This is from the statement of Ryan Crocker, US Ambassador to Iraq, in front of the Foreign Relations Committee yesterday:
One conclusion I draw from these signs of progress is that the strategy that began with the Surge is working. This does not mean, however, that U.S. support should be open-ended or that the level and nature of our engagement should not diminish over time. It is in this context that we have begun negotiating a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States…The heart of this relationship will be a legal framework for the presence of American troops similar to that which exists in nearly 80 countries around the world…
U.S. forces will remain in Iraq beyond December 31, 2008, when the U.N. resolution presently governing their presence expires. Our troops will need basic authorizations and protections to continue operations – and this agreement will provide those authorizations and protections.
The agreement will not establish permanent bases in Iraq, and we anticipate that it will expressly foreswear them. The agreement will not specify troop levels, and it will not tie the hands of the next Administration. Our aim is to ensure that the next President arrives in office with a stable foundation upon which to base policy decisions, and that is precisely what this agreement will do. Congress will remain fully informed as these negotiations proceed in the coming weeks and months.
Both the US constitution and the Iraqi constitution require that treaties be approved by their respective legislative branches. Yet Crocker states that Congress will merely be “fully informed” about the US-Iraq agreement. And he doesn’t even mention the Iraqi parliament. (It is highly unlikely that either the US Congress or the Iraqi parliament would approve this, let alone both.)
Crocker and the Bush administration justify this by claiming the agreement will not rise to the level of a treatyâ€”that it will be a mere Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which can be concluded just between the respective countries’ executive branches. However, all previous SOFAs have merely governed mundane issues, such as “wearing of the uniform, the carrying of arms, tax and customs relief, entry and exit of personnel and property, and resolving damage claims.” R. Chuck Mason, the Congressional Research Service’s expert on SOFAs, recently stated that a review of over 70 of them found that “none contained the authority to fight.” It has always been treaties which do that. The United States does have a SOFA with Germany, but it is the NATO treaty which makes it legal for US troops there to kill people.
Thus the Bush administration position breaks completely with decades of precedent. Moreover, its extremism can be understood by the fact that it logically goes both ways: if Bush and Maliki can together agree without Iraqi parliamentary approval that Americans can be based in Iraq and kill Iraqis, then Maliki and Bush could together agree without US congressional approval that Iraqis can be based in the US and kill Americans.
So Ambassador Crocker (and other Bush administration functionaries) should have been asked this by congress:
1. Will the US-Iraqi agreement require the approval of the Iraqi parliament?
2. If not, could Bush and Maliki decide tomorrow that Iraqi troops and private contractors will be stationed in Des Moines and have the legal authority to shoot Americans?
Of course, given the administration’s position on similar issues, perhaps we don’t want to know the answer.