Remarks at the Financial Times/SAIS Forum on Iraq in Washington, DC
I want to thank the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and the Financial Times for bringing us here tonight.
Iraq dominates our national debate.
I believe it deserves at least one debate of its own among those running for President.
So I was very pleased when the FT and SAIS invited us to a debate exclusively on Iraq.
Im disappointed that most of my colleagues declined to join me, especially before such an informed audience. But maybe together, even without the others, we can advance the national debate on Iraq.
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Every Democrat running for President agrees: the war in Iraq must end.
But it matters profoundly how we end it. It matters to our soldiers. It matters to Iraqis. And it matters to Americas future security.
I have a comprehensive strategy to end the war responsibly. It has three parts: (i) a roadmap to bring most of our troops home next year; (ii) a detailed plan for what we leave behind; and (iii) a commitment that, so long as a single American soldier remains in Iraq, we will do everything in our power to protect him.
Each piece is critical. It is not enough to do one without the others. Let me talk about each part of my comprehensive approach.
I. Bring the Troops Home
First, instead of escalating the war with no end in sight, we have to start to bring our troops home now, and withdraw most of them next year.
The best way to do that is to repeal the 2002 authorization to use force in Iraq. We gave the president that power to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and, if necessary, to end Saddam Hussein's regime.
The WMD were not there and Saddam is no longer there. The 2002 authorization is totally irrelevant to the reality of Iraq.
In its place, we should dramatically limit the mission of our troops in Iraq to get them out of the middle of a sectarian civil war and to focus them on the much narrower, achievable and necessary mission of denying Al Qaeda territory, training Iraqis and protecting themselves.
If we limit the mission in that way, there will be no need to keep anywhere near 150,000 Americans in Iraq especially at a time when our military is dangerously over-stretched, threatening the readiness, retention and recruitment of our armed forces and their ability to deal with other hot spots.
Two weeks ago, I introduced a law to repeal the 2002 use of force authorization, to transition the mission of our troops and to bring most of our forces home next year. I will push relentlessly until Republicans stop supporting the President and start backing a responsible path out of Iraq.
That's how we will end this war.
II. A Plan for What We Leave Behind
Getting our troops out of Iraq is necessary but it is not enough.
We also need a plan for what we leave behind, so that we don't trade a dictator for chaos in Iraq and the Middle East. If that happens, we may get our children out but their children will have to go back in.
Every Democrat agrees that there is no purely military solution for Iraq. We need a political settlement that brings stability to Iraq.
Despite that broad agreement, only two people have offered a detailed plan to produce such a settlement. Im one of them. The other is Les Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations. Together, a year ago, we proposed a detailed plan for a political settlement in Iraq. Go to planforiraq.com. to read its details.
The fundamental problem in Iraq is self-sustaining sectarian violence. Sunnis killing Shiites, and Shiites killing Sunnis is the heart of the matter.
History suggests that there are four ways to stop a sectarian cycle of revenge.
First, a bloodletting that leaves one side victorious or both sides exhausted. In the case of Iraq, that could take years years we do not have and should not accept.
Second, an open-ended foreign occupation that America cannot sustain.
Third, the return of a strongman, who is not on the horizon. Even if he were, it would be a tragic irony to replace one dictator with another.
Or fourth, a political agreement to form a decentralized, federal system of government that separates the warring factions and gives them breathing room in their own regions.
A decade ago, I was deeply involved in trying to shape our policy toward Bosnia. That country was being torn apart by ethnic cleansing, which threatened to engulf the Balkans. The U.S. stepped in with the Dayton Accords. They kept the country whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations. Muslims, Croats and Serbs retained separate armies and presidents. Since then, Bosnians have lived a decade in peace. Now, they are slowly coming back together.
Iraq presents a similar possibility... and the only opportunity we have left.
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Our plan has five major pieces.
First, maintain a unified Iraq by decentralizing it as the Iraqi constitution provides -- and bringing decisions down to the local level. Give Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds control over the fabric of their daily lives: security, education, marriage, jobs. Limit the central government to common concerns, like guarding Iraq's borders and distributing its oil revenues.
Second, secure support from the Sunnis who have no oil by guaranteeing them a fair share of oil revenues.
Third, increase, don't end, economic assistance to Iraq and its regions. Insist that oil-rich Gulf states put up most of the money ... tie it to the protection of minority rights... and create a major jobs program to deny the militia new recruits.
Fourth, initiate a major diplomatic offensive to enlist the support of the worlds major powers and Iraq's neighbors for a political settlement. Create an oversight group at the U.N. to enforce the neighbors commitments. These countries have a profound stake in preventing chaos in Iraq -- and the credibility we lack to press for compromise by all Iraqis.
Fifth, instruct the U.S. military to draw up plans for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq by 2008. Leave behind a small force to take on terrorists and train Iraqis.
If we fail to make federalism work, there will be no political accommodation at the center. Violent resistance will increase. The sectarian cycle of revenge will spiral out of control.
The result will be at best the violent break up of Iraq into multiple states at worst the total fragmentation of the country.
The neighbors will not sit on the sidelines. Already, Iraq has aggravated a deep Sunni-Shiite divide that runs from Lebanon through the Gulf States and into south Asia. This fault-line intersects with other cultural and political rifts between Arabs and Persians ...Turks and Kurds ... jihadis and moderates to create the conditions for an explosion. That would do terrible damage to American interests.
Federalism is our best hope for stability in Iraq and the region. It offers the possibility not the guarantee of producing a soft landing.
Senators Sam Brownback, Barbara Boxer, Bill Nelson, Gordon Smith and I will introduce a bi-partisan bill to make it U.S. policy to actively support a political settlement in Iraq based on a federal system.
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The Bush administration has another vision for Iraq. But the entire premise of its policy is fundamentally and fatally flawed.
It believes Iraqis will rally behind a strong central government that keeps the country together and protects the rights of all citizens equally.
But there is no trust within the central government... no trust of the government by the people... and no capacity by the government to deliver services and security. And there is no evidence none that we can build that trust and capacity any time soon.
Unfortunately, even some of my Democratic colleagues share this same flawed premise, though it leads them to a very different prescription.
Whereas the President is escalating the war to give the central government a chance to succeed, some of my colleagues believe that the mere fact of pulling our troops out will force the central government to act responsibly.
They, too, buy into the fallacy that Iraq can be run from the center and that it will be as soon as we take the training wheels off.
They, too, are wrong.
Escalating the war -- or ending it without a clear plan for what we leave behind is not the way to protect Americas interests.
III. Protect Every Soldier
I'll conclude with the third piece of my comprehensive strategy to end the war in Iraq.
It is this: so long as we have a single soldier left in Iraq, it is our most sacred responsibility to give him the best protection this country can provide.
That's why I voted for the emergency Supplemental bill two weeks ago.
Without the money it provides, we wont be able to build and send to Iraq things like Mine Resistant vehicles that I have been fighting to fund.
Roadside bombs are responsible for 70 percent of American casualties and deaths in Iraq. These mine resistant vehicles offer 4 to 5 times the protection of a Humvee they can cut casualties and deaths by seventy percent.
I fought to front load money in the emergency spending bill for these vehicles. I convinced my colleagues to back me. As a result, we will get 2,500 more of these vehicles to Iraq by the end of the year than we otherwise would have.
To delay building them by weeks or months to make a political point that would not have ended the war would have been unconscionable.
The President may be prepared to play a game of political chicken with the safety of our soldiers.
I am not and I will not.
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Let me conclude where I started. The war in Iraq must end. But it matters profoundly how we end it.
I'm proposing a comprehensive strategy to bring our troops home, to leave behind a stable Iraq and to protect our men and women in uniform so long as a single one of them remains in Iraq.
This is the strategy I would implement as President.
But by the time I become President, it will almost certainly be too late. We need to move on this strategy now. If we don't, then our only option will be to disengage completely and try to contain the fall out within Iraq.
But let me leave that strategy for another day and turn to your questions and comments. Thanks for listening.
Note: As prepared for delivery.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at the Financial Times/SAIS Forum on Iraq in Washington, DC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/316426