Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bargain Bush meant

The Bush administration —remember them? With all the election's wrangling, it's easy to forget we actually still do have affairs of state to attend to. And it sure seems to me that there's a school of thought in the Bush White House that would really prefer it if we did forget about them —at least for the next little while.

It seems President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have reached an agreement governing American military forces in Iraq and there's been hardly a stirring of attention to the matter —at least not here. According to this report in, the particulars of the agreement and threats of a parliamentary veto are the hot topic of headlines and vocal debate in Baghdad. This side of the pond —not so much.

You see the the Iraqi Constitution contains provisions mandating parliamentary approval of binding agreements with foreign countries. Of course ours does, too —but you know how that goes.

President Bush argues that the form of agreement at hand with Iraq is in his right as commander-in-chief. It is merely a "status of forces agreement" like many before it, made by many presidents before him. But as Bruce Ackerman and Oona A. Hathaway point out in their piece for Slate, Bush's bargain "goes far beyond anything in these previous agreements...While American troops have been placed under foreign control in peacekeeping operations, this has occurred only under treaties approved by the Senate. No American president has ever before claimed the unilateral power to bargain away the military power of his successors."

And that is exactly what his agreement with Prime Minister al-Maliki does!

While we here back in the states entertain ourselves watching McCain and Obama debate the proper handling of our forces in Iraq, George W. Bush is using what he sees as his prerogative as commander-in-chief to undermine the Constitutional powers of his successor, whoever that may be.

Obama suggests a specific timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and McCain rejects any constraint or limitation to the deployment. Meanwhile, George Bush signs our name to an agreement that actually maximizes the risks and worst possibilities of each approach. It cedes authority over our troops' actions and strategic deployment to the approval of the Iraqi government and gives "operational control to 'joint mobile operations command centers' supervised by a joint American-Iraqi committee," says the Slate report on the draft Bush/al-Maliki Agreement —and "American commanders in the field will retain their power to act without advance Iraqi approval only in cases of self-defense."

The agreement further "commits the United States to a timetable for withdrawing troops from cities, towns, and villages in Iraq by June 30, 2009, with final withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011" and requires a full year's notice and "mutual approval" before either party may amend or withdraw.

What happened to hold and control? What happened to listening only to our generals on the ground? Command by "joint committee"? "Mutual approval"?

I've written on this subject before. The fact of the matter is there is real good reason our Constitution requires that international treaties be ratified by Congress. That accountability George Bush thinks only comes in "moments" every four years, it's actually supposed to be a constant thing. The debates we watch on tv and the votes we take —not only for our presidents, but for our legislators, too— are supposed to matter. It's a little embarrassing that the Iraqi government seems to have a better grasp of that fact than our own. Debate on the agreement is open and avid in Iraq. In our country the Bush/Maliki Agreement's implications go by hardly noticed, neither the Congress or the public consulted. The Slate reporters, Ackerman and Hathaway, point out that their analysis of the draft agreement is based on an English translation from the Arabic they managed to get their hands on— "Since the Bush administration hasn't made its agreement generally available to the public."

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