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Press Release - Biden-Gelb Plan For Iraq One Year Later

May 01, 2007

Biden-Gelb Plan for a Decentralized Iraq is Best Chance to Leave Iraq Without Leaving Chaos Behind

Washington, DC - One year ago today, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie H. Gelb announced a five-point plan for a way forward in Iraq. The Biden-Gelb plan called for decentralizing Iraq separating the parties and giving them breathing room in their own regions, held together by a limited central government.

"One year ago today, Les Gelb and I announced our plan for a way forward in Iraq. And one year later with the Administration's flawed policy leading us nowhere and today's news that April is the deadliest month this year our plan becomes more urgent every day."

"The Bush administration still believes that Iraqis will rally to a strong, democratic central government that treats everyone equitably. And the surge is designed to buy time for that government to get its act together. But there is no trust within the government, no trust of the government by the people and no capacity by the government to deliver security and services. And there is no prospect that we can build that trust and capacity any time soon. So the basic premise of the administration's approach is fundamentally and fatally flawed," Biden said.

"History suggests only there's only a couple other ways to keep together a country consumed by sectarian strife. One, you occupy the country for a generation or more. That's not in our DNA we're not the Persian Empire or the British Empire. Two, you install a dictator. Wouldn't that be the ultimate irony for the United States to go back after taking one down and install another one? Three, you let them fight it out until one side massacres the other and that's not an option in that tinderbox part of the world. Or lastly, you make federalism work for the Iraqis. You give them control over the fabric of their daily lives. You separate the parties. You give them breathing room. Let them control their local police, their education, their religion and marriage the very things they're fighting over. That's the only possibility: change the focus to a limited central government and the federal system that their constitution calls for," said Sen. Biden.

"Leaving Iraq is necessary," Biden said, "but it is not enough because it doesn't answer the critical question: 'then, what?' We also need a plan for what we leave behind, so that we don't trade a dictator for chaos that undermines American interests for decades. This plan offers the possibility of bringing stability to Iraq."

Specifically, the Biden-Gelb Five-Point Plan for Iraq would:

  • Maintain a unified Iraq by decentralizing it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis breathing room in their own regions and control over the fabric of their daily lives, including the police, education, jobs, marriage and religion. The Iraqi constitution already provides for federalism. The central government would be responsible for common interests, like border security and the distribution of oil revenues.
  • Secure support from the Sunnis - who have no oil -- by guaranteeing them a proportionate share (about 20 percent) of oil revenues, allowing former Baathists to go back to work and re-integrating those with no blood on their hands.
  • Increase economic aid, direct it to the regions as well as the central government, ask oil-rich Arab Gulf states to fund it, tie assistance to the protection of minority rights and create a jobs program to deny the militia new recruits.
  • Convene a regional conference to enlist the support of Iraq's neighbors and create a Contact Group of the major powers to enforce their commitments.
  • Ask our military for a plan to responsibly withdraw most U.S. forces from Iraq by 2008 - enough time for the political settlement to take hold while refocusing the mission of a small residual force on counter-terrorism and training Iraqis.

Since Sen. Biden and Les Gelb announced their five-point plan for a way forward in Iraq on May 1, 2006, the plan has sparked growing interest and support from political leaders, foreign policy experts and opinion leaders.

THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE ESTIMATE (NIE) ON THE CENTRAL ELEMENT OF THE BIDEN-GELB PLAN

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq a consensus report of all U.S. intelligence agencies makes clear the need for a political settlement based on federalism, as called for in the Biden-Gelb plan.

The NIE identifies developments that could "reverse the negative trends driving Iraq's current trajectory," including: "broader Sunni acceptance of the current political structure and federalism" and "significant concessions by Shia and Kurds to create space for Sunni acceptance of federalism." These elements are central to the Biden-Gelb plan for Iraq.

The NIE also warns of the danger of Iraq's civil war becoming a regional war, which underscores the urgent need for a regional diplomatic strategy that involves Iraq's neighbors in supporting a political settlement or containing the violence should reconciliation fail, as called for in the Biden-Gelb plan. [ U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, 2/2/07]

FORMER SECRETARIES OF STATE ON THE BIDEN-GELB PLAN

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: "I'm sympathetic to an outcome that permits large regional autonomy. In fact, I think it is very likely that this will emerge out of the conflict that we are now witnessing."

"If the Iraqis cannot solve the problems that have been described, I've told the Chairman privately, that I thought that this [a federal system in Iraq] was a possible outcome, and at the right moment we should work in the direction that will (inaudible) for maximum stability and for maximum chances of peace." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, January 31, 2007]

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "[T]he idea of the constitution of Iraq [as] written, which allows for and mandates, in fact, a great deal of regional autonomy, is appropriate. I think there are certain central powers that a government needs. Some of it has to do with the oil revenue and various other parts. So without endorsing any plan, I do think reality here sets in that there will be regional autonomy."

[W]hen asked about Senator Biden's plan, I have said that, in fact, it is an attempt to keep the country together, which I do believe is what it is about. I'm just talking about in the long run what might happen that we do have to watch out for. But I think it is very clear from my reading of the plan that it is done in order to keep the country together. And I do think that is an essential point. [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, January 31, 2007]

Former Secretary of State James Baker: "I was and still am interested in the proposal that Senator Biden and Les Gelb put forward with respect to the idea that ultimately you may end up with three autonomous regions in Iraq, because I was worried that there are indications that that might be happening, in fact, on the ground anyway and, if it is, we ought to be prepared to try and manage the situation. So we have a sentence in our report that says, 'If events were to move irreversibly in this direction, the United States should manage the situation to ameliorate the humanitarian consequences, contain the violence and minimize regional stability." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, January 30, 2007]

FOREIGN POLICY EXPERTS ON THE BIDEN-GELB PLAN

Former Iraq Defense Minister Ali Allawi: "I think the solution has to be to really face the fact that the invasion, occupation of the country has led to really enormous consequences, not only inside the Iraq but in the region. Unless you administer and control the effects of the invasion, you're unlikely to have much peace. And to do that I think you have to take into account that certain irreversible changes have taken place, especially, for example, the empowerment of the Shiite community, the empowerment of the Kurds, and the effects of that on the various countries of the Middle East.

JON STEWART: So you see sort of a central government, kind of existing to mediate between Kurds, Shi'a, and Sunni, but then they also have autonomy of their own?

Allawi: I think so. In the long term, if you want to have a nation state, these components have to be brought together again. You have to reweave the structures of the country and society. And a central government that is based on a kind of federal arrangement is possibly the best outcome." [The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 4/18/07]

Ambassador Dennis Ross, Counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: "The only thing I would say, though, as I've noted before, with 100,000 Iraqis being displaced a month, you're beginning to create the outlines of that on the ground [a federal system in Iraq]. So I was actually in favor of the idea before, and I think it may have more of a potential now because of that reality." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, January 17, 2007]

Ambassador Richard Haass, President Council on Foreign Relations: "I've long admired the chairman's idea [Of a federal system in Iraq].The problem is -- it's also put forward by my predecessor -- the problem is not the idea. The idea's a reasonable idea; it's a good idea. The problem facing the idea is that it's a reasonable idea that's been introduced into an unreasonable political environment. If Iraqis were willing to sign on to this idea of distribution of political and economic power and so forth, federalism, all Iraqis would be better off and a large part of the problem would fade. The problem is that we can't get Iraqis to sign on to a set of arrangements that, quite honestly, would leave the bulk of them better off. We can't force them to be reasonable. And at the moment, they've essentially embarked on a path which is in some ways self- destructive of a society. So again -- but the flaw is not inherent in the ideas; it's just, again, we can't -- the very reasonableness that's at the heart of the chairman's idea is rejected again by -- virtually across the board, particularly by Shi'a and Sunnis, because they can't agree on the precise balance, if you will, of political and economic power within their society. So at the moment, there's not yet a federal scheme they would sign on to." [ Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, January 17, 2007]

Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution: "It would be preferableto retain some level of multi-ethnic society... However, let's be clear about what the data show -- it's happening already. And right now, it's the militias and the death squads that are driving the ethnic cleansing, and the movement towards a breakup of Iraq. And the question pretty soon is going to be whether we try to manage that process, or let the militias alone drive it, because it's happening.100,000 people a month are being driven from their homes. Iraq looks like Bosnia more and more." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 1/10/07]

Yahia Said, Director, Iraq Revenue Watch: " I think the constitution, the Iraqi constitution, with all its shortcomings, serves as a good starting point for dialogue. But the constitution needs to be transformed through genuine dialogue from a dysfunctional to a rational federal structure. Oil and negotiations on an oil deal, which have apparently concluded recently, also provide a model for the -- for that rational federalism.The main principles that the negotiators have agreed on is to maximize the benefit of Iraq's oil wells to all Iraqis, to use oil as a way to unite the nation, and to build a framework based on transparency, which is very important in a situation of lack -- of poor trust, and on efficiency and equity. " [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 1/10/07]

Former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke: "I urge [President Bush] to lay out realistic goals, redeploy our troops and focus on the search for a political solution. We owe that to the Iraqis who welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and put their trust in us, only to find their lives in danger as a result. By a political solution, I mean something far more ambitious than current U.S. efforts aimed at improving the position of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki by changing ministers or setting timelines for progress. Sen. Joe Biden and Les Gelb have advocated what they call, in a reference to the negotiations that ended the war in Bosnia in 1995, a "Dayton-like" solution to the political situation -- by which they mean a looser federal structure with plenty of autonomy for each of the three main groups, and an agreement on sharing oil revenue." [Washington Post (10/24/06)]

Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith: "And, Mr. Chairman, if I may say, I am often asked what is the difference between the plan that you and Les Gelb put forward and the plan that I have outlined. And I would say that the central point is what they share is that we believe that the future of Iraq is up to the Iraqis. You and Les Gelb are more optimistic about what that future might bring. And if you're right, I think that would be terrific." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, 1/11/07].

Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, CATO Institute: "And I believe there is a regional -- there is a reasonable prospect of convincing even Iran and Syria that a proxy war can easily spiral out of control and it would not be in their best interests to tolerate that kind of development, that it is better to quarantine this conflict and allow the dynamics in Iraq to play themselves out. Perhaps at some point the various factions in Iraq will agree on compromise, either a reasonably peaceful, formal partition, or a very loose federation with adequate political compromise. But they have to determine that. We cannot determine that for them." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, 1/11/07].

Walter Russell Mead, Council on Foreign Relations: "I thought that the Joe Biden op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday was also a very sober and thoughtful approach.

JIM LEHRER: For those who didn't read that, capsulize it for us.

Mead: Well, they were basically talking about a way forward in Iraq that would have some bipartisan support, and something that the administration could work with. And I think what we're seeing now is a sense that the country does need to try to move as united as possible." [PBS Newshour (10/25/06)]

Anne Marie Slaughter, Dean of Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University: "I think that the Biden-Gelb plan is the best option out there." (TPMcafe.com, 5/18/06)

Eric Leaver, Institute for Policy Studies Research Fellow: "The two alternatives that have been fleshed out most deeply are 'strategic redeployment' and plans for partition... The five-point plan of Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., calling for a virtual partition of Iraq has its roots in proposals made by Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador with a long involvement in policy on Iraq, and Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations... Both of these plans have merits... These measures would draw in Iraq's neighbors who are desperately needed for a long-term solution. [ TomPaine.com (9/5/06)]

David Phillips, Council on Foreign Relations, author of Losing Iraq: "What they are proposing makes absolute sense. By decentralizing power and giving regions control over governance, economy and cultural affairs, you have some chance of holding the country together." [The Guardian, 5/2/06]

PUBLIC OFFICIALS ON THE BIDEN-GELB PLAN

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA): "Our chairman has come forward with a vision of how this thing can end up in a place where people will stop killing each other, and yet keep together the country of Iraq, to do the things a country has to do, including making sure the oil is shared in a fair way. It's not three separate countries -- he's gotten a rap on that; never was -- always semi-autonomous; policing by your own people; trust built up in that kind of situation. It's just what's happening in Kurdistan." [Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, 1/31/07]

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN): "My own view is that we have to continually advise our friends in Iraq to get on with this question of the division of the oil money or the dedication of the various groups, as well as how a federation can work. [ PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer, (9/19/2006)]

It may not be an absolute division of the country into three parts, but at least some ways in which the Kurds, who already have a great deal of autonomy, are joined by a lot of Shiites that want the same thing and Sunnis that are worried that they're going to be left out of the picture. And that takes heavy lifting. Politically, a lot of objections even to bringing it up before their congress, but we have to keep insisting that they do. That has to be on the agenda."

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS): "I think this idea of maybe the three autonomous regions within one country may be the one that we start to move more and more towards." [The Hill, (10/24/06)]

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX): "Allowing the Kurds, Sunni and Shia to govern their own territories while sharing in Iraq's oil revenues through a national revenue stream could help quell the bloodletting." [Houston Chronicle, (10/17/06)]

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY): "Mr. Schumer said, he hopes that a controversial plan strongly advocated by Senator Joe Biden of Delaware--which essentially calls for the dissolution of Iraq into three autonomous ethnic enclaves (and which Mr. Schumer quietly supported last year)--will emerge as a concrete Democratic alternative to current administration policy. "It may actually move into play," said Mr. Schumer. "I've always believed that the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds hate each other more than they will ever love any central government." [New York Observer, (11/20/2006)]

Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico: "I would also study Senator Biden's federation [proposal]. I think that may be ultimately the right solution." [Christian Science Monitor, (9/27/06)]

Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, National Security Advisor of Iraq: "I don't think Senator Biden has said that Iraq should be divided into three sections. What I think -- and I can't agree more with Senator Biden and his article, and I think he is a very well-informed person. What we are talking here -- and he's talking about Iraqi constitution. The constitution of Iraq has said very clearly that you can form provinces, regions, federal -- this is a democratic federal system, and any two or three or nine or 10 provinces can get together and form a region, and form a federal unit. And this is exactly what Joseph Biden is saying, or I believe when I read his article I think Biden's idea is a good idea, with some modification because it's very compatible with our permanent constitution, which was ratified on the 15th of October last year." [CNN Late Edition, (5/7/06)]

Congressman Chris Van Hollen: "Democrats have been making some of the most creative proposals. Senator Biden has a proposal for reconciliation in Iraq, but the stay the course rhetoric you hear from this administration clearly isn't getting us anywhere, things are getting worse not better. [T]he American people want a congress that's going to deal with this issue in reality not in the fantasy world." [MSNBC Live, (10/20/06)]

EDITORIAL PAGES AND COLUMNISTS ON THE BIDEN-GELB PLAN

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times columnist: "[T]he person I think who has been where I've been from the very beginning, seeing the potential, you know, that this could have for a positive outcome but really, really cautious and worried all the time, that if we weren't doing it right is, Joe Biden. I think Joe Biden has been on top of this from the very beginning. He was on top of the opportunity. He was on top of what stakes we needed or what we needed to do to get some chance of realizing that opportunity and he's been top of saying this isn't working. [CNN The Situation Room, 4/20/2007]

David Brooks, New York Times columnist: "Senator Biden is the one exception. What happened Friday was significant with this intelligence report. It drove a missile right into the Bush policy. Because what it said was these two people, Sunni and Shia, will never get back together. That destroys the Bush policy. It drove a missile to the Democratic policy because it says we can't get out. So what's the other option? To me it's the soft partition idea that Joe Biden, lone among the leading Democrats, has been in favor of" [ABC This Week, (2/4/07)]

"As Joe Biden points out, the Constitution already goes a long way toward decentralizing power. It gives the provinces the power to have their own security services, to send ambassadors to foreign countries, to join together to form regions. Decentralization is not an American imposition, it's an Iraqi idea. .In short, logic, circumstances and politics are leading inexorably toward soft partition. The Bush administration has been slow to recognize its virtues because it is too dependent on the Green Zone Iraqis. The Iraqis talk about national unity but their behavior suggests they want decentralization. Sooner or later, everybody will settle on this sensible policy, having exhausted all the alternatives." [New York Times, Parting Ways In Iraq, (1/28/07)]

"There is one option that does approach Iraqi reality from the bottom up. That option recognizes that Iraq is broken and that its people are fleeing their homes to survive. It calls for a ''soft partition'' of Iraq in order to bring political institutions into accord with the social facts -- a central government to handle oil revenues and manage the currency, etc., but a country divided into separate sectarian areas to reduce contact and conflict. When the various groups in Bosnia finally separated, it became possible to negotiate a cold (if miserable) peace. Soft partition has been advocated in different ways by Joe Biden and Les Gelb, by Michael O'Hanlon and Edward Joseph, by Pauline Baker at the Fund for Peace, and in a more extreme version, by Peter Galbraith." [New York Times, Breaking the Clinch (1/25/07)]

"The liberals who favor quick exit never grappled with the consequences of that policy, which the Baker-Hamilton commission terrifyingly described. The centrists who believe in gradual withdrawal never explained why that wouldn't be like pulling a tooth slowly. Joe Biden, who has the most intellectually serious framework for dealing with Iraq, was busy yesterday, at the crucial decision-making moment, conducting preliminary fact-finding hearings, complete with forays into Iraqi history." [New York Times, The Fog Over Iraq (1/11/07)]

Philadelphia Inquirer, Editorial Board: "One shining exception to 'slogans over substance' is U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D., Del.). Gutsily, he's put forth a plan for dividing Iraq into semi-autonomous Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni zones, with Baghdad as a federal city; a fair division of oil revenues; and U.S. troops nearby as a watchdog against neighbors' mischief. You can name a dozen ways Biden's approach could collapse. But at least he has put a reality-based proposal on the table. That's more than most of the people seeking your vote right now seem willing to do." [Philadelphia Inquirer, (10/1/06)]

David Broder, Washington Post columnist: "At a time when most people see nothing but hopeless discord in Iraq, it is healthy to have someone offering alternatives that could produce progress." [Washington Post, (5/4/06)]

Jackson Diehl, Washington Post columnist: "Instead, the time may finally be ripe for some of the ideas that have been doggedly pushed for most of this year by Democratic Sen. Joseph Biden, who has been one of his party's most serious and responsible voices on Iraq... It's easy to find holes in this strategy, as with any other plan for Iraq... But Biden's basic idea -- of an external political intervention backed by an international alliance -- is the one big option the Bush administration hasn't tried." [Washington Post, (10/2/06)]

David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist: "The Democrat who has tried hardest to think through these problems is Sen. Joseph Biden. He argues that the current government of national unity isn't succeeding in holding Iraq together, and that America should instead embrace a policy of 'federalism plus' that will devolve power to the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions. Iraqis are already voting for sectarian solutions, Biden argues, and America won't stabilize Iraq unless it aligns its policy with this reality. I disagree with some of the senator's conclusions, but he's asking the right question: How do we fix Iraq?" [Washington Post, 9/30/06)]

Bill O'Reilly, Fox News: "See, I favor Biden's -- Senator Biden's solution of the three regional areas. Because you've already got one, the Kurds in the north that's autonomous. If you could carve the two out, divide up the oil revenue, have a central government protected by the Americans to make sure that the Iranians don't come in, I think that might work." [The O'Reilly Factor, (9/29/06)]

Portland Press Herald (ME) editorial board: "Biden's scenario opens the door for Congress to conduct a needed discussion about options that fall between the status quo and immediate withdrawal." [The Portland Press Herald (ME), (5/9/06)]

Delaware News Journal editorial board: "Sen. Joseph Biden has done the country a service by forwarding a thoughtful, realistic plan for the future of Iraq." [Delaware News Journal, (5/3/06)]

The Barre Montpelier Times Argus (VT) editorial board: "Let's hope someone in the White House reads the Biden-Gelb essay and draws Bush's attention to a solution he can embrace." [The Barre Montpelier Times Argus (VT), (5/2/06)]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board: "Together with incentives (i.e., a share of oil revenue) to attract the Sunnis, a phased American troop withdrawal and a regional non-aggression pact (Iran and Syria, stay out), the Biden-Gelb plan offers at least a semblance of hope. You could even call it a turning point." [St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), (05/02/06)]

The Journal Standard (IL) editorial board: "Sen. Joe Biden [is] among the few Democrats offering something resembling a plan. On Sunday, he floated the idea of separating Iraq along sectarian lines into three largely autonomous states under the umbrella of a weak central government. That may or may not be the ideal policy. The point is we need to do something radically different. The alternative is a mission perpetually unfulfilled and ever more costly in American blood and treasure." [The Journal Standard (IL), (5/2/06)]

Marilou Johanek, Toledo Blade (OH) columnist: "Mr. Biden's plan may not be the way to stem the ethnic and religious violence among competing Iraqi powerbrokers, but at least it's an alternative to the administration's failed Plan A and deserves more study than speedy dismissal." [Toledo Blade (OH), (5/5/06)]

Joseph R. Biden, Press Release - Biden-Gelb Plan For Iraq One Year Later Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/316712

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