Saturday, November 22, 2008

Boo-hoos in Barack's fan club

Starting with the treaty passed off as a Status Of Forces Agreement.  Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) reports on yesterday Parliament activity: "Critics of the agreement tried to further put off discussion Thursday, shouting and banging on tables. . . . But lawmakers in the 30-member Sadr bloc, who have been opposing the agreement, failed to stop the legislation's progress.  speaker Mahmoud Mashadani extended the parliament session so debate would continue on Saturday and a vote could still come next week.  He already had canceled a leave that had been scheduled for lawmakers next week to cover several Muslim holidays, saying the vote on the pact was too important to delay further."  However, on the holiday, CNN notes, "If a vote has to be held beyond Monday, Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said it could be delayed by the annual hajj religious pilgrimage and Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that comes at the end of the pilgrimage."  The Los Angeles Times' blog notes that the treaty needs to be read aloud in the Parliament a third time before going to a vote.  Salah Hemeid (Al-Ahram Weekly) observes, "It is not clear if the endorsement requires a simple, or a two thirds, majority of the 275-member legislative -- the latter a constituational requirement for key legislation.  It is also unclear if the assembly will debate the agreement article by article or vote, as the government wants, on the whole package, or what will constitute a quorum should its detractors try to prevent its passage by astaining or walking out."
Before we go further, in the US you can make your voice heard via  American Freedom Campaign:

Does this sound right to you?  
Next week, the Iraqi Parliament is expected to vote on whether to approve an agreement setting the terms of the ongoing military relationship between the United States and Iraq. So far, so good. A legislative body, representing the people of a nation, shall determine the extent to which that nation's future will be intertwined with that of another.  
Of course, one would expect that the United States Congress would be given the same opportunity. That, however, is not the case. Or at least it is not what the Bush administration is allowing to happen. Shockingly, the Bush administration is not even letting Congress
read the full agreement before it is signed! 
We need you to send a message immediately to U.S. House and Senate leaders, urging them to demand the constitutional input and approval to which they are entitled.  
The administration has asserted that the agreement between the U.S. and Iraq is merely a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and therefore does not require congressional approval. Yet the agreement goes far beyond the traditional limits of a SOFA, which typically set the terms for bringing materials and equipment into a nation and outline the legal procedures that will apply to members of the military who are accused of crimes.  
Believe it or not, the current agreement contains terms that will actually give Iraq a measure of control over U.S. forces. No foreign nation or international entity has ever been given the authority to direct U.S. forces without prior congressional approval - either through a majority vote of both chambers or a two-thirds vote in the Senate in the case of treaties.  
If this agreement goes into effect without congressional approval, it will establish a precedent under which future presidents can exercise broad unilateral control over the U.S. military -- and even give foreign nations control over our troops.  
Congress must take immediate action. Unfortunately, they are about to adjourn for at least a couple of weeks. But it is not too late for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to make a statement, signaling their strong belief that Congress will not be bound by and need not fund an agreement that has not been approved by Congress.  
Please send an E-mail encouraging such action to Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid immediately by clicking [here]
This is truly a dire situation and we hope that you will join us in calling for action.  Thank you.   
Steve Fox 

Campaign Director 
American Freedom Campaign Action Fund 
Today White House spokesperson Dana Perino declared on Air Force One that the treaty would be available to the American peoope "soon," "As soon as we possibly can, when we're -- agreement is reached, we'll be able to do that.  You bet. . . .  As soon as we possibly can, when we're -- agreement is reached, we'll be able to do that.  You bet. . . .
I don't know exactly the timing of it.  Obviously, we've provided full briefings to appropriate members of Congress.  I think over 200 members of Congress saw it.  Secretaries Rice and Gates, amongst others -- I think General Lute -- were up on Capitol Hill to provide that information to the citizens, representatives in Congress.  And then as soon as we are able to, we'll provide the English language, sure. . . . .  I actually can't tell you when it will be.  I just don't know."  In other words, no, the treaty isn't being released to the American people anytime soon. 
In Iraq, Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell (New York Times) note the Sunni attitude conveyed by MP Aala Maki, "To be clear, it is not the treaty that is the problem. What will be built on the treaty, that is the problem."  They're dancing to get their palms greasedRania Abouzeid (Time magazine) reports, "The discord in Iraq's parliament, and on its streets, over the Baghdad government's Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Washington is over a lot more than the date on which U.S. troops are to withdraw and the rules governing their conduct until then. As the rabble-rousing Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr made clear on Friday, it's also about which Iraqi parties will best leverage the Americans' eventual departure to their own political benefit. Sadr drew thousands of supporters to Firdous Square in central Baghdad on Friday to protest against the draft accord, which awaits a ratification vote in Iraq's parliament on Monday." 
CBS and AP cover the protest and note, "After a mass prayer, demonstrators pelted the effigy with plastic water bottles and sandals. One man hit it in the face with his sandal. The effigy fell head first into the crowd and protesters jumped on it before setting it ablaze." AP's Hamza Hendawi reports the demonstration Moqtada al-Sadr called last week took place today following prayers in Baghdad and that the Bully Boy of the United States was "burned" in "effigy" "in the same central Baghdad square where [US shipped in exile] Iraqis beat a toppled statue of Saddam Hussein with their sandals five years earlier" and the Bush stand-in was also "pelted . . . with plastic water bottles and sandals" and it "held a sign that said: 'The security agreement . . . shame and humiliation'." CNN adds, "The demonstration brought out one of the largest crowds to congregate in Baghdad since protests against the agreement started this year. The square was sealed off and traffic was blocked as thousands chanted 'No no to the agreement,' 'No no America,' and 'Out, out occupation'."  Deborah Haynes (Times of London) quotes Sheikh Abelhadi al-Mohammedawi telling those assembled, "If they [US] do not get out then and those with me are ready to drive them out in the method that we see fit, provided that it does not go against religion."  AFP reports that a statement from Moqtada al-Sadr was read to the crowd and quotes it as follows: "If they don't leave the country I am going to be with you to make them leave in a way that suits you, as long as it doesn't go against the religion.  And if they leave the country and you fear that the enemy coming from outside will transform your land into a battlefield, I and my followers will be a shield for Iraq."  BBC (which has text and video on the demonstration) quotes al-Sadr's statement thusly: "Let the government know that America is and will not be of any use to us because it is the enemy of Islam."  BBC provides a photo essay here.  Tina Susman and Caesar Ahmed (Los Angeles Times) describe the scene around the demonstration, "Iraqi army snipers perched on rooftops along the broad avenues leading to the square, a public gathering spot in the middle of a traffic roundabout decorated with fountains and greenery.  The effigy of Bush, wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, dangled for hours as the crowd, which stretched for several city blocks, knelt in prayer and listened to clerics denounce the Status of Forces Agreement."  Reuters photos (such as here) include a caption that notes "Iraqi forces shut streets in Baghdad".  Xinhau notes, "Iraqi security forces cordoned off the area, blocking all the roads leading to the route of the demonstration".  This Reuters photo by Mushtaq Muhammed shows Iraq soldiers frisking a young man holding a sign bearing al-Sadr's photo "before entering the rally site".  This Reuters photo by Kareem Raheem shows an American flag being burned at the demonstration.  Adam Ashton (McClatchy Newspapers) explains the catchy tune sung as the rally ended, "Maliki is the new Sadam."
Staying with the treaty, AP's Matthew Lee reports that mercenaries such as Dyncorp, Blackwater, Triple Canopy and KBR have been informed by the US State Dept and Pentagon that the treaty will mean "private Americans and non-Iraqi foreigners working in key roles for the United States in Iraq will lose immunity and be subjected to Iraqi law". AFP adds, "One-hundred-and-seventy-two contractors who provide armed escorts and other security measures to government officials, diplomats and NGOs have been briefed on the new rules."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Christ-child mounts his cross

An important Congressional hearing took place yesterday.  The same press that sold the illegal war worked overtime to ignore the hearing.  Let's start with the new romantic drama/comedy hour, The Unnamed Source Whisperer.  Yes, there's Nancy A. Youssef embarrassing the hell out of herself.  Not McClatchy -- it has embarrassed itself for some time now.  So The Unnamed Source Whisperer Youssef can hog all the shame.  Wallow in it, Nancy, it's all yours.  She offers a 'backstory' on the treaty with about as much grounding in truth as a seventies Rolling Stone profile of Linda Ronstadt (those pieces pissed off Linda for good reason).  About as much truth and about as much 'news'.  The 18th of November, Youssef's colleague Leila Fadel made a fool out of herself as well.  Her opening sentence underscored she knew how to clear a room: "The status of forces of agreement between the United States and Iraq is now called the withdrawal agreement, and that's exactly what it is: an ultimate end to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq."  Is that what it is exactly, Leila? 
Is that what passes for reporting at the increasing crap-fest known as McClatchy?  That sentence sounds a lot like an editorial or a column or a blog post.  It does not sound like reporting.  And it's not factual.  It wasn't when Fadel wrote it and it certainly IS NOT FACTUAL after yesterday's Congressional hearing when it was learned that the English version and the Arabic version are not on the same page and the Arabic version gives the impression that more is promised.  So where's the corrective?  Probably never coming. Fadel's 'reporting' was asinine upon delivery.  But it got waived through.
From American Friends Service Committee's translation of the Arabic version (which, remember, is different than the English version that the White House refuses to publicly release -- and this morning the State Dept's Sean McCormick referred questions of its release to the American people back to the White House, FYI):
Article Thirty
Contract Validity
1 - This agreement is valid for three years unless it is terminated earlier by either parties in accordance with paragraph 3 of this article.
[. . .]
3 - Cancellation of this agreement requires a written notice provided one year in advance. 
That third section, does no one understand contract law?  What you have is a one-year agreement with two options for renewal (it's automatically renewed if no one cancels).  It's a one-year contract.  Were a performer to sign it, he or she would be signing a one year contract with two pick-up options.  This isn't a three-year contract at all.  And since either side can cancel it at any point with only a year's heads up, what it says will happen in 2011 really doesn't matter. All that really matters is what it says for 2009 because that's the only period that both sides are bound to.  This isn't some deep, obscure psuedo-science.  It's basic contract law.  It is a one-year contract covering only 2009.  After 2009, it can be renewed for 2010 just by not announcing an intent to depart from the contract and, if it is renewed, it can run through 2011 in the same manner.  But this is not a three-year contract.  [Community members, if this is at all complicated or confusing, e-mail and we'll go over it tonight and use a concrete example I almost included here yesterday and today but thought it would make it too 'chatty.'  It will explain a one-year contract and options for renewal.] 
While we're on Article 30, the second clause wasn't raised in Congress yesterday but should have been: "This agreement cannot be modified without an official written approval of both sides and in accordance to constitutional procedures in both countries."  That clause appears to argue that an alteration in this treaty (that they work so hard to avoid calling a treaty) would have to go through both country's legislative bodies.  The US Constitution makes no mention of the 'powers' the White House is attempting to self-create; however, it does explain Congressional approval of treaties. 
If you really want to despair over how wretched today's media is, take a moment to grasp that the US government propaganda channel Voice Of America did a better job of reporting on the hearing than did the New York Times, McClatchy Newspapers, CBS News, ABC, the Los Angeles Times, et al.  That's in part because VOA's Dan Robinson actually reported on it -- that alone put him far ahead the rest of the losers. Here's Robinson (text and audio):
However, many U.S. lawmakers have been angry with what they view as a secretive process in which the Bush administration undertook very little if any consultation with Congress.  
These feelings were evident in a public hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee, where Democratic Representative William Delahunt voiced his frustration.  
"There has been no meaningful consultation with Congress during the negotiation of this agreement and the American people for all intents and purposes have been completely left out." 
Delahunt referred to a request from the National Security Council that the text of the agreement not be released publicly, and be withheld from witnesses at the hearing.  
Oona Hathaway, Professor Law at the University of California at Berkeley calls the lack of consultation with Congress unprecedented, asserting that aspects of the accord exceed the independent constitutional powers of the president. 
Among troublesome provisions she points to is one involving a joint U.S.-Iraqi coordinating committee that she suggests would require U.S. commanders to seek permission to engage in military activities other than self-defense.   
"The provisions granting authority to U.S. troops to engage in military operations, the grant of power over our military operations to this joint committee, and the specification of timetables for withdrawal of military forces," Hathaway said.   "These are unprecedented in a standard SOFA [Status of Forces Agreement] have never been part of a standard SOFA, and extend in my view far beyond what the president can do without obtaining congressional approval."  
The best report filed is by Jenny Paul with the Boston Globe and she's the only one with a major daily to file on the hearing.   Raed Jarrar testimony is noted by Paul:
Jarrar told the House subcommittee a simple-majority approval of the pact could proke unrest and violence in Iraq.
"Most of the groups who are opposing it in the parliament, have been saying, 'If you wanted to go through some loopholes -- not send it to Parliament or pass it through a simple majority -- we will quit this political process as a whole, and we will go back to armed resistance,' " he said. 
Jarrar got shortchanged (by me) in yesterday's snapshot due to time running out while I was dictating the snapshot.  We focused on Professor Oona A. Hathaway of UC Berkeley's School of Law because she addressed what the treaty wasn't (it's not a SOFA, Leila) and the illegal nature of it boiling it down to three main points. 
1) "The agreement in my view threatens to undermine the Constitutional powers of President-elect Obama as commander-in-chief and it does so in two ways. 
a) So first this agreement gives operational control to a Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee which is made up of Iraqis and Americans and is jointly led by both sides according to the agreement."
b) "The proposed agreement also undermines the Constitutional powers of President-elect Obama as commander in chief by binding him to observe specific timetables that are outlined in the agreement for the withdrawal of  US troops."
2) "The conclusion of this agreement without any Congressional involvement is unprecedented and, in my view, unconstitutional." 
3) "If the administration proceeds as planned the war will likely become illegal under United States law when the UN mandate expires on December 31st."
Somehow that wasn't important enough to get included in any of Nancy and The Unnnamed Source Whisperers' 'reporting' today.
Lazy and bad reporters as well as professional liars posing as reporters are doing TREMENDOUS DAMAGE.  They are selling the treaty as an end to the illegal war when it is no such thing.  And where's Panhandle Media?  Amy Goodman finally got around today to noting Lord Thomas Bingham's speech (see Tuesday's snapshot, and the speech was given Monday).  The Nation?  If they've got a word on it (even one of their useless ones), it's not to be found on their main page.  As usual the alleged 'independent' media can't be counted on to do anything but offer their breathless Barack Fan Club bulletins, every hour on the hour. 

The MSM is repeatedly lying (with very few exceptions) and stating that the treaty means withdrawal.  Might some of our so-called 'independent' media spare a second or two to evaluate that claim?  If the Iraqi Parliament can stall for ten days, the White House will be forced to seriously explore extending the United Nations' Security Council mandate.  As Raed Jarrar explained to Congress yesterday, there is about to be a month-long break. (Gina Chon says the break is scheduled to start "Nov. 25, but that could be delayed"). The UN mandate expires December 31st.  This issue isn't one that 'independent' media can pick up after the fact in January without embarrassing itself.  By January, it will be over.  They either cover it now while it matters or they admit they're not a news media, just a fan service for Barack and start mailing autographed glossies to all who contribute.
Hathaway explained at length to Congress yesterday how the treaty was harmful to the incoming president so you'd think the Barack Boosters would be alarmed if only for that reason and rush to cover the treaty.  There is a tiny of window of opportunity to stop the treaty and 'independent' media's not doing a damn thing.  Not that the 'anti-war' groups are doing a damn thing either.  The laughable United for Peace & Justice AND MONEY is still stroking itself with statements on Barack Obama's election win maintaint that their "consistent work . . . helped lay the foundation for the Obama campaign's success."  Remember that for their movement tombstone four years on down the line. 
American Friends Service Committee may be the only organization aware of the treaty.  And they make their translation the top link on their home page.  Campbell Robertson and Suadad al-Salhy (New York Times) report on Wednesday's Parliament session when the treaty was being read of the second day in a row: "For the next two hours, the Paliament speaker, Mahomoud Mashhadanai, lashed out at the objectors and refused their demands to change the Parliament agenda.  He then invited Hassan al-Sneid, a Shiite lawmaker, to begin the second public readng of the agreement, a matter of parliamentary procuedure.  As Mr. Sneid began reading, withensses said, Sadrists and other opponents of the agreement continued to trade shouts with lawmakers who supported it.  Then, Ahmed Masu'udi, a Sadrist lawmaker, approached the dais.  Mr. Masu'udi said later in an interview that he was simply trying to reach Mr. Mashhadani to persuade him to stop the reading: several other witnesses said Mr. Massu'udi tried to attack Mr. Sneid."  Saif Rasheed and Tina Susman (Los Angeles Times) add: "Lawmakers from three other political blocs joined the Sadr loyalists in condemning what they called bullying by bodyguards inside parliament, and they pledged to boycott further sessions.  The groups don't have enough combined seats to prevent a quorom in the 275-seat legislature, assuming enough lawmakers showed up, but their action will deny Prime Minister Nouri Maliki the broad-based backing he needs to avoid deepening rifts that have hobbled efforts at reconciliation."  Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) explains, "Cabinet members, including foreign minister and finance minister, were scheduled to speak before parliament to lobby for the deal.  Instead, the session ended abruptly after a shoving match between a lawmaker and security guards." NPR's Ivan Watson (All Things Considered) notes that the TV feed of the session cut away: "The last thing viewers saw Wednesday was a lawmaker from Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's faction denouncing the agreement.  Sadr has opposed the security pact almost from the beginning.  As his uspporter addressed parliament, the audio and video feed abruptly dropped out, and seconds later, state TV resumed regular programming with an unrelated news broadcast. Meanwhile, off-camera, uniformed Iraqi guards raced through the parliament building, locking doors and barring lawmakers and journalists from leaving. Rumors quickly spread that a fight had broken out inside the assembly hall."  At the New York Times' blog Baghdad Bureau, Stephen Farrell writes an intro to a collection of past reports by the paper on Iraq and treaties starting with October 12, 1922's "BRITISH CONCLUDE ALLIANCE WITH IRAK" and running through January 21, 1948's "8 DIE, 140 HURT IN IRAQ IN PROTEST OVER PACT" (which is actually an Associated Press report, not a report by the paper) -- all reports can be read in full and are in PDF format.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More cronies for Barack

"This is the eighth in a series of hearings which the Subcommittee has held on the Bush administration's efforts to consummate what was initially described as a long-term security agreement with the government of Iraq," declared US House Rep Bill Delahunt as he brought the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to order today.  The topic was the treaty the White House is trying to make with their puppets in Iraq.  Delahunt noted he shared "the concerns expressed by the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, our friend and colleague Ike Skelton, who has been quoted as being 'deeply troubled' because the agreement contains, as he says, 'vague language that will cause misunderstandings and conflict between the United States and Iraq in the future'."
Rep Bill Delahunt: And by the way, no one should forget that this agreement has just been provided to Congress -- and that there has been no time to conduct the analysis required by such a significant document -- one that purports to end a conflict that has had such momentous and tragic consequences for both the Iraqi and the American people.  And remember there has been no meaningful consultation with Congress during the negotiation of this agreement.  And the American people, for all intents and purposes, have been kept completely left out. Even now the National Security Council has requested that we do not show this document to our witnesses or release it to the public -- a public that for over five years has paid so dearly with blood and treasure.  Now I find that incredible.  Meantime, the Iraqi government has posted this document on its media website so that anybody who can read Arabic can take part in the public discourse.  But this is typical of the Bush administration and its unhealthy and undemocratic obsession with secrecy.
Delahunt went on to outline three things that had to take place for the treaty to be legal:
1) The Iraqi Parliament enacts by a two-thirds majority -- 184 of its 275 members -- a law governing the ratification of international agreements.
2) The Iraqi Parliament then enacts the proposed bilateral security agreement under that ratification law -- which as introduced this past Monday in their Parliament also would require a two-thirds vote of approval, and
3) The United States Congress enacts a law that approves and implements the security agreement -- and authorizes offensive combat operations by US forces.
Oona A. Hathaway, Raed Jarrar, Michael Matheson, Issam Michael Saliba AEI's Thomas Donnelly offered testimony to the committee.
One issue that arose was the possibility of extending the United Nations Security Council mandate (the mandate expires December 31st).  Jarrar explained that there had been resistance in the past to extending the mandate; however, today it is seen by proponents in Iraq "as the lesser of two evils, but not as a strategic goal.  Many Iraqi groups in the Parliament think it is better to give the Parliament more time to debate the agreement rather than just rushing it within the next few weeks."  Matheson, professor at George Washington University Law School, also spoke of the mandate and noted that a UN mandate could take place under Chapter 7 (as has been done) or under Chapter 6.  Saliba is a Senior Foreign Law Specialist with the Law Library of Congress and his focus was the approval mechanism in the Parliament which eh found to require support of two-thirds of the MPs ("it is logical to conclude that the ratification of an agreement negotiated by the Iraqi government needs a two-thirds majority of all members of Parliament for its ratification"). 
"I will focus my remarks on what I believe are the three most pressing legal issues regarding the proposed bilateral agreement with Iraq," declared Professor Oona Hathaway of UC Berkeley's School of Law in her opening statements.  "There are, of course, many others I'm happy to talk about.  And then I'll conclude by outlining what I think are the possible ways for addressing these concerns."
1) "The agreement in my view threatens to undermine the Constitutional powers of President-elect Obama as commander-in-chief and it does so in two ways.
a) So first this agreement gives operational control to a Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee which is made up of Iraqis and Americans and is jointly led by both sides according to the agreement."
The concern of Hathaway is that before US commanders could engage in military operations in the field they would have to receive approval from the JMOCC with only an exception for self-defense. Hathaway noted this was unprecedented and that US command control has never been handed out over to foreign powers other than a very narrow peace keeping situation approved by the Congress. 
b) "The proposed agreement also undermines the Constitutional powers of President-elect Obama as commander in chief by binding him to observe specific timetables that are outlined in the agreement for the withdrawal of  US troops."
Oona Hathaway: Here the specifics of the timetables are fairly clear, it's sixteen months for withdrawal  from the cities, towns and villages and three years withdrawal from Iraq.  What is uncertain is what President-elect Obama would have to do if he wanted to withdraw early. There are two different texts that we are working with.  One is a translation of the Arabic language text which has been -- as Chairman Delahunt said -- made available by the Iraqi government.  That text says the following, it says, "The United States recognizes Iraq's sovereign right to request a US forces withdrawal from Iraq at any time.  The Iraqi government recognizes the United States' sovereign right to request a United States forces withdrawal from Iraq at any time."  So the language here seems to me suggest the United States can request the right to withdrawal but cannot simply withdraw early.  And if that is in fact what the agreement says then that creates serious concerns because, of course, President-elect Obama campaigned on a promise of withdrawing forces much earlier than three years and this would seem to require him to get the approval of the Iraqi government in order to actually carry out that promise.  Now the English language version which I just received last night states what seems to be quite different, it states the following, "The government of Iraq recognizes the sovereign right of the United States to withdraw the United States forces from Iraq at any time."  So there is -- that seems to give much more leeway to the president to withdraw troops earlier though, of course, if conditions on the ground turn out to make it difficult or impossible or unsafe to withdraw troops earlier than three years he would have to obtain the approval of the Iraqi government in order to keep troops in the country longer.  In any case, this raises obvious concerns  about which of these texts we should be believing and whether they in fact say the same thing.  But the basic concern I have here is that this agreement commits the president to abide by timetables that he has had no role in shaping and may even make it more difficult for him to meet his campaign promise of bringing troops home within sixteen to eighteen months. 
2) "The conclusion of this agreement without any Congressional involvement is unprecedented and, in my view, unconstitutional." 
Oona Hathaway: So presidents can enter into agreements on their own -- they're called Sole Executive Agreements.  But these agreements must be within the president's own independent powers.  This agreement goes far beyond the president's own independent, Constitutional powers in several ways.  Now the administration has responded to this critique in the past by saying, "This is simply a Status Of Forces Agreement -- a SOFA.  We've got hundreds -- we've got more than a hundred of these around the world.  All of these have been concluded as Sole Executive Agreements entered by the president by himself.  So what are you so concerned about?" And the answer is: This is not a SOFA.  This is, in fact, a much more comprehensive agreement than any Status of Forces Agreement that is out there and includes a variety of provisions that, as far as I'm aware -- and I've read about sixty to eighty of these agreements, that have never been a part of any Status Of Forces Agreement.  In particular the provisions granting authority to US troops to engage in military operations, the grant of power over military operations to this joint committee that I mentioned earlier and the specification of timetables for withdrawal of military forces.  These are unprecedented in a standard Status Of Forces Agreement, have never been part of a standard Status Of Forces Agreement and extend, in my view, far beyond what the the President can do without obtaining Congressional approval.  The administration has also suggested that the agreement doesn't really grant the authority to fight and therefore it does not need to be approved by Congress.  In my view that is manifestly incorrect.  This agreement is -- the entire purpose is to grant the authority to fight.  It is meant to replace the UN mandate. The UN mandate is the authority under which US troops are currently present in Iraq and the entire reason for the proposal of the agreement at this time is because that mandate is about to expire and when it does there will no longer be a legal authority for the United States troops to be present in Iraq.  This agreement gives in fact gives that authority to fight to replace the UN mandate.  So to suggest that it doesn't do that and therefore need not be approved by Congress clearly is not correct.
3) "If the administration proceeds as planned the war will likely become illegal under United States law when the UN mandate expires on December 31st."
Oona Hathaway: At present, domestic legal authority for the war in Iraq is based on House Joint Resolution 114 which was passed in October of 2002.  The resolution authorizes the president to use the armed forces for two purposes.  One, to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq and two to enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.  And let me take the second first. The second is, in my view, what is currently operative at this moment.  There is a Security Council resolution in effect that is currently governing the presence of US troops and, therefore, it is the case that, in fact, we are -- that the president may enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq as long as that resolution is in effect this domestic legal authority is also in effect.  But when the mandate expires at the end of the year -- as it is due to expire -- that no longer, that legal basis for the war in Iraq no longer exists.  So then we're left with the first part of the authorization: To defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.  Now this was enacted, remember, in 2002 when Saddam Hussein was in power and we were hearing about threats of Weapons of Mass Destruction.  And so it was clear what the threat posed by Iraq was, it was posed by the government of Iraq.  Of course, that government has changed  and those same threats to the United States do not exist.  And, in fact, the bilateral agreement with Iraq recognizes this change.  That agreement itself states that, "The danger posed to international peace and stability by the former Iraqi government is now gone."  So this agreement, to my mind, says what we all know to be true which is that the threat that this resolution was meant to address has been resolved and there no longer is this threat by the government of Iraq against the United States. So once this mandate expires at the end of the year -- if it is not renewed -- then legal authority for the war in Iraq as a matter of United States' law no longer exists. So what do we do?  And this is where I am going to end.  There are, in my view, two legal options available.  The first, as Chairman Delahunt mentioned, is renewal of the UN mandate.  A simple renewal of the mandate for six months would address all these problems.  It would give legal authority as a matter of international law for US troops to be present but it would also extend authority as a matter of US law because the resolution that I just mentioned clearly incorporates any future Security Council resolutions and extensions of those resolutions.  So that is a very real and I think one of the best options available.  There's' a second possible option as well which is submitting this agreement to Congress for approval.  If Congress were to approve this agreement then all these concerns would also be addressed, then this would no longer be a Sole Executive Agreement and the Congress would have had a chance to address, consider and respond to the concerns that might be raised about the substance of the agreement and if it chooses to approve the agreement, these Constitutional and legal concerns that I've raised would be addressed.
During questioning, US House Rep Lynn Woolsey noted "It is clear to me that there are many interpretations of what this treaty/agreement is."  It would be wise for those in the press who continue to miss that point to pause and consider that.  We'll focus on this section of the hearing between Woolsey and Hathaway.
Rep Lynn Woolsey: What is the legal standing?  Will an agreement/treaty be -- have standing if it does not come before the House of Representatives of the Congress in general?
Oona Hathaway: Well this is a complicated question as you might imagine. In my view it would be unconstitutional because it would extend beyond the president's power to conclude an agreement under his own independent powers and for all the reasons we've discussed it clearly goes beyond those limits.  The question is: How would you challenge it?  How would you demonstrate that?  One possibility, obviously, is a resolution in Congress, another is a challenge in the courts -- that's unlikely to succeed.  So the likely result would be that we would be operating under an unconstitutional agreement and what worries me is not only that -- although that is quite worrisome in and of itself -- but the precedent that that sets.  So we then set a precedent that the president can enter into an agreement to commit US troops without having to get the assent of Congress.  And, moreover, that the limits that we all thought applied to Sole Executive Agreements, the limits that had been observed by presidents for a generation on agreements that are entered into by presidents on their own no longer apply.  All bets are off.  So could President Obama enter Kyoto on his own? Could he enter the Law of the Sea Treaty on his own?  If we don't know what the limits are, it creates real questions about where those -- where the Constitutional limits are? If they're not going to be observed then that creates problems not just in this instance but in every future case as well.
Rep Lynn Woolsey: So how do you think we can untangle this mess?
Oona Hathaway: My view is I think that this legislation is very positive.  I think that, if in fact something like that were to pass demanding that Congress approve the agreement, I think that could have a significant effect.  As I said, that would address all the questions that I've raised about the procedural issues.  Congress could work out the substantive concerns if it had any about the agreement.  But if  this agreement were approved by Congress -- and there's nothing that would stop the president, I should say, from simply submitting this agreement as it is for approval as what's called an ex post congressional-executive agreement.  That is a legal procedure that is available to the president and then this Congress would be able to pass that through majority votes in both houses and then it would become a legal agreement with the seal of approval of Congress and would be federal law and address all the concerns that I've raised.  So that, to my mind, is a very real and, I think, would be an extremely positive development though, sadly I'm afraid, not entirely realistic.  Another possibility is, of course, a renewal of the UN mandate because that does address both the international and domestic law issues that I've raised.  In effect, that kicks the ball down the road because then we still have the issue of 'then what do we do?'  That mandate would only be in effect for a short period of time -- the period of time talked about is six months.  You'd have to enter an agreement then.  My hope would be that given the stated position of the president-elect and vice president-elect on this issue that they would not only negotiate a good agreement but would submit that to Congress for approval.
"There's something strange" Rep Howard Byrne noted that the Iraqi Parliament was expected to approve or not but the US Congress wasn't and that the Iraqi Parliament and people can see the treaty but, in the US, Congress is not allowed to release it to the American people.  
We'll also note this exchange between Raed Jarrar and the subcommittee chair Bill Delahunt.
Bill Delahunt:  I'm just going to ask Mr. Jarrar a question.  One of the concerns that I have to go to the issue of the vote in Iraq on the so-called implementation or ratification law. I -- My reading and the statements that I've noticed from the Speaker of the Council of Representatives and the legal committee of the Iraqi Parliament are clear that a two-thirds vote is required.  In your testimony, you indicated that there is now discussion about a simple majority.  If in the end, there's a vote of approval by a simple majority, in your opinion, could this provoke unrest and violence in Iraq predicated on the opinion of some including elements in Iraq that are hostile to our interests.  Could this provoke them to cause mischief, if you will?  And provide them a rational which would be: Look, they're circumventing the law and yet they preach respect for the rule of law and democracy.
Raed Jarrar:  Before I answer the question, let me just state very clearly that the Iraqi Constitutional  Court has not been formed yet.  So the Iraqi Constitutional Court that is supposed to deal with such questions -- now, this is just another sign of how premature this bilateral agreement is.  It's falling on a very unprepared regime in Iraq that still has a lot of its basic components uncreated -- they were not created yet.  Now the fact that -- the mere fact that the agreement was sent to Parliament was not sent because there is a respect of the Constitution or a following of the Iraqi law as it were.  Actually it was sent by coincidence, I think, because one of the major religious leaderships in Iraq, Ayatollah Sistani insisted that the law must be sent to the Parliament.  The Iraqi executive branch lobbyied for months with Ayatollah Sistani that I think has nothing to do with politics in Iraq but it seems like the Iraqi executive branch disagrees with me.  They lobbyied for months that they should just sign the agreement as an executive memo rather than sending it to the Parliament. He said no.  That's why they sent it to the Parliament. So there is no real respect of the Constitution or laws and this I think should create a case that if it's worrisome that maybe next year they will create the Constituional Court to look back and say this bilateral agreement with the US is void actually -- don't mean anything.  And that will put everyone in a status of limbo I'm sure.  And that's why many people are saying a multilateral agreement -- like the United Nations is more guaranteed for both sides.  Now regarding the particular question of increased violence there is an overwhelming rejection of signing an agreement with the US regardless of its content and this is not -- we're not talking about marginal groups in the Parliament or outside the Parliament.  We have major Ayatollahs, the major Ayatollahs from the Shi'ite side like Ayatollah [al- Baqdadi, Ayatollah Shirzai or Ayatollah Haeri" ?] who have given a fatawa against signing the agreement, a religious order against signing the agreement.  From the Sunni side it's the same. The major mainstream Sunni leadership has given fatawas against signing the agreement.  So there is rejection regardless of the content of it  Inside the Parliament, this rejection can be seen in all kinds of components in the Iraq groups, whether they were Sunni, Shi'ites or seculars there is resistance to signing the agreement.  Now I think Ayatollah Sistani's as a very moderate voice, actually asked for a national consensus.  He said all major groups, all major political groups must agree on this. 
Delahunt made his position clear during the hearing, "What we do now could very well be referred to at some future date much to our chagrin if we don't stand up and take some sort of action.  My option is extend the UN mandate because that solves all of these issues.  It protects our troops.  It provides the authority to conduct offensive military operations."
It is not clear that all 150,000 American troops will be gone in three years. "There is a provision for an extension by agreement of both sides," a senior U.S. official said this week, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The Iraqis could decide they see a continuing role for U.S. troops, he said. "They have every right to ask us for such a presence."
The role of U.S. troops in Iraqi cities after July may also be greater than the agreement implies. The details of the troops' activities would be worked out in negotiations between the Iraqi and American military, the senior official said.
Campbell Robertson (New York Times) notes that Nouri al-Maliki went on TV yesterday and insisted "there were no secret side agreements to the" treaty.  He moved his lips so well, it might have seemed as though the puppet were speaking his own words on Iraqi TV.
AFP reports that (today) Moqtada al-Sadr supporters (Shi'ites) banged on the tables to drown out Hassan al-Sined today as he attempted to read the treaty outloud to the Parliament. The moment was broadcast on TV (which quickly killed the feed) and Fala Shanshal has stated that guards of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari beat up MP Ahmed al-Masaudi. The treaty is scheduled to be read to Parliament on Thursday when they reconvene.  We noted Michael Abramowitz' report yesterday that Barack would be shelving the cry for Senate approval (of the treaty). Raed Jarrar (Raed in the Middle) details how the transition site set up by Barack has already altered the position on Senate approval. Let's wait and see how long before such alleged champions of the Constitution Matty Rothschild and Katty van-van Heuvel speak out. (Chances are they'll both remain impotent and silent. Remember, the Constitution only matters when Democrats aren't in control with their kind.) [And, yes, Raed's post does back up Michael's reporting.
RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Press pulse

Starting with the treaty masquearding as a Status Of Forces Agreement.  Chris Floyd (Baltimore Chronicle) steps up to talk realities:
The American media is by and large swallowing the propaganda line that the Iraqi cabinet's acquiescense to a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) with the U.S. occupation force means that the Iraq War will be over in in 2011.  This will further cement the conventional wisdom that the suppurating war crime in Iraq is now behind us, and the topic will be moved even further off the radar of public scrutiny.    
But as usual, there is a wide, yawning abyss between the packaged, freeze-dried pabulum for public consumption and thhe gritty, blood-flecked truth on the ground.  As Jason Ditz reports at, the so-called "deadline" in 2011 for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces remains, as ever, an "aspiration," not an iron-clad guarantee.  The pace and size of the bruited "withdrawal" will remain, as ever, "conditions-based," says Pentagon and White House officials -- a position long echoed by the "anti-war" president-elect.  And as we all know, "conditions" in a war zone are always subject to radical, unexpected change.
And Campbell Robertson and Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) deserve credit for this bit of reporting today on the treaty, "The concessions included establishing deadlines for withdrawing combat forces from Iraqi cities by naext June and from the county by the end of 2011, though officials said the text of the agreement included language that made those dates less rigid deadlines."  While they note US Rep Bill Delahunt, they fail to note the most important detail from the press release his office issued last week:
Next week's hearing will examine the possibility that any bilateral agreement reached between the Bush Administration and the government of Iraq may effectively 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.
The hearing is tomorrow and starts at ten a.m. The most important part is "a clause in Article 31 in a draft of the accord that would prohibit the United States from cancelling it [the "bilateral agreement"] for one year."  So the treaty's not all that binding.  Binding contracts do not allow either party to cancel in one year, 'binding contracts' trumpeted for what they will 'do' three years from now (2011) do not allow either party the option to cancel out starting in 2009.  Reuters reports that Ali Larijani, Iran's Speaker of Parliament, is decrying the treaty for "strengthening comprehensive U.S. hegemony in Iraq" while Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani released a statement today which includes: "The representatives of the Iraqi people in parliament must take on a big responsibility in this case and each must be up to this historic responsibility before God and the people."
The Washington Post asserts a 'change' in Barack Obama's stance on the treaty.  First let's review the public stance this year.
During the election, the Obama-Biden campaign website revealed their stance on the so-called SOFA in "Plan for Ending the War in Iraq:"

The Status-of-Forces-Agreement

Obama and Biden believe any Status of Forces Agreement, or any strategic framework agreement, should be negotiated in the context of a broader commitment by the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops and forswearing permanent bases. Obama and Biden also believe that any security accord must be subject to Congressional approval. It is unacceptable that the Iraqi government will present the agreement to the Iraqi parliament for approval--yet the Bush administration will not do the same with the U.S. Congress. The Bush administration must submit the agreement to Congress or allow the next administration to negotiate an agreement that has bipartisan support here at home and makes absolutely clear that the U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

Post election, was set up as the official website for the Barack-Biden transition and if you pull up "The Obama-Biden Plan," you will find:

The Status-of-Forces Agreement
Obama and Biden believe it is vital that a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) be reached so our troops have the legal protections and immunities they need. Any SOFA should be subject to Congressional review to ensure it has bipartisan support here at home.

That has been the official position, that Congressional approval was required and Congressional review.  However, Michael Abramowitz (Washington Post) reports, "And the Obama transition team is signling that it wants Congress to review the pact, though not necessarily approve it."  That would be a huge shift from where Barack once stood.  It would also make Joe Biden look like a flat-out liar.  Or are we all supposed to forget the April 10th Senate Foreign Reltations committee he chaired where he told the State Dept's David Satterfield and the Defense Dept's Mary Beth Long that regarding their claim that the so-called SOFA didn't need Senator approval, "I respectfully suggest that you don't have a Constitutional leg to stand on."  And are we supposed to forget Senator Russ Feingold informing Satterfield, "I would suggest your difficulties are with the nature of our Constitution."  Or that Senators Norm Coleman and Johnny Isakson also called out the so-called SOFA (both senators are Republicans -- there was bi-partisan objection to the Senate's Constitutional role of approving any treaty being circumvented).  Back on the Democratic side, Senator Robert Menendez pointed out this bi-partisan objection, "Many of us on both sides of the aisle believe that such an agreement needs to come before Congress."   Senator Jim Webb made his position clear, "I would argue it's a document that needs Senate consent."
On both sides of the aisle, senators stood up for the Constitution (and let's not forget that they stood up in the House as well including US House Rep Susan Davis) and now this is going to be tossed aside or Barack Obama thinks it is?  That's what the Post reported this morning.  (Friends on the transition team told me this morning and this afternoon that the position has not changed and Senate approval remains the stance.  Whether that's true or not, I don't know.)  
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte spoke in Ireland yesterday where he strung together the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War, "2001" and "extremism."  When the current administration leaves office will they take the direct and indirect fale-linkage of Iraq to 9-11 with him?  You'd think so but you'd also have thought that all that lip flapping in April meant something, that a Constituional scholar like Barack wouldn't be eager to spit on the Constitution before he's even sworn in; however, the Post feels their information on this is solid and Team Barack will not fight for or advocate Senate approval.  If true, he'll go into office a damn liar and never overcome it while Democrats in the Senate will be damned in the same manner.  (Russ Feingold being Russ would most likely speak out to some degree if the Senate was circumvented.  Would the rest?)  For eight years, Democrats and their media surrogates have tossed around phrases like "rule of law" and if they think they can drop them just because "their guy" got into the White House they better expect to see huge losses in both houses of Congress come November 2010.  And you can pair this potential move by Barack with Tom Burghardt's "Obama's Intelligence Agenda: More of the Same from the 'Change Administration'" (Dissident Voice):

While expectations may be high that the incoming Obama administration will reverse many of the worst features of the Bush regime–from warrantless wiretapping, illegal detention, torture, "targeted assassinations" and preemptive war–now that the cheering has stopped, expect more of the same. 
According to The Wall Street Journal, "President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say, an approach that is almost certain to create tension within the Democratic Party." 
With hyperbolic "change" rhetoric in the air, Obama is relying on a gaggle of former intelligence insiders, warmed-over Clinton administration officials and "moderate" Republicans, many of whom helped Bush craft his administration's illegal policies. 
With U.S. street cred at an all-time low, due in no small measure to Washington's hubristic fantasies that it really is an empire and not a rapidly decaying failed state, ruling elites have literally banked on Obama to deliver the goods. 
During his run for the White House, the Illinois senator may have mildly criticized some of the administration's so-called "counterterrorism" policies including the Bushist penchant for secrecy, the disappearance of "terrorist" suspects, driftnet surveillance of American citizens and legal residents, CIA "black site" gulags and the crushing of domestic dissent. 
But in the few scant days since the November 4 general election, the contours of what Democratic party corporatist grifters will roll-out come January 20 are taking shape. Citing Obama's carefully-crafted public relations blitz on the campaign trail opposing illegal spying, the Journal reports: 
Yet he ... voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.   
The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight. (Siobhan Gorman, "Intelligence Policy to Stay Largely Intact," The Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2008) 

The "current government official" cited by the Journal fails to specify precisely what it means to "keep the road open" when it comes to torturing prisoners of war in violation of the Geneva Conventions.


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."