On November 26, 2007, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a non-binding “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship with Iraq.” Included in the draft declaration were “security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression” and promises to defend Iraq “against internal and external threats.”
Unprecedented in its scope, breadth, and legal ramifications, the draft declaration prompted a chorus of Congressional opposition. The administration has in recent weeks backtracked from some of the declaration’s provisions and insisted that the United States does not seek a permanent military presence in Iraq. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained in a Washington Post op-ed on February 13:
Nothing to be negotiated will mandate that we continue combat missions. Nothing will set troops levels. Nothing will commit the United States to join Iraq in a war against another country or provides such security commitments. And nothing will authorize permanent base in Iraq.
REASONS TO BE SKEPTICAL
Gates and Rice’s assurances are welcome, but they hardly put the matter to rest. Congress should continue to press the administration on the issue of a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq for the following reasons:
- The administration’s recent reassurances do not comport with the actual text of the draft declaration signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki on November 26, 2007.
- President Bush issued a signing statement to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 rejecting a prohibition on permanent military bases in Iraq.
- Although administration officials publicly deny that the U.S. is pursuing permanent bases in Iraq, their off the record statements tell a different story. According to New York Times reporter David Sanger, administration officials often privately “describe a fairly detailed concept” that “calls for maintaining three or four major bases in the country, all well outside of the crowded urban areas where casualties have soared. They would include the base at Al Asad in Anbar Province, Balad Air Base about 50 miles north of Baghdad, and Tallil Air Base in the south.”
- Secretary Gates has spoken openly about a prolonged and enduring U.S. military presence in Iraq along the lines of the U.S. military presence in South Korea that has now lasted more than 50 years. Similarly, in his testimony to Congress last September, General David Petraeus outlined a blueprint for an enduring troop presence in Iraq of at least five Army brigades. President Bush has said that the U.S. presence in Iraq could “easily” last another decade, while the Republican nominee for President, John McCain, has said that America could be in Iraq for 100 years.
- Key Iraqi leaders envision a long-term U.S. presence that includes security guarantees. According to the Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S., Samir al-Sumaidaie, “as the result of American intervention, Iraq’s ability to defend itself has been diminished…during this time, we believe America has a moral obligation to protect us.” Likewise, the Iraqi defense minister, Abdul Qadir, has said that Iraq would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012 or be able to defend its own borders from external threat at least until 2018.
- The President’s FY2009 supplemental war funding request may tie the hands of Democrats in 2009. By submitting only a portion of its FY2009 war funding request, President Bush ensures that the next President and the 111th Congress will confront major war cost questions soon after taking office in early 2009. If a Democrat is elected President, he or she will immediately be placed between a rock and a hard place, and may have to ask Congress quickly for billions of dollars in war funding or face accusations from Republicans of not supporting the troops.
The administration’s entire “body language” leans toward a long-term presence in Iraq. Any agreement that the U.S. and Iraq sign this year will make it more difficult for the next President to disentangle the United States from the mess in Iraq.
OPTIONS FOR CONGRESS
Congress must remain vigilant and adopt legislation that requires Congressional approval of any bilateral agreement between Iraq and the United States. Given the administration’s record of purposeful obfuscation concerning the scope and duration of the American mission in Iraq, a policy of intense oversight and verification is in order.
Here are some legislative options Congress could pursue:
- Push for an extension of the U.N. Security Council mandate so that the next President, not George Bush, will be responsible for negotiating any U.S.-Iraq agreement. As Tufts University Professor Michael Glennon told the House Foreign Affairs Committee February 8, “I fail to see any urgency about proceeding presently with either a Status of Forces Agreement or a strategic framework agreement… I do not understand why this cannot be left to the next administration to negotiate…it seems to me that the administration that is most likely to be called upon to honor the agreement ought to have the principal say in determining the substantive content of that agreement. So my view is that, in light of the lack of urgency, the administration should seek to get an extension of the Security Council mandate for a few months — that shouldn’t be impossible — and leave it to its successor administration, be it a Democratic or a Republican administration, to work out the details.”
- Amend the internal rules of the House or Senate (or both) to cause a point of order to lie on the floor of that house against any measure that contains budget authority to carry out an international agreement that that house has previously found, by simple resolution, should be submitted for Congressional or Senate approval. Suggested by Professor Michael Glennon in his testimony on February 8, this would resurrect the approach of the “Treaty Powers Resolution,” S. Res. 24, 95th Cong., 2nd Sess. (1978). This approach could be attractive because it would both obviate the possibility of a presidential veto (the framework can be put in place by simple or concurrent resolutions) and also would not constitute a legislative veto, which the Supreme Court ruled constitutionally impermissible in INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983).
- Enact legislation that would cut off funds to carry out an agreement with Iraq that contains a security commitment. Such legislation would, of course, be subject to the possibility of a presidential veto. S. 2426, introduced by Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and the companion H.R. 4959, introduced by Rosa DeLauro, take this approach.