Thursday, March 6, 2008

Laughter from the rose garden

Last November President Bush signed a "declaration of principles" with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an agreement that established the framework for a future more defined and formal "bilateral relationship" for the U.S. and Iraq. He signed something 'very much like an agreement' to provide for a long term (or perhaps permanent) U.S. military presence in Iraq. The “U.S.-Iraq Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation” it was called.

What he signed was a treaty.

The president did not refer to this agreement as a treaty, however. By the terms of the U.S. Constitution, treaties require the approval of Congress.

The document our president signed essentially outlined the method by which a U.S. occupation force, the troops and equipment, the military bases, could all remain and be re-conceived of as aspects of "a normalized bilateral relationship" with Iraq. While the document left room for negotiation, it established certain central parameters. As the U.N. authorization for the "Coalition of The Willing" comes to a close late in 2008, U.S. troops will remain “to provide security assurances to the Iraqi Government.” They will remain to "deter any external aggression," Prime Minister al-Maliki explained in a statement at the time. They could be used to address any "internal" problems for a "democratic Iraq" as well, he said.

There was something in there about "preferential treatment" for future U.S. investment in the Iraqi economy. This might involve oil.

As he announced the signing, Prime Minister al-Maliki was careful not to refer to this "declaration of principles" as a treaty — just like President Bush. You see, the Iraqi Constitution requires that treaties and binding international agreements be ratified by a two thirds majority of their legislative council.

There was scant attention for this agreement—excuse me—I mean 'declaration'— as it was signed back in November. Perhaps a few more noticed when the President attached one of his famous signing statements to a defense appropriations bill earlier this year. The bill contained language barring the administration from using the funds to establish permanent bases in Iraq. Such language, Bush explained as he cashed the check and signed the bill, could not be construed as a limit on his presidential powers as commander-in-chief. Bush argued that his military powers were not limited to his own tactical and strategic control of the armed forces (at times at odds with the wishes of Congress and the American people), but that he could also commit that military to engagement beyond his own term of command.

Now, I know executing a "declaration of principles" that entails a long term, open ended (perhaps permamnent) commitment of troops in exchange for "preferential treatment" for investments sure sounds like a treaty—or at least like an agreement. But the American President and the Iraqi Prime Minister assure us this isn't so.

The Bush administration has apparently put some real "hard work" into the negotiations with the al-Maliki government since November. The Washington Post report of March 6th relates how "U.S. officials are traveling to Baghdad this week with drafts of two documents — a status-of-forces agreement and a separate “strategic framework” — that they expect to sign with the Iraqi government by the end of July."

Certain members of Congress have apparently questioned President Bush's assumption of unregulated power (positing that this might be their role in our government) and have asked to actually see these agreements. Some have gone so far as to opine that these agreements require their oversight and approval before they are signed. They argue that when something looks like a treaty and functions like a treaty ... it's a treaty. And there's this matter of the Constitution.

You'll never guess how the Bush League responded.

The Bush administration's Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey T. Bergner responded to Congressional demands that the administration submit the newest agreement documents (you know —treaties) for their approval, by saying that all the Congressional approval needed for these agreements was already in place —by virtue of the measures passed in the weeks following September 11th and the 2002 authorization for the use of force against Saddam Hussein.

That's right, folks. The same authorization that the administration used as its premise for dispensing with Habeus Corpus and The First Ammendment, that justified circumventing FISA and a host of other laws, now disposes of Congressional authority over international treaty.

In a letter to Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) —one of those meddlesome Congressmen— Assistant Secretary of State Bergner pointed to the language in the post 9/11 legislation granting the President powers “to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States" as all the granted authority necessary to draft and execute these agreements without further Congressional involvement. He added further that "Congress expressly authorized the use of force to ‘defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq’”in 2002.

Maybe just to rub it in, Bergner pointed out that “Congress has repeatedly provided funding for the Iraq war.”

And so, as the imbecile monarch in 'Amadeus' observed, "There it is!"

With a six year old resolution, passed to express our common resolve in the face of terrorism, and another from five years ago that was meant to empower action against an impending immediate threat from Iraq —with these the administration gleans an understanding of unfettered authority for itself and obsolescence for the Constitutional concept of Congressional oversight.

It doesn't matter that members of Congress, time and again, have pointed out that these resolutions were never intended to relinquish all Constitutional authority—no—responsibility for Congressional oversight of the President, his administration and their actions. No, it doesn't matter what Congress or the country intended with their actions. What matters, says George W. Bush, is what he can take them to mean.

Change of scene...

As the terse message arrives for those bothersome Congressional meddlers, the president meets in the White House Rose Garden with the man he feels "is a president" —a man "who will bring determination" to the course he has set out for this country in Iraq. John McCain has offered "fifty, a hundred, maybe a thousand years" of such determination. "He's a president," Mr. Bush observes.

And if the American people and Congress don't happen to agree when that quadrennial "accountability moment" we call an election comes along —what with the agreements George Bush has committed us to, the hole he's gone and dug and the bases he's gone and built —heck, it really doesn't matter.

I think I hear laughter.

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