Biden Has His Own Plan for Iraq Troop Levels

The Bush Administration is discussing the idea of sending more troops to Iraq. But Joe Biden (D-DE), the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has told reporters that a surge in U.S. troops to Iraq is a foolhardy idea. He has another plan.

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President Bush meets tomorrow in Crawford, Texas, with his top advisers to consider changes in his Iraq policy. Administration officials say all options remain on the table, including a surge in troops. One plan the President is not likely to follow is the one put forward by Delaware Democratic Senator Joe Biden.

NPR's Guy Raz explains why.

GUY RAZ: A few hours after James Baker and Lee Hamilton ceremoniously unveiled the Iraq Study Group report, President Bush asked some key senators to meet with him at the White House. It was December 6 to be exact. And Democrat Joe Biden got an invite from the President.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): And when he turned to me, he asked my view, and I said, Mr. President, this is your war. Nobody, I know from experience, there's nothing the United States Congress can do by a piece of legislation to alter the conduct of a war that the President decides to pursue. So I said, Mr. President, all we can do is try to influence you.

RAZ: Now, in the game of Washington influence, timing is key. And Joe Biden couldn't have picked a better day than yesterday for a telephone news conference with reporters working the Christmas week shift. This is a week when news, any news at all, is a rare find.

And when you're Joe Biden, the incoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and soon-to-be presidential candidate, it's not such a bad political strategy to set down your marker - a marker that might establish Joe Biden as the anti-war candidate for 2008.

Sen. BIDEN: It is quite clear to me that a surging of up to 30,000 American troops will not have any positive effect except, extremely temporarily.

RAZ: In the next few weeks, Biden wants to sound out a lot people, experts, politicians, former generals, for more ideas on what to do in Iraq. He's going to hold three weeks of hearings on the subject, even though, he admits, the President may simply ignore those ideas.

Sen. BIDEN: I am not too optimistic he'll take it from hearings, but I suspect if we can, out of those hearings, generates some bi-partisan consensus in the Senate, then he may very well listen to some of my Republican colleagues.

RAZ: Biden is not only running for president, he's also thrown his hat into the what-to-do-next in Iraq ring, joining dozens of other wise men, politicians, think-tanks and officials.

Sen. BIDEN: I am not a lone voice in this regard, and I think a significant portion of my colleagues, Democrat or Republican, share my view.

RAZ: Biden's plan is straightforward. He says the U.S. should begin to remove most of its combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2007, while at the same time pushing for the establishment of a federal Iraq.

Now, under the Biden plan, Iraq would be divided into three autonomous regions, one, Sunni, one Shia, one, Kurdish with a strong central government in Baghdad.

Sen. BIDEN: The most rational way to proceed would be to accept what has already begun and promised by the Iraqi constitution, and passed by the Iraqi parliament and that is a rational proposal to move toward a federal system envisioned in their constitution.

RAZ: And the system he insists that might just work and might just provide an exit strategy that doesn't seem like surrender.

Guy Raz, NPR News, Washington.

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