BIDEN-BROWNBACK Legislation Passes Senate - Again
Biden-Brownback Measure Calling for the U.S. to Support a Federal Iraq Passes as Part of the Department of Defense Conference Report
Biden Efforts to Bar Permanent Bases in Iraq and Protect Troops with Mine Resistant Vehicles Also Included in Report
The U.S. Senate passed legislation today, sponsored by Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), which calls for the United States to support a political settlement in Iraq based on a federal system of government. The Biden-Brownback measure - which passed as part of the Department of Defense Conference report - has garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress and would require a major strategic shift in the Administration's Iraq policy. President Bush vetoed the original Department of Defense Authorization report in December because of an unrelated issue that Congress subsequently addressed.
"We have both sides of the aisle, both sides of the U.S. Capitol, saying to the President: abandon this flawed strategy of yours in Iraq and change course. Everyone agrees that there is no pure military solution in Iraq. There has to be a political solution and that begs the question: what is it? Congress has again answered that question with one voice" said Senator Joe Biden.
In May of 2006, Senator Biden, along with President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie H. Gelb, announced a detailed plan for promoting a political settlement in Iraq that would allow our troops to leave, without leaving chaos behind. The plan called for a decentralized, federal system in Iraq, which would give its people local control over the fabric of their daily lives, including police, jobs, education and government services. A limited central government would be responsible for protecting Iraq's borders and distributing its oil revenues.
The Biden-Brownback amendment was based on Senator Biden's federalism plan for Iraq and is a product of his years-long effort working across the aisle to build support. During the Senate vote in September, Senator Biden's plan secured the support of key leaders in the U.S. Senate from both parties, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), former Chairman John Warner (R-VA) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN). The final vote in favor of the Biden-Brownback amendment was 75-23, including 26 Republicans.
"Simply put, absent an occupation we cannot sustain or a dictator we cannot support, Iraq cannot be governed from the center at this point in its history. Supporting a decentralized Iraq with strong local and regional governments and a limited central government is the only way we can end this war without leaving chaos behind," added Senator Biden.
The Biden-Brownback amendment also had 15 cosponsors: Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Arlen Specter (R-PA), John Kerry (D-MA), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) Harry Reid (D-NV), DianNe Feinstein (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Tom Carper (D-DE).
The Biden-Brownback amendment states that the United States should actively support a political settlement among Iraqis based on the provisions of Iraq's constitution that call for creating a federal system of government, with strong regions and a limited central government. It also urged the administration to bring in the international community - including the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Iraq's neighbors - to support a settlement based on federalism and to convene a conference with Iraqis to help them reach that settlement.
A few key facts about the Biden-Brownback amendment:
* The legislation does not tell Iraqis what to do. It speaks only to what U.S. policy should be.
* Federalism is not a U.S. or foreign imposition on Iraq. Iraq's own constitution calls FOR a "decentralized, federal system" and sets out the powers of the regions (extensive) and those of the central government (limited). The Constitution also says that in case of conflict between regional and national law, regional law prevails.
* Federalism is not partition. In fact, it's probably the only way to prevent partition or, even worse, the total fragmentation of Iraq.
* Federalism will not accelerate sectarian cleansing; it's the only way to reverse it. Iraqis have already voted with their feet, with 4.5 million fleeing within Iraq or abroad. Unless Iraqis come to some kind of agreement on sharing power peacefully, the results of extensive cleansing will solidify and set the stage for future instability.
Senator Biden has also been a long-time advocate of barring the construction of any permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. In 2006, he successfully passed two amendments as part of the Defense Authorization bill and Defense Appropriations bill, which prohibited using any funds to build permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq or to exercise American control over Iraqi oil. Both bills were signed into law, marking the first clear sign from Congress that the American military presence in Iraq would not be open-ended. Last year (2007), the Senate Armed Services Committee included Sen. Biden's effort into the original legislation.
"When I introduced the measure last year to bar permanent bases in Iraq, I was concerned that Iraqi suspicions about American aims in Iraq were endangering American lives. These misperceptions will not be easily changed, but this legislation again should help allay those suspicions and shows that the American people have no imperial designs upon Iraq," said Senator Biden.
Senator Biden's effort to protect our troops by ensuring that the Pentagon builds and deploys more mine resistant vehicles - which are proven to decrease deaths and injuries from roadside bombs by 67 to 80 percent - also was successful. The bill fully authorizes the $11.98 billion Senator Biden secured in the Defense Appropriations bill, which passed earlier this year.
"This allows the military to continue to produce and field MRAPS through the fall of 2008. Keeping the production lines open gives commanders on the ground the flexibility needed to adapt to the constantly changing security environment. As long as one soldier or marine is in harm's way, I will fight to get that soldier or marine the very best protection this nation has," added Senator Biden.