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October 29, 2008

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Declare victory and go home.
Declare victory and go home.
Declare victory and go home.
Declare victory and go home.

Bush and Gates may be able to do harm, but no SOFA that is negotiated by them is going to be agreed to by the Senate. Maliki's best choice is to redefine Dec. 31 as Jan. 21 in whatever way he wants to while negotiating for a resolution with the incoming president.

Gates is making no effort to comply with the Dec. 31 deadline. I'm not sure he could if he wanted to at this late date without leaving $ billions in materiel scattered throughout Iraq.

Declare victory and go home.

Schadenfreude with honor.

"What? Two months? Wait. That's a lot less than 100 years. That won't do at all."

--John S. McCain

If push comes to shove, does a renewal of the UN mandate trump Iraqi sovriegnty, especially if the Iraqis fight it. Wouldn't that put us in the position of fighting the Iraqi government (and army?) in order to enforce the UN decision?

um... sovereignty. yikes.

A couple of questions. (1) Is it likely the UN will agree to an extension of their mandate? At least in its current form? I assume they (via the Security Council?) have some input to the matter. (2) The recent Syrian incursion - any number of explanations of the timing of that action could tie it to the SOFA. Depending on the conspiracy of the day, it could be part of an effort to either encourage or discourage or something in between the negotiations. Your thoughts?

Can we get a quick rundown of the UN mandate, and what it implies if it does or does not exist, and the SOFA, and what it implies if it does or does not exist?

Like, what happens if we're in Iraq with both? What if we have SOFA but no UN mandate? What if we have a UN mandate but no SOFA? What if we have neither?

And could that include not only what legal rights or consequences would follow, but also what would actually follow in terms of real world politics?

If push comes to shove, does a renewal of the UN mandate trump Iraqi sovriegnty, especially if the Iraqis fight it. Wouldn't that put us in the position of fighting the Iraqi government (and army?) in order to enforce the UN decision?

Technically, yes. Just ask Saddam (at least, spider hole Saddam - and alternative world Saddam where the US got UN approval pre-invasion).

But there is no way that the UN renews that mandate without the Iraqi government's approval. Not a chance.

Can we get a quick rundown of the UN mandate, and what it implies if it does or does not exist, and the SOFA, and what it implies if it does or does not exist? Like, what happens if we're in Iraq with both?

If we're in Iraq with both, presumably the main parties (the MNF* and GOI**) would have signed off on the SOFA and, as such, it would de facto trump the UN mandate (admittedly, the US could violate the SOFA and fall back on the UN mandate that technically is still operative, I suppose, but that would be beyond dodgy).

What if we have a UN mandate but no SOFA?

That's what we have now. It suits us just find, as we can do whatever we want, basically. Problem: It expires January 1, 2009, and the Iraqis want something more restrictive - as in their most recent version of the SOFA.

What if we have SOFA but no UN mandate?

That's what we're trying to achieve now. The hard part is agreeing on the terms of that SOFA.

What if we have neither?

Then there will be no legal basis for our continued presence in Iraq, and we would be at the whim of the GOI's decisions (our troops could be arrested, detained, or forces attacked by GOI forces, etc.).

Just imagine how we would react if a battalion of Iraqi forces were in the US without a formal agreement setting forth the rules governing their permitted actions.

In real world politics: that depends. In essence, our presence would be a direct and open challenge to the sovereignty of the GOI. It would be up to the GOI to confront that challenge in whatever manner they saw fit. I can't imagine the rest of the world cutting us slack.

US military brass have said that our only recourse would be to pull back all troops to bases and begin evacuation. That would be the only prudent recourse at least.

*Multi-National Forces
**Government of Iraq

(1) Is it likely the UN will agree to an extension of their mandate? At least in its current form? I assume they (via the Security Council?) have some input to the matter.

There would be little time to re-work the terms of the mandate, so it would most likely be a case of extending it as a stopgap measure, or not. If the US and GOI request an extension, it is likely the Security Council will grant it.

The only problematic votes would be China's and Russia's, but as I said in a prior post, why would either of them want to prevent us from continuing to hemmorhage resources and prestige in Iraq? Nah. They'll say, "Go right ahead" - or demand a pound of flesh quid pro quo that wouldn't be prohibitively costly to us.


(2) The recent Syrian incursion - any number of explanations of the timing of that action could tie it to the SOFA. Depending on the conspiracy of the day, it could be part of an effort to either encourage or discourage or something in between the negotiations. Your thoughts?

I don't think it was meant as either, but that it has had the unintended consequence of complicating the negotiations. One of the amendments added in the most recent draft directly addresses, without ambiguity, the ability of the US to use Iraq as a base to attack other countries. To the extent that Iran has influence over Iraqi politicians, it no doubt will push hard for such express provisions.

US military brass have said that our only recourse would be to pull back all troops to bases and begin evacuation.

Sounds good, let's do it. I'll even authorize several shots from the ion cannon to make sure that any enemy ships will be out of their flight path.

Like Hoth, only sandier.

I've fought this fight all spring and summer, and I'm formally giving it up right here. I am really, really frustrated and somewhat pissed off that progressive bloggers like Eric and Matt Duss and others have ceded the terms of debate to the administration by joining the Bush-Cheney regime in calling this agreement a Status of Forces Agreement (basing agreements that can be negotiated between the executive branches of two governments) and not what it is, a treaty (which requires Senate ratification).

The distinction is real, not semantic. SOFAs do not require Senate ratification because they are simply elaborations of the legal status of bases and troops, technical implementations of larger defense and security agreements -- treaties between other countries and the U.S.

The agreement sought by the U.S. is not the technical implementation of a defense and security treaty between a sovereign government and ours (which would require ratification by the U.S. Senate to take effect). It covers and contemplates U.S. military operations against Iraqi citizens, and is being negotiated while the U.S. military occupies the (supposedly sovereign) country and even launches an attack on a neighboring country.

Is it because the term 'SOFA' is just too cute to resist for post titles? Is it just exhaustion from fighting the administration language? Or is it genuine acceptance of the premise that this agreement is in any way comparable to the Status of Forces Agreements the U.S. has with 60 or 70 other countries?

Nell,

Opening line of this post:

"In yesterday's post on the ongoing SOFA/strategic framework saga"

There are two tracks going on right now. There is discussion of a pure SOFA agreement, and that is subsumed in discussions of the Strategic Framework agreement.

All that our forces need to be in the country is a SOFA. Long term basing would go in a Strategic Framework Agreement to be ratified by the Senate, but long term basing is so far off the table that it isn't really an issue in current negotiations.

Nevertheless, sometimes the shorthand gets conflated and misattributed. I regret this, but don't think it has the impact you fear it might.

Even if we call it a SOFA, and it has terms that require Senate approval, it will still have terms that require Senate approval. And the Senate will act, or not, depending on its institutional will to assert its prerogatives.

What happens on January 1 if no agreement is in place and the UN mandate isn't extended? I'm specifically wondering whether the US can wait until January 1 to respond to the lack of an agreement, or if, in order to protect our forces, we need to begin withdrawing forces, etc., some time before the deadline?

"What happens on January 1 if no agreement is in place and the UN mandate isn't extended?"

I'd wager not much. Substantively, what will have changed?

"What happens on January 1 if no agreement is in place and the UN mandate isn't extended?"

I'd wager not much. Substantively, what will have changed?

Substantively, we would have no legal authorization to be there and we would be under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi government and law enforcement. Our soldiers could, rightfully, be arrested and tried in Iraqi courts and US commanders will not countenance that dynamic.

I'm specifically wondering whether the US can wait until January 1 to respond to the lack of an agreement, or if, in order to protect our forces, we need to begin withdrawing forces, etc., some time before the deadline?

I think they can wait under the expectation that something will get done. Withdrawal is too complicated to start now anyway, so they might as well wait to see how it goes down.

Fair enough, Eric, and a clarification that might be worthwhile adding to the post.

@Potted Plant: Responding to the lack of legal cover for our military presence in Iraq would certainly need to begin before January 1, but is unlikely to begin before the last possible minute because the U.S. military and political leaders are playing a game of chicken here. The UN option is as yet unexplored, e.g.

In no case will anything change substantially until after the Nov. 4 election, when the Iraqis will know for sure who they'll be dealing with from here on out.

Not strictly on-topic, but it would be an awful idea to retain Bob Gates as Defense Secretary. It's not as if he'll be unavailable as a sounding board; he's a member in good standing of the permanent government. What in hell would be the point of casting the Republican defense policy in cement in that way?

Agreed.

Gates has been a very good Sec Def by Bush administration standards, and has been generally competent by any standards. But still, Obama can find someone equally competent who ALSO shares Obama's foreign policy outlook.

Substantively, we would have no legal authorization to be there and we would be under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi government and law enforcement. Our soldiers could, rightfully, be arrested and tried in Iraqi courts and US commanders will not countenance that dynamic.

They didn't seem to have a problem with it in March 2003.

They didn't seem to have a problem with it in March 2003

Define "problem."

I mean, we had the "problem" of fighting the Iraqi army and security forces. While that problem was an accepted cost of doing business at the time, that would be a most nettlesome problem to face at this juncture.

In 2003, the Bush Administration could plausibly make the argument that the Iraqi security forces represented only Saddam Hussein and not the people of Iraq. After two sets of elections (purple fingers and all that) you can't make that argument any more.

It would be ridiculous beyond words if this stupid war ends in an armed confrontation between US troops and the Iraqi government we installed.

It would be ridiculous beyond words if this stupid war ends in an armed confrontation between US troops and the Iraqi government we installed.

But so typical of this Administration...

Define "problem."

Well, it seems to me that US commanders will countenance whatever they're told to countenance. So, the lack of legal authorization means sh1t.

I dunno Ugh. I don't think that necessarily adds up.

Commanders will do what they're told, though some might revolt in the limited ways they have at their disposal.

Regardless, even if they do as told, open antagonism from Iraq's government - or even a resumption of hostilities from paramilitary groups such as the Sadrists with Badr support - would send our casualty rates sharply upward.

This would force our hand, and it would, indeed, mean sh!t.

Eric - thanks for the response. I'm angry and not thinking clearly right now, but I guess I was ticked off by your use of "legal authorization" in the comment at 3:42 above. It just seemed to me that what the law said was/is/will not [be] much of a limiting factor, sadly.

Cynic's 2 cent: Stoking the fire in Iraq may be the very intention. If casualties go up in January (i.e. after the election), that'll be spun as the terrorists/insurgents/brown people on the oil lake believing that they can get uppity under the new guy. To blame the financial crisis on the economistas fearing an Obama victory may have failed, but the "Dem weaklings embolden our enemies" may not.

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