Friday, October 12, 2007

Biden and Brownback Make Political History

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 466

History comes at us in two forms: history in the moment when it is made, and history in the aftermath when it is written. The first is action, and the second is judgment. If we're wise, we always pay attention to the judgments of history; if we're lucky, we may get to be present on an occasion when history is made.

I had the luck to be a witness to history being made today, as two U.S. Senators and presidential candidates, from opposite parties, appeared at the same podium to campaign, not for votes for their respective candidacies, but for support of their joint plan to end the civil war in Iraq, bring stability to the Persian Gulf region and pave the way for an end to U.S. combat operations without leaving chaos behind.

Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) spoke today of their plan to implement federalism in Iraq, a system in which power is devolved from the central government in Baghdad to separate regions controlled by the three main Iraqi ethnic factions, Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. Each region would maintain control of their own coinage, law enforcement, education, utilities, etc., with the central government in Baghdad responsible for border security, foreign policy, and the distribution of oil revenues.

The bulk of remarks by both Senators was aimed at refuting the notion that their proposals represent a foreign-imposed solution, or a partition of Iraq. Biden, who delivered his remarks without referring to notes, stated that those who characterized the proposals in that way either had not actually read the plan, or were deliberately misconstruing it for political purposes. Biden pointed out that federalism is at the heart of the Iraqi constitution, and that the Iraqi parliament voted in the summer of 2006 to devolve power away from the central government over the course of 18 months beginning next year. In answer to the question posed by critics of why it is the Iraqis themselves haven't done this yet if they're actually in favor of the idea, Biden made the obvious point that "they're at war. They need the help of the United States and the international community to do it." Further, federalism would not contribute to further sectarian cleansing, but rather, as a political solution, represents the only means of stopping it. "Five hundred thousand American troops cannot settle this issue" in the absence of the political framework of federalism, said Biden. Iraqis, Biden concluded, do not oppose federalism; they oppose partition, and the Biden-Brownback-Boxer proposal represents the former and not the latter. To critics of the plan, Biden asked, "very simply, what is your alternative?"

Senator Brownback then took the podium. Often reading from notes, his remarks largely echoed Biden's, but reflected Brownback's view that the U.S. military should remain in Iraq for a protracted period, along the lines of Korea and Bosnia. Brownback pointed to the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq as an example of federalism already successfully in place, and suggested that power might be similarly devolved to Iraq's Sunni and Shiite regions in phases, rather than all at once.

Brownback appeared poised and dynamic in his remarks, and gave ample evidence as to why he's an attractive choice to Republican constituents in his home state.

Having seen all the Democratic contenders for the White House at least three times this year, I can say frankly that Biden's presence and aspect on the podium on this occasion was by far the most presidential of any candidate in this campaign. Scholars often speak of the extent to which presidents grow in office as a measure of their greatness; Biden's growth as a presidential candidate since the first time I saw him back in March of this year has been astounding. Given a few breaks between now and caucus night, and a corresponding upswing in fundraising, it is not at all difficult today to combine two words in a way that would have been unthinkable, and to some laughable, only six months ago: President Biden.

The judgment of history about today's event and its significance in the sweep of the Iraq tragedy will be written over time. Whatever that judgment eventually turns out to be, let it stand recorded that on a brilliant autumn afternoon at the height of the campaign season in Des Moines, Iowa today, partisanship gave way to statesmanship, and for a rare and precious moment, American politics actually stopped not only at the water's edge, but far enough back from it to allow us, however briefly, to savor the view.

1 comment: said...

Thanks, as always, for a great firsthand account.


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