Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Senate Iraq Vote is a Big Win for Biden

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 481

That old bromide about the weather - everybody talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it - could just as easily be applied to Iraq, and particularly with regard to the deadlocked United States Senate throughout 2007.

That all shifted significantly today with the Senate's overwhelming passage of the Biden amendment to the FY2008 Defense Authorization Act. The amendment lays out Biden's vision for a political settlement in Iraq based on a federal system of a three-way partition of the country into semi-autonomous sectarian regions. The regions, one each for Iraq's Sunni, Shite and Kurdish populations, would have direct control over local matters like law enforcement and jobs, with a weakened central government in Baghdad controlling national matters like border security, foreign policy and the distribution of oil revenues. The arrangement would also call upon the United Nations and other Arab states to join with us in an intense diplomatic effort to bring Iraq's civil war to a close and restore stability to the Gulf region.

Biden's amendment doesn't force any action on either President Bush nor the Iraqi government, sadly, but it is nonetheless enormously significant for the fact that it, for the first time, marks out a long-term approach to solving the problems of Iraq on terms that have garnered widespread support from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Passed by a super-majority of 75 yeas and 23 nays, Biden's amendment has finally provided the United States Senate a glimmer of light in the struggle to extricate ourselves from Iraq without leaving unmitigated chaos in our wake.

This is also a huge political win for Joe Biden. Coming as it does on the very day of a debate among the Democratic presidential candidates, the timing could not have been better. Not only did Biden's bill get the support of 26 Republican senators, but it also got yes votes from Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd, two of Biden's opponents in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination (what about Barack Obama? We'll get there in a moment). This vote authoritatively establishes Joe Biden as the voice that matters on Iraq, and further allows him to claim that while the rest of the field has talked the talk about leadership, experience, the ability to bring about change in Washington and to bring people together to get things done, Joe Biden walks the walk.

With Joe Biden the big winner today, was there a loser? Yes, and that brings us to Barack Obama. Inexplicably, Senator Obama wasn't there for the vote. He just didn't suit up. What could have been the reason? Did he not understand the importance of the issue? Is skipping things he doesn't want to do, like last week's AARP forum in Davenport, becoming a habit with him and spilling over to his day job in the United States Senate? There can be no good answer here, and the result is yet another serious misstep for Barack Obama in a September that has seen his political star brought lower than at any time since he declared himself a candidate for president.

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