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Tilting at Windmills

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July 30, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

STATUS-OF-FORCES BACK FROM THE DEAD....The Wall Street Journal reports that a status-of-forces agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, presumed dead a few weeks ago, is back on the front burner:

The Bush administration's embrace of a flexible timeline for pulling U.S. troops from Iraq has accelerated negotiations between Washington and Baghdad over a long-term security pact, officials from both sides said.

....An actual date for a planned pullout hasn't been hashed out. Iraqis are pushing for a 2010 withdrawal, but a compromise could be a year or two after that, according to people familiar with the talks. The agreement would allow for flexibility in case violence spikes again in Iraq, these people said.

This makes a lot of political sense to me. Nouri al-Maliki's pronouncement last month that talks were at a dead end was always best interpreted more as a negotiating tactic than a final rejection. After all, it's in Maliki's security interest to ensure a continuing American presence but in his electoral interest to make clear that it's not a permanent presence, and a formal agreement is pretty clearly the best way for him to serve both these imperatives at once.

Likewise, the Bush administration has every incentive in the world to conclude some kind of agreement with Iraq, even if it implies (artfully, of course) a withdrawal timeline. George Bush knows perfectly well that the odds favor Barack Obama winning the presidency in November, and if inauguration day rolls around with no agreement in hand, Obama is likely to make good on his 16-month timetable. But if Bush manages to conclude an agreement with Maliki that, say, agrees on troop withdrawals starting in late 2009 and concluding in 2011, how likely is Obama to try to renegotiate it?

Not very, I'd say. Political capital that would be worth spending to start a withdrawal where none existed wouldn't be worth spending merely to speed up an already agreed withdrawal by a few months, which in turn means that a signed agreement is Bush's best chance to ensure that troops stay in Iraq at least a year or two longer than they otherwise would. So here we have a case where both parties are genuinely well served by coming to terms before November — and that means they probably will. If I had to guess, I'd say we'll see something by September.

Kevin Drum 1:19 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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Comments

What I don't really get anymore, is why is GWB so hell bent on keeping troops in Iraq? Oil? Pride? The safety of Iraqis? What is it?

Also, Kevin, I'd really start taking McCain more seriously. If the press doesn't report his idiot antics, his antics pretty much don't exist. So, you can wonder about what he's running for, or if he takes anything seriously, but he sure has managed to take the wind out of Obama's sails this week with that whole Obama-didn't-visit-the-troops thing.

Posted by: KC on July 30, 2008 at 1:26 AM | PERMALINK

The idea of getting a timeline in place before the election is a relief to me. One of my fears has been that things in Iraq go further south after Obama starts a withdrawal, and after that, no matter what he does, Obama owns the Iraq problem. Things go to hell, and no matter what, he takes the blame. "See! We told you that the Defeatocrats were just looking for a chance to surrender!"

If any withdrawal timeline is initiated before Obama takes office, then some of that rhetoric is taken off the table. They'll still use it, of course, but we're at a better starting point.

Posted by: John on July 30, 2008 at 1:45 AM | PERMALINK

I figured that the SOFA would reappear. It was far too easy to think both sides would just say "feh" and move on.

I should rake in my chips now. Instead, I'll be paying taxes to pay for all this idiocy for decades to come.


Posted by: riffle on July 30, 2008 at 1:51 AM | PERMALINK

I ambled over here to ask much the same question as KC: why is Bush negotiating for few extra months? If the troops come home at all his adventure is over, so what difference does it make if they come home in sixteen months or 24 or whatever?

Posted by: sam spade on July 30, 2008 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

My guess is that Bush is a true believer. He genuinely thinks that, given enough time, Iraq can be pacified and history will judge him a visionary. If that's what he thinks, then every extra bit of time helps.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on July 30, 2008 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

Bush is a true believer all right. He believes that his corporate buddies are making a fortune in Iraq and every extra month or year they get transfers more of our tax dollars to their coffers. Bonus, it takes money away from the next President's/Congress' social programs and attempts at straigtening out the health care and social security situations. It's business as usual. You never go wrong when you follow the money.

Posted by: Everyman on July 30, 2008 at 2:54 AM | PERMALINK

I think Obama has to resist this publicly. Strategically, this is awful as it ties his hands financially and militarily. We'll throw away another couple hundred billion in Iraq; Afghanistan will remain on the back burner. Politically, it throws McCain a bone. It helps keep us in Bush land and that's somewhere we don't need to be.

Posted by: Darrix on July 30, 2008 at 5:12 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, that doesn't change the fact that AWOL is delusional and has invested huge and unprecedented amounts of money, US lives and more Iraqi's, in pursuit of of an unachievable goal. Iraq will never mirror his idea of a docile democracy mirroring the USA.

That's why it hasn't. And that's why the whole plan was and is founded on fallacies.

And I'll cover myself to ask, even if he turns out to be right, will it change the region? and would the US citizenry have accepted a $2-3 trillion or more price tag and who knows how many lives and casualties as opposed to the, what? $60 billion "max" they stated?

I don't think so. Not in either case.

This "president" has saddled the country with the biggest unneccessary financial load on the nation EVER. Quite possibly $10,000 for every man, woman and child, or top side of $40,000 for every tax payer.

What'll that do for your wallet?

Posted by: notthere on July 30, 2008 at 5:14 AM | PERMALINK

Not quite dead yet: Strike on Iran still possible, U.S. tells Israel

Posted by: jerry on July 30, 2008 at 6:31 AM | PERMALINK

So, an additional one or two years in Iraq beyond what Obama would insist upon lacking a SOFA in place on inauguration day. Hmmm, say an average of 20 deaths per month among U.S. forces. Oh, what, maybe another 200-300 military fatalities in those two years, plus untold woundings, accidents, rapes, suicides and injuries? And a couple hundred additional billion dollars down the rat hole? Heckuva job, Dubya!

Posted by: steve duncan on July 30, 2008 at 7:46 AM | PERMALINK

Without a SOFA, the mandate for the continued US presence runs out in December.

why is Bush negotiating for few extra months? If the troops come home at all his adventure is over, so what difference does it make if they come home in sixteen months or 24 or whatever?

Everything Bush has done over that past two years points to delaying the withdrawal of US troops from the disaster of Iraq until the next Administration. A few extra months gives a little extra juice to the Dolchstosslegende dishonest conservatives -- but I repeat myself -- have been polishing up here for some time now.

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

When is an "agreement" not a treaty?
When is waterboarding not torture?
When is warrantless spying on US citizens not unconstitutional?
When is politicization of the Justice Dept - all underlings must be Goodlings - not illegal?

The answer to these and many other similar questions is: When the Bushies say it's not.

The Congress has basically abdicated it constitutional role for declaring war.
It seems set to abdicate its role for signing treaties with other countries.

What a shame!

Posted by: jimvj on July 30, 2008 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

I think this, from a knowledgeable Arab reporter, is worth paying any attention to. He tells quite a different story.

Posted by: Badger on July 30, 2008 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

I think Obama should say that an SOF that's negotiated in good faith w/ Iraq, and that includes a [timetable/time horizon/roadmap/whatever the hell you want to call it] to end the occupation close to the target that both he & Maliki have set, AND that is submitted to the Senate for approval, could get his support. I think that's really the key 'grand compromise': Bush can get the SOF done and get the Dems to ratify it so he can go out with some accomplishment under his belt, but he has to agree to a timetable & he has to handle it like the treaty it really is.

It may not be easy to get the Dem caucus in the Senate behind this (and even harder to enlist the netroots & Dems in the House), and the capacity of the Bushies to walk away from a good offer should never be underestimated. But at the end of the day they're all better off with a face-saving exit strategy that has bipartisan support. And Obama may be uniquely positioned, if not to broker something like this himself, to at least provide a political opening to allow it to happen.

It's possible that McCain & the dead-enders in the Senate would actually vote against this, as a way of saying 'see, i'm not Bush' while keeping Iraq on the table as a wedge issue. But i think that would be suicidal for them politically, and would hand Obama all of the ammunition he needs to enact a more rapid draw-down next year.

This would be a good outcome on the merits; would provide a political foundation to actually get this awful episode behind us as a nation; would pretty much crush the arguments that Obama's too naive or too dogmatic or can't work across the aisle; and would let the Dems (not just Obama but also the congressional slate) go into the election claiming some measure of success in having kept their promise to end the occupation, undercutting the 'do-nothing Congress' meme.

As a side benefit, it would also undercut the 'arrogant Obama is already measuring the curtains' meme by demonstrating that it's not about being presumptuous, it's about filling the vacuum left by one of the lamest lame-duck presidents we've ever had. So what if Obama looks presumptuous, what he's really doing is getting an early start on repairing the damage that Bush has wrought.

Posted by: TW on July 30, 2008 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Oh Bullshit.

Maliki's seems to want to keep Bush in a state of flux. Keep the chimp occupied till time runs out.

Presumably Kevin must know that Maliki won't give Bush any “agreements” that would only be conducive to long term occupations, and there is no inceptive for Maliki to back down in Bush's remaining months. Giving into Bush will prevent the US from ever leaving the country, prevent Iraq from any real sovereignty or any liberated sovereign choice. So I doubt seriously Maliki will change the terms of his request for withdrawal.

Kevin Drum seems to always insist that Iraq wants protection from the US and that Maliki can’t get it from a host of other countries, from Russia to Iran, which is as always a very flawed concept with a country as rich in hydrocarbons as Iraq has in it’s vast resources. The Wall Street Journal speaks for pipe dreams and American business interest that are irreparable dead, to change the status of withdraw will be to invite US ownership of Iraq. Maliki will NOT walk from those terms, indeed he has real reason too reconsider even if violence escalates.

So Kevin, sorry, Iraq won’t change course, at least not with George Bush. You can’t really make deals with an administration that lies as much as this one lies. Bush believes in no law, no terms that cannot be violated, broken or changed. And no-Bid contracts are the act of tyranny – Bush isn’t interest in fair or equable terms, and not only does Maliki know this, the whole damn world knows it too.

Posted by: Me_again on July 30, 2008 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

once again, we are reminded of how come it took 7 years for american forces to leave vietnam even after a political consensus existed to end the war....

Posted by: howard on July 30, 2008 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

I disagree with Kevin's premise that Bush, bowing to reality, is willing to negotiate a withdrawal date in order to buy another few months of the occupation. When has the man ever bowed to reality?

More to the point, where would this leave the GOP Dolchstosslegende strategy? The idea is to force the Democrats to take full responsibility for withdrawal, so that in subsequent years anything bad that follows can be blamed on them. Negotiating a withdrawal undercuts this.

Bush has long seen the idea of leaving Iraq as an admission of defeat. Iraq is the largest element of his political legacy, and he's not going to admit it was a failure, which he would be doing by agreeing to withdraw under any timeline.

Posted by: jimBOB on July 30, 2008 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

In what way would an unratified SOFA bind Obama? He could easily tell Iraq he's moving up the time table and there's not much they could do about it. Heck, the right person in power in Iraq might do everything they could to help him.

Posted by: Boronx on July 30, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

I read it differently. I see Malaki as hedging his bets. Say he agrees to a 2011 time with Bush, but really wants a 2010 timeframe closer to what Obama sees.

Now, if McCain wins the general election, Malaki has a 2011 timeline on hand, and can publicly steer the discussion of whether conditions on the ground indicate a continued American presence.

But if Obama wins he can just renegotiate around 2010.

Maliki's worst case scenario is having no agreement if a President McCain is in the oval office. Then all bets are off.

Posted by: Raskolnikov on July 30, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

"In what way would an unratified SOFA bind Obama? He could easily tell Iraq he's moving up the time table and there's not much they could do about it."
__________________

An unratified SOFA would be very helpful to President Obama. We'll need a SOFA regardless of whatever timetable for withdrawal is used, since a SOFA covers far more than how long we'll stay. An existing SOFA would serve as a framework within which withdrawal could begin, while protecting the status of US forces remaining in the country. An existing SOFA would simplify the next President's job, if for no other reason than it will serve as a departure point for further discussions.

Posted by: trashhauler on July 30, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on July 30, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Trashy wrote: We'll need a SOFA regardless of whatever timetable for withdrawal is used, since our legal mandate runs out in December and our presence there will be illegal -- well, more illegal -- after that.

Fixed it for you.

An existing SOFA would serve as a framework within which withdrawal could begin

Interestingly enough, the absence of a SOFA would also serve as a framework within which withdrawal could beging.

while protecting US forces and mercenaries from criminal prosecution.

Fixed it for you again, Trashy. You're welcome.

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

"When is an "agreement" not a treaty?"
_____________________

Usually when the agreement is made within the framework of an existing treaty. We have hundreds of international agreements that aren't ratified by Congress, simply because they don't rise to the level of establishing national policy. Most SOFAs fit in this category.

But not this one. In the normal course of events, the Executive would negotiate a treaty with Iraq, if for no other reason than to establish our post-hostilities relationship. Presumably, the current Administration has not done so because they want to avoid the firestorm of debate and protest that such a treaty would create. So they are attempting to use the SOFA dodge as a way to avoid the public argument about what our long term relationship should be with Iraq. And they've gotten the argument, anyway.

Good policy usually makes good politics. The Administration should have proposed a treaty first and crafted a SOFA in parallel. Failing that, they should have sought an extension to the UN mandate. That they did not do so is evidence that they are running out the clock. They probably figure that we'll get some kind of SOFA, even if it must mention an eventual withdrawal, because we supposedly need one past the end of the year. They reckon, probably correctly, that any kind of agreement, ratified or not, would act as guiding precedence for the next Administration.

We'll continue to be concerned and involved with Iraq for the foreseeable future, even after we withdraw most of our forces. What we need is a treaty, duly ratified, which will enumerate the common interests of our respective nations and establish a framework for future cooperation. Apparently that job will be left to the next Administration.


Posted by: trashhauler on July 30, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

By the by, I'll point out that it wasn't so long ago that Trashy was claiming a SOFA would obligate the next President to maintain our occupation of Iraq under the pretext of "showing commitment to our puppet -- er, ally" or somesuch.

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Bush wants permanent bases, and whatever Georgie wants, Georgie gets (just ask Nan Pelosi), and little man, little Georgie wants 99 year leases.

Posted by: Luther on July 30, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Trashy wrote: Presumably, the current Administration has not done so because they want to avoid the firestorm of debate and protest that such a treaty would create.

Shorter Trashy: The Administration is making an unconstitutional end run aroung Congres because it has lost all credibility on Iraq.

So they are attempting to use the SOFA dodge as a way to avoid the public argument about what our long term relationship should be with Iraq.

Shorter Trashy: This perception of bad faith on the part of the Administration is entirely justified.

Good policy usually makes good politics.

The Bush Administration certainly proves the converse. And yet Trashy supports those clowns.

Shame on you, Trashy.

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

"By the by, I'll point out that it wasn't so long ago that Trashy was claiming a SOFA would obligate the next President to maintain our occupation of Iraq under the pretext of 'showing commitment to our puppet -- er, ally' or somesuch."
________________________

And I just repeated it in my last post:

"They reckon, probably correctly, that any kind of agreement, ratified or not, would act as guiding precedence for the next Administration."

So, what's your point? We will continue to have interests in common with Iraq, long after we withdraw, just as we do with most other countries in the region. That should be obvious to anyone.

Posted by: trashhauler on July 30, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

KC wrote: "What I don't really get anymore, is why is GWB so hell bent on keeping troops in Iraq? Oil? Pride? The safety of Iraqis? What is it?"
__________________

The stability of the Iraqi government is the key issue. The idea being that we don't want to jeopardize Iraqi progress just when they've begun to get their act together. When al Maliki talks about a near term US withdrawal, he is not including those bits of US assistance that he needs, i.e., logistics, training, air support, intel, reconnaisance, special ops, etc. It will be a few years yet before Iraq can do without that kind of help, even though they can replace most of our maneuver units with their own.

Let's remember what the time certain withdrawal date was supposed to accomplish. It's primary purpose was to prod the Iraqi government to quicker action. But if al Maliki has already agreed that US withdrawal (so far as he conceives it) is a good idea, then what pressure does the threat of withdrawal put on the al Maliki government? None.

That leaves only Afghanistan as the sole military reason to support a time certain withdrawal. Of course, most of the units we'll withdraw from Iraq won't be very useful in Afghanistan anytime soon, if ever. So arguments about a time certain withdrawal have been overcome by events.

Everyone agrees we'll withdrawal, though some won't publicly speak of what support we'll leave behind. The only point of disagreement left is the necessity of a time certain and that no necessity no longer pertains.

Posted by: trashhauler on July 30, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

We will continue to have interests in common with Iraq, long after we withdraw, just as we do with most other countries in the region. That should be obvious to anyone.

Yes, Trashy, we're aware that Iraq has oil.

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, most of the units we'll withdraw from Iraq won't be very useful in Afghanistan anytime soon, if ever.

Yes, Trashy, we're aware that Bush's incompetence has broken the Army.

arguments about a time certain withdrawal have been overcome by events.

No, they haven't. Americans and Iraqis both want us out of Iraq despite the neocons' desperate spin that we've "won" -- but the "vistory" is too fragile to allow us to leave. (Some "progress"!)

And my point before, Trashy, is to point out that you're talking out of both sides of your mouth -- first urging a SOFA as a guideline for withdrawal while considering an unratified agreement to bind the next President's hands.

But of course, with your shameful performance in other threads -- including leveling vile accusations against participants in this forum you refuse to back up -- no one mistakes you for a good faith commentator. Or a person of any honor whatsoever.

Shame on you, Trashy.

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and Trashy lied again in response to KC's question why is GWB so hell bent on keeping troops in Iraq? by claiming The stability of the Iraqi government is the key issue.

Bullshit. The American occupation has not resulted in the stability of the Iraqi government and, if anything, is hindering its stability by fostering, correctly, the perception that the Iraqi government is a puppet of the american occupation.

Bush is hell bent on keeping troops in Iraq for two reasons: He, like Trashy, equates "leaving" with "losing," and so refused to contenance the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. He is hell bent on punting the disaster of Iraq into the lap of the next President (hence, of course, his efforts to tie his successor's hands with an unconstitutional agreement).

And as a corrolary to this, it's vital for the neocons that the withdrawal from Iraq occur under the next President -- preferably a Democratic one -- so the Dolchstosslegende shameful tools like Trashy have been so assiduously preparing might possibly rescue the ruined Republican brand as strong on defense.

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

"tie his successor's hands with an unconstitutional agreement."
___________________

Or assist his successor, as a completed SOFA might very well do, even if we were to immediately begin a partial withdrawal. By the way, Greg, you do know that the word "unconstitutional" does not always equate to "illegal," don't you?

Posted by: trashhauler on July 30, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

"The American occupation has not resulted in the stability of the Iraqi government...."
_________________

Well, that's news to most of the world. Next you'l be telling us the Iraqi government rose out of the primordial ooze, sui generis, in its current state. ::grin::

Posted by: trashhauler on July 30, 2008 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

re Mashraq Abbas' commentary, if it's just going to be a memorandum of understanding, not an agreement or treaty, it won't bind the next incumbent in any way, will it. It'll just be between Bush and Maliki and nobody else. That was easy. Bush won't get his legacy bases -- read useless money pits -- he wants, and US troops won't have to sweat in the sand-blasted desert a moment longer than necessary as long as Obama wins.

Posted by: notthere on July 30, 2008 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Trashy wrote: Or assist his successor, as a completed SOFA might very well do.

Trashy, that statement depends on giving Bush a benefit of the doubt he does not deserve. Judging from his public position, Bush's interest clearly lies in continuing the occupation of Iraq, at least until the collapse made inevitable by his incompetence can be blamed on Democrats.

you do know that the word "unconstitutional" does not always equate to "illegal," don't you?

Concluding a treaty with Iraq without subjecting it to Senate ratification -- which you acknowledge Bush intends to do -- in unconstitutional, and despite your constant arguments to the contrary, aren't worth any more than Bush's word -- in other words, fuck-all.

The UN mandate that provides a fig leaf of legality to the US occupation ends in December. Without a credible replacement, the American occupation becomes illegal (well, more illegal) after it expires. As fig leaves go, a Bush-drafted SOFA on whose behalf you've so strenuously and disingenuously advocated is pretty threadbare. Kind of like your honor.

Well, that's news to most of the world.

Yeah? Then why do war promoters keep insisting we can't withdraw because the "progress" is "fragile"?

Come on, Trashy -- we know you like you pretend we've "won" in Iraq, but you aren't dishonest enough to claim the Iraqi government is stable, are you?

Posted by: Gregory on July 30, 2008 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

"Come on, Trashy -- we know you like you pretend we've 'won' in Iraq, but you aren't dishonest enough to claim the Iraqi government is stable, are you?"
____________________

Greg, I wouldn't want to say we've won - we and the Iraqi people could still lose. In war, nothing is certain. Just as it was not inevitable that we'd lose, I won't make predictions about the final outcome. I claim we haven't lost and are currently winning, nothing more.

Likewise, I didn't say the Iraqi government was stable. I did say that the American presence has contributed to the stability of the Iraqi government, however much it has. It certainly has more stability than it had three years ago. That much is not in doubt, one would think.

You really should read what people write, instead of responding to what you apparently hope they write.

Posted by: trashhauler on July 30, 2008 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

Trashy wrote: You really should read what people write, instead of responding to what you apparently hope they write.

Oh, that's rich, coming from someone who has made any number of vile accusations about the commenters on these threads, refused to back them up when challenged, and then poses as a reasonable commentator even after having been reminded of his dishonorable and scurrilous attacks.

Posted by: Gregory on July 31, 2008 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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