Friday, April 11, 2008

Uncovering the Strategy

It's the Election Calendar, stupid!

That's the basis of the Bush administration's "strategy" eveyione is looking for.

With nine months left in office, the Bush administration has opened discussions intended to set the parameters of future relationships between Iraq and the United States. As presently envisioned by Washington, there will be two major sections to the final document (or possibly two documents). One is to be a traditional status of forces agreement (SOFA) that defines the extent to which Iraq’s laws will apply to U.S. personnel in Iraq. The other agreement will cover non-security issues.

When assured of anonymity, Iraqi officials have been more open about their expectations. Their description of the non-SOFA discussions, said to cover economic, social, financial, trade, political, military, and environmental matters, suggests that there may well be a series of specialized subject-matter documents rather than one or two Such an outcome presumably would please the White House which has taken the position that no documents emerging from the negotiations will rise to the level of a treaty and thus require legislative imprimatur.

The preferred U.S. timeline calls for completion of these discussions by the end of July – the same time line for the complete withdrawal of the last Brigade Combat Team that went to Iraq in 2007 as part of the Bush administration’s “surge.” In his April 2008 testimony to the Armed Services and Foreign Relations/Foreign Affairs Committees of the U.S. Congress, the U.S. commander in Iraq called for a 45 day “pause” in troop withdrawals to consolidate and assess the reaction to decreasing U.S. forces to 140,000. With Congress – as usual – in recess for all of August and the first day of September (Labor Day in 2008), the administration undoubtedly hopes the U.S. press will be focusing on the September 15 date. That would enable Prime Minister al-Maliki to quietly get the approval of the Iraqi parliament and and then send them to Washington for Bush to sign while Congress is in recess and unable to stop another instance of the “unitary presidency”

Should this sequence not materialize, the administration will undoubtedly try to hold out against any effort by Congress to demand that the agreements be submitted for Senate ratification as treaties. In this effort, the electoral calendar will be an ally of the White House as Members of Congress seeking reelection will be anxious for the leadership to adjourn the session by October 1. An easy way to stretch the ratification process is for al-Maliki to not send the documents to the Iraqi parliament until late September. As it is, the agreements do not have to be ratified until December 31, 2008. That is the expiration date of the current UN Security Council mandate authorizing the presence of armed foreign soldiers in Iraq to help maintain order and to assist other national and international agencies working to restore Iraq to its place in the community of nations.

The countdown is 265, the number of days to the end of the year.


Blogger Helena Cobban said...

This is a fine piece of analysis, Dan. I would also add that the US electoral calendar seems to be strongly affecting planning on what to do about those problematic "courts" in Guantanamo. I'm expecting the administration to start some kind of semi-publicized hearings there in late summer, as a way to recharge the US voting public with the idea that there are some "really bad people out there"... Making those hearings just as politicized and potentially polarizing within US politics as the whole Saddam "trial" has been within Iraq.

9:41 AM  

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