But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. But by perpetuating the US presence in Iraq, the long-term settlement would undercut pledges by the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, to withdraw US troops if he is elected president in November.
The timing of the agreement would also boost the Republican candidate, John McCain, who has claimed the United States is on the verge of victory in Iraq – a victory that he says Mr Obama would throw away by a premature military withdrawal.
America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military "surge" began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government. (my emphasis)
In Constitutional terms, no Executive agreement can bind the United States to keep troops in Iraq. A treaty could, but even with a Democratic caucus that's far more timid on such matters than it should be, Cheney and Bush are not getting such a treaty ratified before the November election. Normally, treaties also include exit provisions.
But it would complicate matters. Unless Obama were to just embrace the agreement and say, yeah, this means everything's ducky in Iraq now - which he won't do - it's hard for me to imagine that it will much improve the public's view of the Iraq War. People can only take so many turning points and tipping points and the-next-six-months-are-critical periods and endless reports of endless victory before they just stop believing them. Even with a broken media, military propaganda isn't all-powerful, though our infallible generals seem to think so.
Military analyst William Arkin warned about the defense establishment's maneuvering to restrict the new President's options in Tying Obama's Hands?, Early Warning blog 05/20/08:
So when the national security professionals increasingly speak of ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggesting that the new president - read Barack Obama particularly - be careful not to make precipitous announcements or decisions that might threaten the troops in the field or increase American dangers at home, what are they really saying?
The argument goes like this: An announcement of withdrawal from Iraq or negotiations with Iran or any kind of olive branch fluttering in an inaugural could lead to danger for the troops, "miscalculation" on the part of our enemies, or might embolden terrorists: In short, unless the new president adheres to the national security professional's guidance regarding continuity, he could be endangering America.
McCain would presumably set up an argument like that around the new long-term security agreement Cheney and Bush are trying to put into place. The argument would be that we have made a formal long-term defense agreement with Iraq and our "credibility" would be undermined if we don't keep the war going forever.
There is substantial opposition to such an agreement in Iraq. On the Iraqi side, the agreement could very possibly lead to immediate problems for the Maliki government and increase the level of violence. Cockburn reports:
Mr Bush is determined to force the Iraqi government to sign the so-called "strategic alliance" without modifications, by the end of next month. But it is already being condemned by the Iranians and many Arabs as a continuing American attempt to dominate the region. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful and usually moderate Iranian leader, said yesterday that such a deal would create "a permanent occupation". He added: "The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves of the Americans."
Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing. ...
Although Iraqi ministers have said they will reject any agreement limiting Iraqi sovereignty, political observers in Baghdad suspect they will sign in the end and simply want to establish their credentials as defenders of Iraqi independence by a show of defiance now. The one Iraqi with the authority to stop deal is the majority Shia spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In 2003, he forced the US to agree to a referendum on the new Iraqi constitution and the election of a parliament. But he is said to believe that loss of US support would drastically weaken the Iraqi Shia, who won a majority in parliament in elections in 2005.
... The influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has called on his followers to demonstrate every Friday against the impending agreement on the grounds that it compromises Iraqi independence.
The Iraqi government wants to delay the actual signing of the agreement but the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney has been trying to force it through. (my emphasis)
The Independent is also running a column by Ali Allawi, who has served in the post-Saddam Iraqi government as minister of defense, finance and trade, (not to be confused with long-time CIA asset Iyad Allawi), This raises huge questions over our independence 06/05/08. He writes:
The Bush administration has set 31 July as the deadline for the signing of the agreement. Under the present plan, the draft of the agreement will have to be brought to Iraq's parliament for approval. Parliament, however, is beholden to the political parties that dominate the present coalition, and there is unlikely to be substantive debate on the matter. The Shia religious leadership in Najaf, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani, has not clearly come out against the agreement, although his spokesmen have set out markers that must be respected by the negotiators. The Najaf religious hierarchy is probably the only remaining institution that can block the agreement. But it is unclear whether the political or religious leadership are prepared to confront the US. President Bush, with an eye on history, is seeking to salvage his Iraq expedition by claiming that Iraq is now pacified and is a loyal American ally in the Middle East and the War on Terror.
Cheney and Bush also have the current year's election very much in mind. The danger of having an honest Attorney General take office in 2009 is in itself enough to make them want to help McCain get elected.
In his prepared remarks for his AIPAC appearance Monday, McCain framed our continuing brilliant victories in the Iraq War as follows (Remarks By John McCain at AIPAC 06/02/08) McCain campaign Web site):
Another matter of great importance to the security of both America and Israel is Iraq. You would never know from listening to those who are still caught up in angry arguments over yesterday's options, but our troops in Iraq have made hard-won progress under General Petraeus' new strategy. And Iraqi political leaders have moved ahead – slowly and insufficiently, but forward nonetheless. Sectarian violence declined dramatically, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in the fight against al Qaeda, and Shia extremist militias no longer control Basra – the Maliki government and its forces are in charge. Al Qaeda terrorists are on the run, and our troops are going to make sure they never come back.
It's worth recalling that America's progress in Iraq is the direct result of the new strategy that Senator Obama opposed. It was the strategy he predicted would fail, when he voted cut off funds for our forces in Iraq. He now says he intends to withdraw combat troops from Iraq – one to two brigades per month until they are all removed. He will do so regardless of the conditions in Iraq, regardless of the consequences for our national security, regardless of Israel's security, and in disregard of the best advice of our commanders on the ground.
This course would surely result in a catastrophe. If our troops are ordered to make a forced retreat, we risk all-out civil war, genocide, and a failed state in the heart of the Middle East. Al Qaeda terrorists would rejoice in the defeat of the United States. Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq's neighbors, including an emboldened Iran. We must not let this happen. We must not leave the region to suffer chaos, terrorist violence and a wider war. (my emphasis)
In his speech in Kenner LA Tuesday night, widely panned for its stiff style, he said (A Leader We Can Believe In prepared remarks, McCain campaign Web site 06/03/08):
I disagreed strongly with the Bush administration's mismanagement of the war in Iraq. I called for the change in strategy that is now, at last, succeeding where the previous strategy had failed miserably. I was criticized for doing so by Republicans. I was criticized by Democrats. I was criticized by the press. But I don't answer to them. I answer to you. And I would be ashamed to admit I knew what had to be done in Iraq to spare us from a defeat that would endanger us for years, but I kept quiet because it was too politically hard for me to do. No ambition is more important to me than the security of the country I have defended all my adult life.
Senator Obama opposed the new strategy, and, after promising not to, voted to deny funds to the soldiers who have done a brilliant and brave job of carrying it out. Yet in the last year we have seen the success of that plan as violence has fallen to a four year low; Sunni insurgents have joined us in the fight against al Qaeda; the Iraqi Army has taken the lead in places once lost to Sunni and Shia extremists; and the Iraqi Government has begun to make progress toward political reconciliation.
None of this progress would have happened had we not changed course over a year ago. And all of this progress would be lost if Senator Obama had his way and began to withdraw our forces from Iraq without concern for conditions on the ground and the advice of commanders in the field. Americans ought to be concerned about the judgment of a presidential candidate who says he's ready to talk, in person and without conditions, with tyrants from Havana to Pyongyang, but hasn't traveled to Iraq to meet with General Petraeus, and see for himself the progress he threatens to reverse.
I know Americans are tired of this war. I don't oppose a reckless withdrawal from Iraq because I'm indifferent to the suffering war inflicts on too many American families. I hate war. And I know very personally how terrible its costs are. But I know, too, that the course Senator Obama advocates could draw us into a wider war with even greater sacrifices; put peace further out of reach, and Americans back in harm's way. (my emphasis)
It's going to be critical for Obama to stay on the offense about the Iraq War and not let the McCain campaign fudge his all-out support for endless war by jive-talk like, "I disagreed strongly with the Bush administration's mismanagement of the war in Iraq."