--Lewis Carroll, "Through the Looking Glass"
The fact checkers
Robert Farley: writer, researcher
Martha Hamilton: editor
Biden's statement came from his appearance with Jake Tapper on ABC's "This Week":
(TAPPER): You once advocated for a three way partition of Iraq because you were not confident that Iraq's government was capable of having a strong central government. You said:Biden's view on Iraq was routinely called a "partition" over the last few years. PolitiFact's initial response to Biden's statement reflects that:
"The most basic premise of President Bush's approach that the Iraqi people will rally behind a strong central government headed by Maliki, in fact, looks out for their interests equitably is fundamentally and fatally flawed. It will not happen in anybody's lifetime here including the pages!"
So it's -- that was from 2007.
Is it possible that you were right back then...
TAPPER: -- that it is just impossible...
BIDEN: -- and, by the way...
TAPPER: -- to have a centralized government...
BIDEN: No, it's -- I don't want to debate history here, but I never called for a partition. I called for a central government with considerable autonomy in the regions.
TAPPER: Three provinces.
BIDEN: Well, it was...
BIDEN: -- not -- it wasn't even, it was to allow them more autonomy, like what's happening in Kurdistan right now, like what's happening in Anbar Province right now.
(yellow highlights added)
Biden responded by taking issue with the word "partition" -- which was often used to describe Biden's plan at the time -- saying it was never about breaking Iraq into three separate countries.I searched through the rest of Biden's response to Tapper's question and failed to find the vice president saying that it was never about breaking Iraq into three separate countries. That statement from PolitiFact must therefore count as a liberal paraphrase of the subsequent quotation of Biden. That paraphrase apparently finds its justification from taking "partition" according to the dictionary definition "3. To divide (a country) into separate, autonomous nations" and not the dictionary definition "b : to divide (as a country) into two or more territorial units having separate political status."
"I don't want to debate history here, but I never called for a partition," Biden said. "I called for a central government with considerable autonomy in the regions."
How does one explain this phenomenon? Watch PolitiFact try:
Check the headlines in 2007, and it's clear that the word "partition" or "soft partition" was often used to describe Biden's proposal, which called for boundaries to be drawn for the country's Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite populations. And so we decided to check his claim that he never called for a partition.PolitiFact proceeds to provide Biden's own words on the subject of setting up areas within Iraq under the control of the major factions--things that clearly meet the latter definition of "partition"--and include Biden's contemporaneous protestations that he was not proposing a partition of Iraq:
(O)ur plan is not partition, though even some supporters and the media mistakenly call it that. It would hold Iraq together by bringing to life the federal system enshrined in its constitution. A federal Iraq is a united Iraq but one in which power devolves to regional governments, with a limited central government responsible for common concerns such as protecting borders and distributing oil revenue.The conclusion of the fact check indicates that PolitiFact fully accepts Biden's contention:
So is it fair to call Biden's plan a call to "partition" Iraq? Certainly Biden advocated carving out three semi-autonomous regions. In that sense, we could see why many characterized Biden's proposal as a "soft partition." But the word "partition" carries heavy political implications, namely the creation of three separate nations. And that was never Biden's plan. He consistently upheld the idea of one Iraq with a central government, albeit a more modest one responsible for such things as defense, foreign affairs and sharing oil revenues. That's an important distinction. We rate his claim True.PolitiFact suggests those who use "partition" to mean something other than the establishment of a new autonomous nation or nations are mistaken, even if that includes "some supporters and the media." The PolitiFact story represents something of a media mea culpa: "We goofed, Mr. Biden!"
It's time for yet another review of PoltiFact's rating system:
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.Robert Farley and PolitiFact concluded that Biden's account left nothing significant missing. Unfortunately, that claim can't even stand up to the facts collected in Farley's story. Biden failed to mention while talking with Tapper that his plan was called a partition plan. That isn't an important clarification? If the clarification isn't important then why mention it in the story? The clairification is important, and as a result Farley's conclusion is self-defeating. PolitiFact pointed out something important that Biden left out and then proclaimed Biden innocent of leaving out anything important.
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
HALF TRUE – The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
BARELY TRUE – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate.
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
But at the bottom line Biden did more than simply neglect to mention that his plan was called a partition plan. He redefined the word to exclude a portion of its traditional meaning. For example:
On May 13, 1862, Governor Pierpont of the "Restored Government" of Virginia called his General Assembly into session, and this body promptly gave assent to the partition of the state and the formation of West Virginia.Note that the division of West Virginia from the original state of Virginia is called a "partition." It is the type of partition that Biden proposed for Iraq. Importantly, it was not merely benighted supporters of the Biden-Brownback proposal or unsophisticated journalists who perceived partitioning in the Biden proposal. It came from experts:
“Federalism” is receiving the bulk of attention in Washington and Baghdad, but it is by no means the only restructuring buzzword swirling in foreign policy circles. Edward P. Joseph, a visiting scholar at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, write in USA Today that they prefer less subtle terminology: “soft partition.”Paul R. Williams and Matthew T. Simpson, in "Rethinking the Political Future: An Alternative to the Ethno-Sectarian Division of Iraq":
A number of prominent American law makers and foreign policy shapers have strongly advocated for the soft, and sometimes hard, partition of Iraq—either through the creation of a loose federal structure based on ethno-sectarian lines, or through its outright partition.Lieutenant Colonel David W. Riggins, in "Ending the Conflict in Iraq--Is Partition the Answer?":
Over a year before the 2006 elections, one such recommendation was raised in foreign policy circles and circulated throughout the media. Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware subsequently endorsed one variant of this recommendation. The plan called for the partition of Iraq into three mainly autonomous federated regions with a “strong” central Iraqi government.Major Douglas W. Merritt, in "Is Federalism based on Ethnic Partition a Viable Solution in Iraq?":
Delaware Senator Joseph R. Biden proposed, in a news release on 6 October 2006, a plan to partition Iraq as the new strategy to conclude Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) successfully (Biden Press Release 2006, 1).
Merritt dedicated a section to defining "partition":
The ethnic partition of Iraq does not require ethnically pure provinces. The partition of Iraq refers to the creation of internal borders to establish three ethnic provinces, with a central government headquartered in the city-state of Baghdad. For this thesis, the provinces are Kurdistan, Shiastan, and Sunni-Iraq. The borders shown in figure 3 established a common concept of the partition of Iraq and do not represent draft borders from any official source. The borders represent the well-known rifts between Kurds, Shias, and Sunnis.These references represent the tip of the iceberg. Professional literature on international relations abounds with references to "partition" while describing the type of Iraqi governance recommended by Biden and Leslie Gelb. Perhaps nobody at all mistook Biden's proposal as a suggestion that Iraq divide into three separate nations, at least until Robert Farley started checking the facts.
Biden suggested partition of Iraq, and his denial that he offered partition as a solution was disingenuous from the start. He apparently deliberately chose to employ euphemisms to avoid the negative connotations that PolitiFact eventually used to justify rating his denial as perfectly true. "True" is the one rating that cannot apply.
Robert Farley: F
Martha Hamilton: F