Senator Joe Biden’s Iraq Federalism amendment passed in the Senate today. In what was a “strong rebuff to the Bush Administration on Iraq, the Senate overwhelming approved a plan by Biden that essentially calls for breaking Iraq into three sections: Kurd, Sunni, and Shia.”
While the amendment is nonbinding, it’s the first measure to pass, (vote was 75-23,) that goes against the administration’s war strategy.
Biden’s chief co-sponsor was Brownback. Fellow candidates Clinton and Dodd also supported the plan. Obama and McCain did not vote.
In a news conference after the vote, Biden said his plan is consistent with the Iraqi constitution which calls Iraq to be made up of “a decentralized capital, regions, and governorates, and local administrations.” Biden says this plan illustrates how to “end this war in a way that we are able to ultimately to bring our troops home and leave a stable Iraq behind… [that] is consistent with the Iraqi constitution.” He described it as “pushing on an open door.”
The bipartisan measure also calls on the five permanent members of the United Nations and members of the international community to convene a conference to help the Iraqis set up the federal regions. “We all agree… it’s time to make Iraq the world’s problem, not just ours.”
Republican Senator John Warner, instrumental and influential in almost all things related to Iraq, called the vote an “extraordinary moment because it marks the high-water mark of all the many debates and resolutions we’ve had in terms of bipartisanship.”
John Kerry announced yesterday that he was co-sponsoring Biden’s legislation that would encourage the Administration to promote a political settlement in Iraq by creating a decentralized, federal system of government.
“This plan recognizes the reality that the Iraq government has not made any significant progress toward the goal of national reconciliation between Sunnis and Shiites,” Kerry said. “We need a ‘plan B’ for Iraq. Based on what we’ve seen from Iraqi politicians – who in the end are representing the will of their constituents – it is increasingly clear that the only viable political solution is a federal solution.”
Kerry spoke from the Senate floor yesterday on the need for a political solution that reflects the present and future reality in Iraq:
Mr. President, I want to speak today in support of the Biden amendment on federalism which offers Iraq a chance – not a guarantee – but a chance for a sustainable political solution that is the only solution to the violence in Iraq today.
Everyone — from President Bush to Prime Minister Maliki to the Secretary of State to all of our generals, including General Petraeus — agrees that there is no military solution in Iraq. Yet today we are no closer to a political solution than we were when the escalation started.
Senator Biden’s proposal offers us a way forward, a political solution that reflects the reality in Iraq today and, more importantly, tomorrow – not necessarily what we wanted it to be, or what it might have been – but what it is, and what it can become if Iraqis continue to move down a road of living apart before they can live together. And it emphasizes the crucial role of diplomacy, and provides a path to invigorate our diplomatic efforts in way that might really change the dynamic in the region.
We can’t impose this solution on the Iraqis, and we all know the risks of partition – but this is a plan for federalism, not partition, and today the Iraqis are effectively choosing this future for themselves by refusing to find a way to come together.
The approach also recognizes that Iraq is a failing state, with a barely functioning central government that provides few basic services and little or no security for large portions of the population. In fact, it was recently as the second weakest state in the world — and nothing that the government in Baghdad does in the foreseeable future is going to change that.
That’s why we need a “plan B” for Iraq, and embracing federalism – and devolving power down to the local level – is the approach that makes the most sense now.
Yes, we need to change the mission, and yes we need a firm deadline to force the Iraqis to make the make the tough political compromises. Nowhere is that more important than in passing an oil law, as Senator Biden’s amendment recognizes. But these two are not mutually exclusive: in fact, accepting federalism makes it easier to change the mission and allow the vast majority of our troops to leave a reasonably stable Iraq when they go.
For those reasons, I support the amendment and urge my colleagues to do the same.
James Oliphant notes on The Swamp, “Joe Biden has been betting it all on Iraq for some time now and today his horse came in.” There’s further discussion on the Biden amendment at The American Street; Taylor Marsh, Comments From The Left Field and on the other side of the blogosphere at Hot Air.