Joe Biden just held a conference call with reporters to “clarify a couple of things” about his Iraq plan, an endorsement of which was passed last week by the Senate as a non-binding resolution (the Biden-Brownback Iraq Federalism Amendment). It passed by a vote of 75-23, with substantial bi-partisan support. Senator Biden is angry at Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, whose embassy issued an unusual (and unsigned) statement criticizing the resolution. By doing so, the ambassador (and his superiors in Washington who no doubt authorized the statement) was adding his voice to that of Prime Minister al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders, all of whom complained that the kind of federalism called for in the resolution would lead to more sectarian violence and result in the bloody partition of the country. “It is not partition! It is not foreign imposition!” declared an amped-up Biden, over what sounded like a cell phone, while on break from campaigning in South Carolina. “It will not lead, as Prime Minister Maliki said, to more violence and bloodshed. I wonder what he thinks is happening now, by the way.”
Actually, the embassy condemnation of the Biden amendment was issued on the same day (today) that Crocker and Gen. Petraeus issued a joint statement heralding the fact that fewer Americans and Iraqis died last month in Iraq than in any month since July and June 2006, respectively. The drop in deaths is a sign — Crocker and Petraeus contend — that the “surge” strategy is showing more progress.
Still, Biden’s anger is understandable. The amendment that passed does not call for partition of Iraq; it merely — you might even say modestly — calls on Iraq to abide by the federalist provisions in its own post-liberation constitution. A large part of Biden’s problem is that his proposal for Iraq, which originally appeared as an op-ed with Leslie Gelb in the spring of 2006, was long ago short-handed as a “partition” or “soft partition” plan, and its critics tend to react to that description rather than to the specifics of the plan itself.
But while we can debate endlessly about whether or not the plan for a loose federation in Iraq with a central government with limited powers is the right plan for the country going forward, Biden certainly makes a valid point when he complains that no one else — certainly not the Bush administration or the Iraqi government — has come up with a plan for Iraq’s future that is more viable.
“My plan has difficulties — it does,” Biden said. “What is overwhelmingly clear is that nobody else has a plan.”