For the past year the Iraq and US governments (not really, but we’ll get to that later) have been working on a bilateral agreement regarding the scope and working details of the future US military involvement in Iraq. It has been widely referred to as a SOFA, or a Status Of Forces Agreement.
The effort began on November 26, 2007 when President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki co-signed the Declaration of Principles (pdf)for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America, which set out a number of issues concerning, among other things, a security agreement between the United States and Iraq.
Wow — Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America. A treaty, for sure.
Subsequently the US Administration announced(pdf) that there would be two agreements negotiated, a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) providing the legal basis between the two countries for the continued presence and operation of U.S. armed forces in Iraq once the U.N. Security Council mandate expires on December 31, 2008, and a Strategic Framework Agreement to cover the overall bilateral relationship between the two countries.
The US State Department hasn’t said much about this matter, but the Pentagon spokesman has said: “we are not the lead in either of those negotiations, the status of forces or the strategic framework agreement. The State Department has been in the lead.”
So State is in the lead, supposedly, on an important agreement that deals with a “Long-Term Relationship” including the duration of the US military occupation and the legal status of the US force members. This “strategic framework,” again, sounds like a treaty, doesn’t it, that involves the vital interests of the US and Iraq including matters such as the duration of the US military occupation and the use of Iraq bases for attacks on other countries. And treaties, according to the Constitution, require the advice and consent of the Senate. A SOFA, on the other hand, deals with legal minutiae and has typically been treated as an administrative, non-treaty matter.
But even though this proposed agreement is a treaty, Senate involvement is not in the cards. The President doesn’t want it and neither, apparently, does the Senate. It hasn’t been mentioned in the recent presidential campaign by Senators McCain, Obama or Biden. This is especially curious in the case of Obama, who after all has made an issue of the duration of the US military occupation in Iraq.
In spite of the claim that State is in the lead on this important matter, the Pentagon seems to be doing the heavy lifting. The Pentagon spokesman, again: “The secretary [of Defense] is in the process of consulting closely with members of Congress, those who have jurisdiction over this building. And in fact he has begun making a number of phone calls today to committee leaders and is intent on fulfilling his pledge to them to consult with them on this document before it is finalized.”
Oh good, he’s consulting by telephone with Congress. While translations of the Arabic text have been published, the English version is apparently ‘close hold’. The Pentagon spokesman: “He is not sharing the text per se with them. I think he is talking about specifics that are in the agreement without sharing the text itself. . . We are not to the point of sharing, I believe, the actual text with the members of Congress. . . But not until it is a final document will we be sharing it widely. This is still a work in progress, as it works its way through the executive branches.” They’ll share it when it’s done! Well thank you very much.
In the meantime, according to news reports, the Iraqi Parliament is involved with the Iraqi Prime Minister in all aspects of this treaty, er, SOFA. That really irks the US administration, which is not similarly burdened.
SecState Rice: “Well, it’s an important agreement, and it’s an agreement that is both going to answer to questions about Iraqi sovereignty[really? what questions?] and is going to protect our troops[that old mantra]. And we believe that the work that the negotiators have done has produced an agreement that does both. Now, obviously, the Iraqis have a democratic system, and they’re debating this and they’re discussing it [which is more than the US is doing]. But the fact of the matter is, this is a good agreement and it’s an agreement that will allow our forces to operate there legally. And we need to have that basis because the Iraqis themselves recognize that they are not ready to operate without coalition forces.[actually, 71 percent of Iraqis want the US out within a year]”
Apparently we’ve exported our democracy and don’t have any left. The State Department and the Senate are less than effective, and the Constitution is in tatters. But hurrah for Iraq. They’re involved with what’s hiding behind the SOFA even if the US isn’t.
In particular, I think that the Senate is both a Prisoner Of War and Missing In Action. What do you think?
Don Bacon is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler said, “war is a racket.”