Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 5/30/2007 [Archive]

The Gipper Would Know What To Do - Opinion Column

The Gipper Would Know What To Do

By Bill Steigerwald

What would Ronald Reagan do -- with Iraq?

President Reagan was way too wise to have gone to Mesopotamia in the first place. But what if he had to extract us from Iraq today? And what if he wanted to make sure Iraq had a chance of becoming a functioning, semi-civilized country after we left?

The Gipper probably would be in favor of doing something the Bush administration won't do -- decentralize and federalize Iraq's government.

As is documented in the new book 'The Reagan Diaries,' Reagan understood the value of a weak central government in countries boiling with ethnic, religious and political hatred and violence. On July 2, 1986, he wrote in his diary that one way to solve the tricky transition of power in South Africa from 5 million whites to 26 million blacks might be to set up 'something like Switzerland's 'Canton' type of govt.'

A lot of smart folks -- conservatives, liberals and libertarians -- have always argued that decentralization is exactly what Iraq needs to avoid total meltdown. Some have proposed a three-part split of Iraq -- a partition that gives the Kurds, Sunni and Shia control of their own turf.

Republican 2008 presidential dreamer Tommy Thompson has mentioned a vague plan to create 18 provinces ruled by Iraq's main Muslim sects. But Democrat 2008 presidential dreamer Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, with the help of Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, has proposed a more detailed scheme.

Under Biden's plan, a unified Iraq would be maintained but government power would be seriously decentralized. Oil money would be shared proportionately among the Kurds, Sunni and Shia. Baghdad's mixed population would become a federal city protected by international peacekeepers.

The Biden plan, Biden's presidential Web site says, is not a partition and it is consistent with the Iraq Constitution. Biden, like many others, believes that giving Kurds, Sunni and Shia their own territories is the only way to ensure that their militias don't slaughter each other trying to get sole control of the central government. Overall, Biden contends, his plan is in the self-interest of the Kurds, Sunni and Shia -- as well as Iran.

Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute, who discounts fears that federalizing Iraq will bring even worse chaos and instability or result in meddling by Iraq's neighbors, believes decentralizing power in Iraq is still the best -- and last -- hope for saving it from 'going up in smoke' after we leave.

Biden's Web site lists nearly 40 people or editorial boards that support his idea or want to pursue it -- including Henry Kissinger, Republican Sens. Richard Lugar and Sam Brownback and Bill O'Reilly. Unfortunately, the idea of formally decentralizing Iraq's government -- which is already occurring neighborhood by neighborhood on its bloody own -- is going nowhere.

The idea barely registers on the mainstream media's radar screen. It has not been seriously addressed in the presidential soundbite-trading "debates." And the Bush administration still isn't interested in it.

Ronald Reagan would not have been so stupid. He obviously understood that Switzerland's Frenchmen, Germans and Italians lived in peace and prosperity in part because of their loose confederation of 26 highly autonomous cantons.

But unfortunately Reagan's not coming back from heaven to fix Iraq or anything else the Bush Republicans have broken -- no matter how hard the GOP's faithful pray.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill atbsteigerwald@tribweb.com.© Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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