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June 05, 2008

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Is there some (non-US-political) reason this has to be done right now? Is something (non-US-political) expiring?

Ugh, I have no idea why the administration's deadline is the end of July, but the UN figleaf for the occupation expires at the end of 2008.

A semi-legitimate need for something to create a "legal" bridge (our whole presence there being illegal and illegitimate to me) would seem to call for an agreement that would last at most four or five months into the new administration.

But this goes way beyond that, in both the scope of what Iraqis are supposed to agree to, and in time.

Not permanent. Just long lasting. Say fifty years.

Maybe a hundred.

I have long suspected that one of the Bush Administration's motive for going to war in Iraq was the establishment of military bases there so as to permit the closure of American bases in Saudi Arabia. What amazes me is that George W. Doofus has caught very little political flack for acceding to Osama bin Laden's principal demand.

Not forever. Just as long as it takes for all the well-maintained concrete we've poured to wear out.

What amazes me is that George W. Doofus has caught very little political flack for acceding to Osama bin Laden's principal demand.

That one's a stumper alright.

Ugh: The UN mandate (which authorizes the Multi-National Force and which has been extended several times already) expires at the end of 2008. Maliki has asked that it not be extended again.

The problem with Crocker's emphatic assurances is that it remains unclear whether there is a mechanism in the draft agreements that limits the duration of the US presence.

The analog to the MBA cliche 'nothing succeeds like success' is 'nothing succeeds like lying'. Flat out lying is danmed effective. It's googlifying.

What amazes me is that George W. Doofus has caught very little political flack for acceding to Osama bin Laden's principal demand.

You know, there's a reason these scoundrels in the WH/Congress played the patriotism card so readily, and so crudely. Not everyone enabling this mess is an actual sociopath, so there has to be some sort of rhetorical compensation for what is patently a world-historical blunder. I mean, who exactly is the fuck up here? Who is failing? who's the 'traitor'? Bin Laden made George Bush. Absent 9/11, it's pretty likely W would be a marginal one-termer. I think he knows that, 'cause he's a marketing guy. When they zig, you zag! If they think you're going to do one thing, do the opposite! Zip zam! Wear nice suits!

John in Nashville asks a very good question. Why is it not a big deal that George Bush enables bin Laden, does everything OBL could hope he would do? Does it matter if W is sincere in his beliefs? What does 'sincere' mean in this context?

Hey, Eric, a blast from the past you've probably already seen (Michael Ledeen division).

Sure Eric, but the 'semantic two step' about that word carries all the political heft, and the ancillary questions are just that...ancillary.

Nell/Model 62 - Thanks. Can Russia/China veto any extension?

Thanks Tom. Hadn't seen this latest iteration - but, yeah, these allegations have been swirling for a while.

Ugh: It's a Security Council decision, so one would assume Russia or China or any other SC veto-rights holding UNSC member could veto the extension.

But why would they?

How is it that Ambassador Crocker can so "comfortably" say that we plan no permanent U.S. bases in Iraq? You probably thought all the nudging and winking was focused on that word permanent. No, according to today's Patrick Cockburn story, it's the U.S. part that they're crossing their fingers about:

American negotiators argue that so long as there is an Iraqi perimeter fence, even if it is manned by only one Iraqi soldier, around a US installation, then Iraq and not the US is in charge.

"I have long suspected that one of the Bush Administration's motive for going to war in Iraq was the establishment of military bases there so as to permit the closure of American bases in Saudi Arabia."

Many have also long suspected that water is wet; film at 11.

Look back. If you pay attention, you might notice. Goodbye, Prince Sultan.

The most likely answer to the question of "why right now" for the Bush administration is what it so often is: politics. An agreement with the Maliki government can be hailed as the Victory the Republicans have been promising; and John McCain will just bring you a hundred more years of that Victory.

It would, in one sense, be the first truth to the 'mission accomplished' boast, since bases (in proper Bush/Cheney-speak: enduring bases) were the fundamental objective of the invasion and occupation, to replace the ones we quietly closed in Saudi Arabia in May 2003.

And how did we get that base in Arabia to begin with? By showing the Saudi royals faked satellite pictures supposedly of Iraqi troops massed on their border in December 1990, on the eve of the Gulf War, and thereby getting agreement for U.S. forces to enter. The Gulf War followed (with no sign of Iraqi troops near Saudi territory), and -- surprise! -- the U.S. troops never left. We built bases.

Bin Laden seethed.

More cost-benefit analysis for those of you inclined to that line of argument.

Gary, your links would be better received without such large dollops of insulting condescension.

"Nell/Model 62 - Thanks. Can Russia/China veto any extension?"

It's not a relevant question, since there can't be an extension other than at the request of the Iraqi government and: "But Iraq's government has requested that the United Nations not renew the mandate again, forcing negotiations on a detailed legal framework for the U.S. presence in the country."

But if that changed, as I understand it (I could be wrong), the previous SC resolution remained in force, so there was no further veto possible; if, however, it was deemed necessary to get a new Security Council Resolution for some reason, then obviously any of the veto powers could veto. But that seems more or less close to impossible in likelihood of happening, so I wouldn't bother considering the possibility further. There political viability of trying to argue for a new mandate from the SC just wouldn't be there, even if somehow it was deemed necessary, and somehow the Iraqi government reversed itself. None of these things will happen.

Model 62: But why would they?

Yeah, it occurred to me after I asked that they might like to have the U.S. continue to grind itself to dust in Iraq for the foreseeable future.

China likely less so given their holdings of U.S. treasuries, but I wonder if their waiting for the day when they can afford to just dump them en masse in the credit markets and plunge the U.S. even further into recession.

It cost me $72 today for 17 gallons of case.

"insulting condescension."

Food for thought. You're welcome.

Morning post, by the way.

And speaking of energy needs. Anyone got $45 trillion in loose change?

case => gas.

Morning post, by the way.

That was a great post Gary, I would have said so over there but couldn't find my log-in (or maybe I don't have one).

Not helping the US get free of its tar baby may be one motivation for allowing the mandate to continue, but I think the key reason is that UNSC members understand that someone needs to provide security in Iraq.

UNSC members understand that someone needs to provide security in Iraq.

So let's say that the Maliki government holds out and doesn't reach an agreement by the end of July, or by November 4, for that matter. President-elect Obama could communicate that if Maliki's government wanted to apply for a very limited extension of the mandate, that the U.S. government would ditch the Bush plan and push forward with a timed withdrawal (as promised to the U.S. voters).

Depending on what happens in the provincial elections in Iraq, if they happen, that might put Maliki and Hakim in the position of having to pretend they support U.S. withdrawal... (in that the main security being provided by U.S. forces is the continuation in power of the parties currently ruling).

"President-elect Obama could communicate that if Maliki's government wanted to apply for a very limited extension of the mandate, that the U.S. government would ditch the Bush plan and push forward with a timed withdrawal (as promised to the U.S. voters)."

This is a very problematic idea.

Regardless of the politics of the day, and who is president, there's only one President of the United States at a time. Whatever we think of him or her, someone has to be in charge.

To set a precedent (or, if you prefer, to go along with the precedent of Nixon's sending messages to the Vietnamese in 1968, or the allegations that the income Reagan administration communicated with the Iranian government in 1980) of the president-elect actively negotiating with a foreign government in any way, prior to taking office, is a very dangerous precedent to legitimize.

If President Obama loses in 2012 or 2016, and a Republican is taking office, do we want President Obama to be undercut from July, or from the second week of November, through to the inauguration of the next President, in all remaining foreign policy decisions and activities?

Regardless of the importance of any given issue of the day, we have to take the long view of these things, and what they portend for the future, and I'm strongly wary of legitimizing this kind of suggested undercutting of the authority of the President, no matter how insanely awful he or she might be.

I wouldn't say it should never be done, and this might be a case where it's advisable, but I'd want to see it thoroughly argued, and be well and truly convinced of that, before lending my own approval, personally.

Back in reality, I suspect that Obama's foreign policy team wouldn't take a terribly different view of this than I do, though I certainly could be entirely wrong.

Fair points, Gary.

To me, there's a big difference between having such communications post-election and pre- (what Nixon in 1968 and Reagan in 1980 did).

There's also the specific current context. Of course, in principle, one wants to avoid this kind of undercutting and potential confusion. But in this case, the outgoing president has been trying to pull off something blatantly illegal to begin with (put into effect a long-term treaty without Senate approval), using the excuse of the fact that a legal framework is needed to bridge his administration with the next.

For the incoming president to encourage the Iraqi government to propose something minimal that would legalize the situation until actual negotiations could begin doesn't seem to me to be crossing that line in a big way.

do we want President Obama to be undercut from July, or from the second week of November, through to the inauguration of the next President, in all remaining foreign policy decisions and activities?

July to November the case is clear: the President is in charge and no one else. Obama can make his intentions known from the stump.

Post-election to Inauguration Day is less clear. At the least, one would expect the outgoing policy teams to begin including the incoming policy teams in their discussions to allow for a smooth transition. One might also expect that high level contacts between the incoming foreign policy team and similar officials from around the world* would also be made at this time, for the same reason.


----------------
*Foreign leaders will call the winner to congratulate him on his victory. Some advance work must be involved here. Phone numbers don't get into rolodexes on their own.

"To me, there's a big difference between having such communications post-election and pre- (what Nixon in 1968 and Reagan in 1980 did)."

There is. But there's also an even huger difference between being President, and President-elect.

Right up until the moment the President-elect takes the oath of office, the President-elect has no legal or official power *whatever*.

"President-elect" isn't a legal post. If G. W. Bush drops dead of a heart attack the day before Inauguration Day, 2009, Dick Cheney, god help us, becomes President for a day, and has all the legal authority of the President of the U.S., at least technically.

If, say, that happened a week before Inauguration Day, and, hypothetically, some enemy launched a nuclear missile attack on the U.S., the person making the decisions for that week would be President Cheney; not President-elect Obama.

One would hope Cheney would consult, but he'd have no legal obligation to do so whatever. Not until the legal moment of swearing in. (Technically, I believe the swearing could be advanced to five seconds after midnight.)

So the same arguments and problems still apply, even though, yes, there certainly is a distinction between a maybe President-elect, and an actual President-elect. We still have, and can have, only one President at a time.

(Or as LBJ liked to say, "I'm the only President you've got.")

"At the least, one would expect the outgoing policy teams to begin including the incoming policy teams in their discussions to allow for a smooth transition."

One would certainly expect it, and the new administration would be in great confusion if this weren't done.

But there's no legal obligation for the old administration to do it.

Transitions, as you may be aware, have not always been smooth. Hell, Eisenhower refused to speak to Truman on his Inauguration Day:

[...] Eisenhower, for his part, was incensed by Truman's belligerent attitude toward him. His strategy for dealing with people he detested was to write their names on index cards and file them away under ''To Be Ignored.'' During the transition, he ignored Truman to the point of refusing Truman's invitation for a pre-Christmas White House lunch. On Inauguration Day, when it is customary for the president-elect to greet the outgoing president before the two depart together for the ceremony, Eisenhower refused not only to enter the White House but even to leave his car to greet Truman before they drove off together. ''The hatred between the two men that day was like a monsoon,'' Clark Clifford said.
Here endth the lesson.

I wasn't suggesting that any indications Obama might give the Iraqi government after his election but before taking office would be legally binding. I'd assume these communications would be discreet and back-channel, and deniable.

But if Maliki should propose a four-month extension of the UN mandate in early December, let Bush huff and puff about legalities. It'll be funny.

I'd also expect this transition to be almost the least cooperative ever. Though the frostiness level of Truman-to-Eisenhower is a high bar...

Model 62 and I both left out a highly relevant bit of context on the U.N. mandate, which was covered a few months ago by Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution. On June 4, 2007, the Iraqi legislature passed a resolution introduced by the Sadrist current:

"This new binding resolution will prevent the government from renewing the U.N. mandate without the parliament's permission. They'll need to come back to us by the end of the year, and we will definitely refuse to extend the U.N. mandate without conditions." Rubaie added: "There will be no such a thing as a blank check for renewing the U.N. mandate anymore, any renewal will be attached to a timetable for a complete withdrawal."

But in December, 2007 when the mandate was about to expire, Maliki ... got it extended to the end of 2008 without any vote.

In the Council of Foreign Relations discussion of the "agreement" that Model 62 linked, I'm struck by this phrasing (my emphasis):

But Iraq's government has requested that the United Nations not renew the mandate again, forcing negotiations on a detailed legal framework for the U.S. presence in the country.

"Forced", that is, if a prolonged U.S. presence in the country is taken as a given. At this point, seeing what the Bush administration is pushing, I'd think another unilateral request to the U.N. for a six-month extension would look pretty good by comparison. Especially so if the results of the U.S. elections seem to put in place a pro-withdrawal president and Congressional majority.

The Iraqi provincial elections planned for October may end up being pushed back until after the U.S. elections, as well.

Public discussion of a possible "security agreement" between the U.S. and Iraqi governments was what drove the Fadhila and Sadrist parties out of the Maliki government in March-April 2007 and led to the parliamentary action in June.

The rejection of the Bush proposal is, sadly, not as sweepingly negative in all quarters as it's been portrayed in the limited reporting it's gotten here. Nationalist parties outside the Maliki government take the strong form of opposition:

based on the idea that a military occupier can't legitimately negotiate a bilateral agreement with the country it is occupying, because the occupied country is under constraint: the occupation has to end first.

But the Maliki-Supreme Council response has been to propose

something like the Turkish model for hosting temporary American bases with annual renewal clauses, with US operations within Iraq to be permitted only subject to Iraqi government knowledge and consent.

And Ayatollah Sistani's response is not as stringent as it has been reported by English-language journalists:

Hakim [Supreme Council, govt] visited Sistani in Najaf and spoke to reporters afterwards. He said Sistani only deals in generalities, not specifics, and there were four points that should be kept in mind in the negotiations, namely: National sovereignty; transparency; national consensus [using the word for a general "coming together", and not the word for a "referendum"]; and exposure [using the word for "displaying" something to someone, and not the specific word for "agreement"] to Parliament. And the details, how are they to be handled? Here's what Hakim said:
There is substantial agreement in general views between us and the marja'iyya. and the details are left to the government and to the other parties that are involved in the arena. We are working in agreement with the general view of the marja'iyya.

We're about to elect a president who is not committed to the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces and contractors, but, like the candidate he narrowly defeated for the nomination, favors a "residual force".

Without a massive independent movement to end the occupation completely, the U.S. is going to be in Iraq forever.

Without a massive independent movement to end the occupation completely, the U.S. is going to be in Iraq forever.

Tar babies are sticky.

And we're in dire need of a way to get Br'er Fox al-Hakim and company to throw us in the briar patch.

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