was of course mostly about spin. Basically, it was the usual Biden menu of gaffe, humour and pomposity delivered with unmistakable self-confidence and no particular regard for the facts on the ground. Biden even referred to US hospital-building in the great Iraqi city of Baku!  (The Transparent White House© was courageous enough to publish the little hiccup as delivered, with a tiny sic inserted not so gently within the flowery prose of the VP).

More substantially, the remarkable feature of Biden’s speeches was that he is finally beginning to talk about Iraq as a nation, instead of the compulsive references to Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds that characterised the public Iraq diplomacy of the Obama administration in 2009–2010. Instead of references to the sub-categories of Iraqis, Biden now talked about “this great nation”. Those who talk about civil war and fragmentation, according to Biden, “not only misunderstand the Iraqi politics, but they underestimate the Iraqi people”! Apparently, this time around Biden even forgot to visit his old favourite, Ammar al-Hakim of ISCI, a Shiite sectarian party that for a long time enjoyed access to most areas in Washington.

Too bad it’s too late to talk like that now. Biden’s remarks come at a time when Iraq as a nation appears to be in far greater danger than back in 2006 when Biden himself prophesised disintegration and advocated controlled devolution. Biden would have realised this had he focused on qualitative instead of quantitative indicators in his speech: The number of violent incidents may be down, but Sunni-majority areas of Iraq are showing an unprecedented interest in self-rule and even separatism from what they see as a Shiite Islamist monopoly in Baghdad. When Biden says, “we were able to turn lemons into lemonade”, refers to “a political culture based on free elections and the rule of law” and even highlights “Iraq’s emerging, inclusive political culture… (as) the ultimate guarantor of stability”, he is simply making things up.

It is perhaps symptomatic that Biden’s exit from Iraq – probably the last top Washington official to leave the country prior to the full withdrawal – should take place via Arbil, the Kurdish regional capital. Even though rhetorically, the Obama administration has moved away from Biden’s erstwhile predilection for sects and ethnicities, it has never backed this up consistently in its own policies. Nothing symbolises the contradiction in US policy better than the tension between a rhetorical focus on the national whole and the constant pandering to centrifugal forces: US state visits to Spain do not always include Catalonia and the Basque Country as separate ports of call, so why should Iraq – another federal country – be any different?

Biden closed by saying that “oil’s the glue that’s going to hold this country together”. That’s an optimistic forecast at a time when Biden’s own Kurdish hosts are considering using oil as a weapon to dismantle Iraq as a country, and increasingly enlist US oil companies as part of their efforts.

12 Responses to “VP Biden and the Great American Reposture in the Middle East”

  1. Salah said

    “oil’s the glue that’s going to hold this country together”.

    This is real “spin, usual Biden menu of gaffe”

    After 9 years of imposing ethnic, sectarian dividedness with the most corrupted politicians in the world made Baghdad the worst city in the world what else we can say more to Biden gaffe, just wait and see what the 2nd or 3rd oil producer country in the world, where his oil goes or the money form oil goes, moreover the list not oil the queue for those over 100 states factories for privatisation (remember sheikh Bremer list of priorities list) will also on the hunting list and more you don’t know.

    Well done US for helping Iraq get rid from Saddam

    Let see what Biden done in Iraq according to “Charles Krauthammer

    “Vice President Joe Biden was given the job. He failed utterly. The government ended up effectively being run by a narrow sectarian coalition where the balance of power is held by the relatively small (12 percent) Iranian-client Sadr faction.”

    Fogot the link to:

    Baghdad the worst city in the world

  2. Santana said


    You wrote- “where his oil goes or the money form oil goes, moreover the list not oil the queue for those over 100 states factories for privatisation (remember sheikh Bremer list of priorities list) will also on the hunting list and more you don’t know.”

    Can you clarify this please, I am having a hard time figuring out what you are saying?? Maybe you can write it in Arabic as well??

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Here’s a priceless sign of the times:

    الجعفري يبحث مع السفير الايراني سبل تعزيز التعاون الثنائي

    Jaafari is meeting with the Iranian ambassador to explore ways of strengthening bilateral relations!

  4. Salah said


    This not “priceless” sing he almost more Iranian citizen than Iraqi, this not new of those folks who left Iraq to Iran decades ago and back in 2003 as US allies but they cannot forgot inside them as Iranian proxy inside Iraq.

    Those who call themselves “leaders” in today Iraq should asked themselves one question: what could Iran give to Iraq or help Iraq?
    Let read recent talk by Maliki to some Iraqi writers & academics:

    “المالكي لدى لقائه عددا من الكتاب والاكاديميين العراقيين امس الجمعة حول “سياسيين غير مثقفين يستخدمون الدين من اجل السلطة”، جاء فيها: “المالكي يقول: “أن المنطقة تعاني من سياسيين غير المثقفين الذين يحاولون السيطرة والهيمنة عبر الديانة والمعتقد أو عن طريق السلاح والعشيرة” ..“

    Is he forgot who is he? First, What his credentials to be politician and secondly as a PM?

    Peter Van Buren have a good analyse of who win in Iraq after withdrawn US troops (of course not all troop) read this man who served in Iraq so he is not foreign to what he speaks about Iraq

    If Jaafari & his folks are real wise men they should look to US or UK or those EU countries they have it all in matter of technology and skills. Iran today more isolated country with limited skills and technology why on earth man like Jaafari looking for more relation instead he should discussing Iranian shilling villages north Iraq made tens of villagers moved from their homes or Iraqi water crises due to Iranians closing/diverted many Iraqi rivers crossing the borders from north and south or pumping waste waters to Iraqi marsh or revers, in addition Iranian mingling with Iraqi politics and crises which on every one mouth around the world but off course not Jaafari and Dawlaet Alqanon mouth or other Iranian backing/soul religious parties even Sistani.

    My point is, with Iraq been 3rd largest producer of oil and what Iraqi have from that will rise many question where is oil money?

    Sheikh Bremer hunting list Iraqi State owned factories were counted and near put on world stage instead Stealing Iraq Reconstruction Aid money to make them going again which firstly demolished by US bombing secondly by letting looters get hand own the assets of those factories (let not forgot the Ministry of Oil and oil fields was protected by US from day one or invasion) for privatization but things not works as he wish (US wishes).

    So Biden when came to Iraq and talking oil hold Iraq together is just B* lies he knew it very well, as soon state strong well governed those oil cartel and contractor cannot sneak to get this as easy as what they doing with Iraqi oil. Please read more about Shell Contract in south Iraq the paid even there is no production (Iraq pay compensation them without oil production) tell who on earth a country own oil will sign as this contract?

  5. I can’t help but wonder if federalism might be the only solution, given the situation right now. I certainly don’t think it’s the best solution, but politics often crowds out good policy. Historically, it seems that the life-cycle of an emerging state with powerful, competing constituencies often begins as a loosely federal state, and power centralizes over time. Of course, the catalyst for that centralization is often civil war. Six months ago I was cautiously optimistic that federalism could be avoided, now not so much.

  6. bb said

    They probably don’t visit Catalonia and the Basque country because they are not autonomous regions with their own language separate from the rest of Spain. Don’t you think?

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, not sure what you’re suggesting here. Certainly Catalonia and the Basque Country have autonomous status of the highest kind within the Spanish federal system and certainly both have distinctive – may I say very distinctive – languages.

  8. Nathaniel Markowitz,
    I can see why you defend federalism for Iraq, but since you seem to have a historical perspective, have you considered how Iraq has dealt with its own diversity over history? Iraq is not an emergent state, its rulers in the past substantially respected and protected its minorities, what we have now is a leadership with strong sense of victimhood born out of partial democracy and influenced by consensus of foreign powers largely by the action, or lack of, of the United States.
    I don’t think you or Joe Biden should be concerned with deciding what’s best for Iraq, that should be left for the Iraqis,

  9. Kermanshahi said

    The problem with “normal bilateral relationship between two independent countries” is that when it comes to US, this does not exist. See when it comes to the US, it’s either the relationship between an imperialist power and it’s colony, or no diplomatic relationship at all (only economical sanctions). The qestion Iraqis should be asking themselfes is: do they want such kind of relationship? Good thing for Iraq is that their ground troops are leaving, but this is only the first step. You want a normal bilateral relationship between two independent countries with the US? Than first we have to put The Empire in its place, because until that happens you gotta choose between being an independent coutnry and having relations with the United States. The Empire needs to be driven from all lands, starting in the Middle East. Right now the people have the empire on the run, their puppets are crumbling left and right, Iraq needs to break US ties. That embassy is a massive military base, full of spies, mercenaries and thugs, it needs to be closed down after the “combat troops” have left.

    Now I know some may be thinking, hey, the whole problem started in the first place by Saddam challenging the US, but today things are different. They have been defeated in Iraq and will not return again, especially since their defeat was so costly and so weakening. Today their economy is in shambles and with Obama’s failed rightist economic policies it will not improve, because by destroying the middle class and giving all the money to the rich, they destroyed the consumers, now companies are firing more people, stockpiling more money and with more and more deregulation the banks are heading right for a new crash for which they’ll have to be bailed out by the already poor population. If their current deficit isn’t enough, those new tax-cuts are gonna make it even worse. Plus they’ve since got involved in more wars than they can handle. The Empire is weak right now and with Saddam gone, Iraq cannot be isolated in between Iran and Syria.

    All in all the country has the perfect oppurtunity to regain it’s independence. Actually it’s not really an oppurtunity given, it’s one which the Iraqi people have fought hard for, for over 8 years now and have paid for with the blood of thousands of martyrs, both Sunni and Shi’a. Their sacrifice should not be in vain. As the hour of withdrawl draws closer, Iraq should start moving towards cutting these unwanted foreign relations.

  10. Salah said

    Wow…. Maliki writes in WP:

    Building a stable Iraq
    By Nouri al-Maliki, Monday, December 5, 1:20 PM

  11. Observer said

  12. Faisalkadri,

    I’m not defending federalism in Iraq. I think it has the potential for long-lasting harm and continued division. And while Iraq (and much of the rest of the Arab world for that matter), has had a history of protecting minorities, much of that was upset during the colonial period. The habit of the colonial powers (particularly the British) to appoint leaders from minority groups to govern, combined with the artificiality with which the borders were drawn upon their withdrawal, has created a very dysfunctional region. The problem is trust (or lack thereof), and federalism is often the only way to deal with that lack of trust.

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