By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007 3:38 PM
Showing rare bipartisan consensus over war policy, the Senate overwhelmingly endorsed a political settlement for Iraq that would divide the country into three semi-autonomous regions.
The plan, conceived by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), was approved 75-23 as a non-binding resolution, with 26 Republican votes. It would not force President Bush to take any action, but it represents a significant milestone in the Iraq debate, carving out common ground in a debate that has grown increasingly polarized and focused on military strategy.
The Biden plan envisions a federal government system for Iraq, consisting of separate regions for Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish populations. The structure is spelled out in Iraq's constitution, but Biden would initiate local and regional diplomatic efforts to hasten its evolution.
"This has genuine bipartisan support,and I think that's a very hopeful sign," Biden said.
One key Republican supporter was Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who under strong White House pressure last week abruptly withdrew his support for a proposal to extend home leaves for U.S. troops. Numerous Republicans considered supporting the extension, but they backed off when Warner reversed his stance. The veteran GOP lawmaker called the vote on the Biden plan "the high-water mark" for bipartisan efforts on Iraq this year.
Warner said the vote represented a de facto acknowledgement of the now widely held view that Iraq's long-term problems cannot be solved militarily. "This amendment builds on that foundation," said Warner. "This amendment brings into sharp focus the need for diplomacy."
The resolution collected an unusually diverse group of co-sponsors who disagree sharply on other aspects of the war, in particular how long U.S. combat troops should remain. The list ranges from conservative Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a GOP presidential contender, to liberal Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.).
"We can't walk away from Iraq," said Hutchison. "That would make all the sacrifices that have been made irrelevant. But we do have a potential solution that can save American lives in the future."
Boxer said: "I see here a light at the end of a very, very dark tunnel. A darkness that is impacting our nation. It's impacting the Senate. In a way, we are paralyzed."
The vote also was a political boon for Biden, one of the Democrats' most respected foreign policy voices, yet a long-shot for his party's 2008 presidential nomination. The floor debate, which started last week, provided the struggling candidate with a moment in the spotlight -- and Biden made the most of it. He spent hours on the Senate floor, held two news conferences, and placed an op-ed Monday in the State, a newspaper in Columbia, S.C., an early 2008 primary state.
Two of Biden's competitors, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), voted with him. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) missed the vote, as did Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a GOP presidential candidate and a leading war supporter.
Biden has made his Iraq plan the centerpiece of his 2008 candidacy, and he will likely herald his Senate success in a Democratic debate tonight in New Hampshire.