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New Hampshire Union Leader - Ending the War the Right Way


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New Hampshire Union Leader - Ending the War the Right Way

By Sen. Joe Biden

DESPITE THE deep partisan divide in Washington, two weeks ago Democrats and Republicans came together behind my plan for Iraq and put the national interest first.

The resolution I proposed, with Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, says the United States should work with the international community and Iraq's leaders to support a political settlement in Iraq based on federalism. It won the support of 75 senators, including 26 Republicans.

For the first time in this incredibly divisive national debate we've been having about Iraq, a strong bipartisan majority of senators voted against the President's strategy. For the first time, there is real hope that we can leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind that threatens America's interests for a generation.

My plan is based on this reality: There is no military solution in Iraq, only a political solution.

That begs the question: What political solution?

The Bush administration is pursuing a fatally flawed political strategy in Iraq. It believes that if we just buy it enough time with a surge of U.S. forces, a democratic central government will emerge in Baghdad that secures the support of all Iraqis.

Nine months into the surge, that has not happened and there is no evidence it will happen.

There is no trust within the government in Baghdad, no trust of the government by the people, no capacity on the part of the government to deliver basic security or services, and no prospect the government will develop that trust and capacity anytime soon.

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. Its warring factions are just not prepared to entrust their futures to one another.

Our solution is to help bring to life what is already in Iraq's constitution: a decentralized, federal system that gives its people local control over the fabric of their daily lives, including the police, jobs, education and government services.

A limited central government would be responsible for protecting Iraq's borders and distributing its oil revenues.

We should refocus America's efforts on making federalism work for all Iraqis.

I would initiate a diplomatic surge to do just that, bringing in the United Nations, major countries and Iraq's neighbors to help implement and oversee the political settlement I'm proposing.

No one can want peace and stability for Iraq more than the Iraqi people. It is up to them, but we can help them get there by bringing power and responsibility down to the local level and taking the fear out of Iraq's future.

As we help Iraqis work toward a political settlement, there are two other steps we must take to end the war responsibly.

First, we should start to bring our combat troops home now, while transitioning the mission of those that remain to much more limited and achievable tasks like fighting al-Qaida in Iraq and protecting themselves and our civilians.

With Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, since January I have repeatedly proposed legislation to do just that. We've won a majority of senators, but not yet the 60 we need to overcome a filibuster or the 67 necessary to overcome the President's veto.

Second, so long as we have a single solider in Iraq, we must do everything we can to protect him.

While some claim we can get all our troops out of Iraq in a matter of months, the truth is that even if the order came down to leave tomorrow, it would take at least a year and probably longer to get everyone out. It's a huge logistical and security challenge. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Americans remain at risk.

Last Spring, every other Democratic candidate for our party's nomination either voted against or said they opposed the emergency spending bill for Iraq. I voted for it because it funds the mine-resistant vehicles I've been fighting for that protect our troops from roadside bombs -- the biggest killer of Americans in Iraq. I will never vote against money to protect our troops.

The war in Iraq is President Bush's war -- but it is America's future. Together, we have to end it the right way.

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware is running for the Democratic nomination for President.

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