Monday, November 17, 2008

Disclosure II?

Starting with news of the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement.  At the White House today, spokesperson Dana Perino declared, "As we've been saying since July, when we said that we would work with the Iraqis to establish a date that we would aspire to -- we just keep getting success after success on the security front in Iraq.  And when you work with a partner on a negotiation, you have to concede some points.  One of the points that we conceded was that we would establish these aspirational dates.  We're only able to do this because of the progress that's been made by the great work of our forces, and by the Iraqi security forces as well.  They, every day, gain in number, confidence and competence.  And we are going to continue to work with the Iraqis, because while we did have a good step with the council of ministers approving the agreement, and then our ambassador and their foreign ministers signing it today, there are still seveal steps left to go."  Indeed and anyone paying attention should have noticed something very important in Perino's wording.
Saturday  Nidaa Bakhsh (Bloomberg News) cited press chatter that Sunday's cabinet vote would support the treaty.  Katherine Zoepf and Atheer Kakan (New York Times) reported that a preliminary meeting was held Monday to test the waters in Parliament but the Islamic Council of Iraq skipped the meeting which "ended without any clear public resolution."  Nouri al-Maliki's cabinet did approve the treaty on Sunday.  Adam Ashton and Leila Fadel (McClatchy Newspapers) explained nine members of the cabinet were not present and that all but one of the 28 members present voted in favor of it leading
Gordon Johndroe, White House flack, to crow, "While the process is not yet complete, we remain hopeful and confident we'll soon have an agreement that serves both the people of Iraq and the United States well and sends a signal to the region and the world that both our governments are committed to a stable, secure and democratic Iraq."  And what ensued was a contest among the press to determine who could make a bigger fool out of themselves. 
Top contenders included Anne Penketh (Independent of London), Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell (New York Times) and Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times).  Penketh declared, "The Iraqi cabinet has finally approved a hard-fought security pact with the US under which all American troops are to withdraw from Iraq in three years, putting an end to the US-led occupation of Iraq that has defined America's relations with the rest of the world since the 2003 invasion." Susman insisted, "Iraq's Cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly accepted a plan to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq by the end of 2011 and sent it on to parliament for approval, where it faces a fight from lawmakers who consider it a sellout to the Americans."  Robertson and Farrell maintained, "Iraq's cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a proposed security agreement that calls for a full withdrawal of American forces fromt he country by the end of 2011."  Only the Washington Post was functioning today.  Mary Beth Sheridan reported -- actually reported, did what reporters are supposed to do and who knew it was that difficult but look at the other outlets -- that "the Iraqi cabinet on Sunday approved a bilateral agreement allowing U.S. troops to remain in this country for three more years."  We'll come back to Sheridan's article but just absorb that because she appears to be not just the only one reporting but the only one with a grasp of facts.  The UN mandate (covering the occupation) expires December 31st.  A new agreement is needed or the mandate needs to be renewed by the UN Security Council for US troops to remain in Iraq (if it's a treaty with the US; renewing the UN mandate would actually cover all foreign troops).  Somehow everyone in the press thinks the treaty is about withdrawal.  It was never about withdrawal, it was about creating a legal context and framework to allow US troops to remain in Iraq.  But apparently it was bring your inner-child to work day today and they were allowed to run free.  Sheridan covers the basics:
The accord still needs approval from Iraq's parliament, but the cabinet vote indicated that most major Iraqi parties supported it. The Iraqi government spokesman portrayed the pact as closing the book on the occupation that began with the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
"The total withdrawal will be completed by December 31, 2011. This is not governed by circumstances on the ground," the spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, told Iraqi reporters, pointedly rejecting the more conditional language that the U.S. government had sought in the accord.
American officials have pointed out that there is nothing stopping the next Iraqi government from asking some U.S. troops to stay. The Iraqi military is years away from being able to defend the country from external attack, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Yes, the spokespeople did run with spin.  Why so many in the press elected to adopt it is a mystery.  Some Iraqis do believe the spin (others bought off and intimdated by the State Dept don't give a damn) but then they thought the original version gave them 'rights' over US service members who committed crimes, now didn't they? The US really isn't that good at wars but the government has always excelled in treaties that lulled the other party into believing they were getting a good deal. It never works out that way, now does it? Not for the Native Americans, not for Panama, go down the list. But an updated treaty (only recently translated out of English) is wonderful, it's marvelous, it's . . . George W. Bush is not about to end the Iraq War. Get real.

It takes a lot of stupid to set aside US history and assume this treaty with an occupied nation is (for the first time ever) a fair and beneficial (to the Iraqis) treaty. But didn't the press do that?  It's hard to figure out whether the Iraqis or the press are the NYC immigrants to the White House's Peaches O'Day, determined to sell and re-sell the Brooklyn Bridge over and over.  In Every Day's a Holiday, Mae West tosses out lines that the US government could never hope to pull off (like, "I may crack a law, but I ain't never broke one") and a few that would be completely believable coming from the current administration ("Larceny nothin', you'll send 'em a check in the morning.").  Though it's not surprising to see the puppet government in Iraq play the role of Fritz Krausmeyer, it's shocking to also see the press so eager to play the sap.
The propsed treaty would give US forces legal protection to remain in Iraq.  It is not about withdrawal.  And for those still not grasping that fact, let's return to what Dana Perino told the press today and zoom in on this: "One of the points that we conceded was that we would establish these aspirational dates."  Aspirational dates?  Not concrete ones.  A withdrawal treaty would cover withdrawal.  This treaty focuses on keeping US troops in Iraq through 2011 at which point the treaty runs out.  Does that mean anything?  Yes, it means that a new treaty would then be ironed out.  It might or might not call for withdrawal.  It might or might not do something else.  But the treaty before the Iraqis right now has "aspirational dates" and is about the US remaining in Iraq through the end of 2011. 
The troop withdrawal dates are targets, not set in stone. They are designed to appease the widely held sentiment among Iraqis that US forces must not be allowed to stay indefinitely; that they are a tolerated, necessary nuisance rather than welcomed guests.   
In reality, as of today there seems scant prospect that every US soldier will have left Iraq within the next three years, and all 400 or so US bases closed. But the suggestion this is going to happen makes the Sofa more palatable to a sceptical Iraqi public. It is an unremarkable and understandable political survival tactic to make a promise that will get broken, if that is what it takes to gets out of a tight spot and buy some time.
Add to it Ken Fireman (Bloomberg News) reporting that the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen, is making remarks at odd with today's spin such as (on withdrawal), "To remove the entire force would be two to three years, as opposed to something we could do in a very short period of time."  (Actually, all US troops could be withdrawn in the first 100 days of the new administration.)  Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) observes, "Mullen emphasized that he still believes any U.S. troop reductions should be based on the levels of violence in Iraq - a position that runs counter to the official Iraqi stance."  Bryan Bender (Boston Globe) explains the 'binding' contract really isn't, "Once approved by the Iraqi Parliament, which began debate on the measure today, it cannot be changed by either side for at least a year, according to Article 31 of the draft."  At least a year?  So in December 2009, this Troops-Home-In-2011! spin might spin right out the window?  Yes. 
The treaty will be the topic of a hearing this week in the US.  US House Rep Bill Delahunt's office issued a press release Thursday:
U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight will hold his eighth hearing on the proposed U.S.-Iraq security agreement on Wednesday, November 19th at 10am.   
Next week's hearing will examin the possibilty that any bilateral agreement, reached between the Bush Administration and teh government of Iraq may effectivly tie the hands of the next Administration as a result of a clause in Article 31 in a draft of the accord that would prohibit the United States from cancelling it for one year.   
At the end of October, Delahunt joined with Congresswman Rosa DeLauro in writing to President Bush asking for a temporary extension of the UN mandate for Iraq which expires on December 31, and is the sold instrument providing U.S. troops with the legal authorization to engage in combat opeartions in Iraq.  
US House Reps Bill Delahunt and Rosa DeLauro penned also penned July 8th's  "The Wrong Partnership for Iraq" (Washington Post).
Reaction to the news of the council signing off on the treaty was mixed.  AP quotes Mohsen Bilal, Syrian Information Minister, stating the treaty is an "award to the occupiers."  However, Gina Chon (Baghdad Life, Wall Street Journal) notes that Iran's Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi hails the council's move as a "victory" and Chon also notes, "When asked about the change in tone from Iran, a senior U.S. official said today there was absolutely no softening in Iran's position. He added that Iran's opposition was not just about getting the U.S. out of Iraq, but also ultimately winning the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Another U.S. official characterized the recent comments from Iran as an adjustment in strategy to try to take credit for the approval of the security pact from the Iraqi cabinet."  Reactions within Iraq are many but we'll focus on this unnamed Iraq quoted by Sami Moubayed (Asia Times), "I never trusted Nuri al-Maliki.  I would count my fingers after shaking his hands.  Although we have no proof at this stage, it is clear that plenty of money was handsomely distributed last week in Baghdad, to make sure that the entire cabinet -- with no exceptions -- ratified the agreement draft with the United States.  One day this will come out in the classified archives of the US, perhaps 30 years form now. . . .  We now realize why no serious effort was made at getting the resigned ministers from the Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front or the Shi'ite bloc of Muqtada al-Sadr to rejoin the Maliki cabinet.  Malaki knew that if they were in office, they surely would have drowned the agreemtn within the cabinet of ministers."  Archbishop Jean Benjamin Sleiman tells AP that the treay "may not be enough to lure back Christians who have fled Baghdad."
AFP reports al-Sadr's bloc in Parliament insisted that the "draft law on treaties and conventions" be reviewed instead of the treaty between the White House and al-Maliki and the speaker compromised by allowing them both to be read.  Xinhau reports that US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari signed the treaty today.   In DC, spokesperson Sean McCormack handled today's press briefing and repeatedly side-stepped the issue of dates even when asked if they could be discussed.  McCormack did note that after Parliament, "then I think it has to be ratified by the Presidency Council as a final step." 

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