While speaking in Des Moines, Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback outlined his idea of a diplomatic surge for Iraq that would try to bring national stability by creating a partition of the three major ethnic groups in Iraq, with Baghdad serving as the center for the federal government. He started off his speech by warning about the consequences of failure in Iraq, “Some people suggest that we withdraw our troops, but I would remind them of the consequences of failure. Iraq would become a safe haven for al Qaeda. It would become a failed state and risk a regional war. It would descend into genocidal chaos. Instability, terror and genocide are not acceptable for Iraq or the United States.”

He later called for a diplomatic solution in Iraq. “We need more than a military solution to succeed in Iraq. Iraq needs to stabilize for the long term. That means we need a diplomatic solution. The key is for the Sunnis, the Shi’a and the Kurds to reach some type of political equilibrium. That will allow the Iraqis to drive out the terrorists, build their country and survive in a very tough region of the world. And, of course, a diplomatic solution is the key to reducing threats to our forces, and bringing about stability that will allow us to bring our forces home. A couple weeks ago, the administration released a progress report that showed the difference between military and political progress. In a few cases, we made progress on the military and security front. We have made little or no progress on the political front. Iraq has not passed laws related to oil resources, de-Baathification, provincial elections and other key areas.”

Brownback next discussed what he viewed as the crucial issues for Iraq. “These are, of course, issues crucial to the future of Iraq. In that sense, it is no surprise that Iraq’s leaders are so deeply divided. As we have seen over the past year or two, those divisions will not just disappear. Every Iraqi politician knows what is at stake, and that makes compromise hard. Boycotts of parliament have become routine. When they make progress in one area, they lose progress in another. We need to recognize that the political environment is very difficult in Iraq and focus our diplomatic efforts on keeping everyone at the bargaining table until agreements are reached in key areas.”

He then talked about why federalism is a good idea for Iraq. “Federalism is a particularly good plan for Iraq. To understand why, we should look back at the very beginning of Iraq. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire created a power vacuum in the Middle East. When World War I ended, Allied powers, especially the British, decided to reorganize the region’s political geography. In Mesopotamia, the British combined big parts of three old Ottoman provinces to form what we now call Iraq. Those three Ottoman provinces were based on the same three ethno-sectarian groups we find in Iraq today: Kurds, Sunnis and Shi’a. In other words, these groups have always dominated certain areas. Such history strongly suggests Iraq would be well-served by a federal system. Three states within a single country, with Baghdad a united federal capital, provides a formula for enduring political stability in Iraq.”

“If we do not embrace the goal of federalism, we will end up being held hostage to the kind of endless debates between Iraqi political parties that have occurred over the last two years. And the longer Iraq goes without political equilibrium, the bigger the risk of a total breakdown. If Iraq implodes, we may see a genocide and a regional conflict. Ironically, an implosion would probably end up creating three states. We should push for federalism now instead of waiting for a genocide to create it for us,” Brownback said.

He then laid out the three steps that he thinks U.S. policy should be pursuing. “First, we should make the best of a difficult situation and work with, rather than against, population movements inside Iraq… Second, we should ensure that the Kurdish region remains stable and economically growing… Third, we need to do more to discourage foreign interference in Iraq. We must make it clear to Iran that we will not allow the mullahs to make part of Iraq their own…. We need to send similar messages to Syria and Saudi Arabia. Iraq is presently weak, but it is a sovereign country. Instability in Iraq is not good for Syrian or Saudi Arabian security. When they give tacit permission for terrorists to enter Iraq through their territory, they are playing with fire. Such actions add to the conflict in Iraq and can only adversely affect their relationships with the United States.”

Sen. Brownback concluded by saying, “Some believe we should simply withdraw our troops and close the book on Iraq, but I believe we can make another choice. We should implement a diplomatic surge that promotes a federal Iraq, where Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds manage their own affairs within a unified state. This political solution can bring equilibrium to Iraq and lead to the stability necessary to ensure that we do not have to return to Iraq. That’s the kind of ending we all want in Iraq. And if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s the only ending we can accept.”

I have never been completely sold on the federalism idea because it assumes that three sectarian groups are going to stay in their parts of Iraq and be happy. What we see playing out in Iraq are two sects fighting for control of the nation every day. The battle here isn’t over territory, but who holds the levers of federal power. The groups aren’t going to stop fighting just because we have geographically imposed boundaries. I agree with the idea of a diplomatic surge in Iraq, but I think the goal should be a unified system which all three parties agree to participate in. The question I have about the Brownback plan is who is going to run the federal government in Baghdad? If you can come up with a power sharing arrangement for Baghdad, then you should be able to apply that same agreement to the rest of the country and avoid partitioning all together.

Sen. Brownback gets credit from me for having a plan that isn’t the stay the course option that Giuliani, Romney, and McCain all support. In this speech, the Senator demonstrates a better grasp of the issues involved in Iraq than most of his fellow GOP candidates. He also is on the right path by suggesting that the answer in Iraq will be found through diplomatic not military means, but I think he needs to change the final objective of his plan. In my opinion, his plan might delay the escalation of civil war and genocide, but not prevent it. Lastly, this speech illustrates, once again, that the dispute between Republicans and Democrats is quickly become about how and when U.S. troops should leave, not if they should.

Full text of Brownback speech 

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics 

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse

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