President Bush is discussing a new agreement with Baghdad that would govern the deployment of American troops in Iraq. With so many Americans adamant about bringing our forces home as soon as possible, a sentiment we strongly share, Mr. Bush must not be allowed to tie the hands of his successor and ensure the country’s continued involvement in an open-ended war.
Given what’s at stake in Iraq in terms of American and Iraqi lives lost, national treasure and broad national security interests, the negotiations on any new agreement must be fully transparent — which they are not. The national debate must be vigorous and thoughtful, and then Congress must vote on whatever deal results.
The White House and the Iraqi government decided in December to pursue the pact as a way to define long-term relations between the two countries, including the legal status of American military forces in Iraq. The ostensible goal is a more durable political, economic and security relationship than is possible under a United Nations resolution, the current international legal basis for the American military presence in Iraq.
Iraqi officials, increasingly unhappy with restrictions on sovereignty because of the presence of 160,000 foreign troops, have said that they won’t extend the United Nations mandate beyond this year. A Washington-Baghdad deal would have to take its place for the troops to stay.
Formal negotiations won’t start until February and few details are known, but already the two sides are laying down markers. The Iraqi defense minister, Abdul Qadir — apparently tone-deaf to the American political debate — told The Times’s Thom Shanker that his nation would not be able to take full responsibility for its internal security until 2012 or be able to defend its own borders from external threat at least until 2018.
That is far too long for most Americans, but not for Mr. Bush, who is quite comfortable leaving American troops fighting in Iraq for another decade.
A related issue concerns whether the agreement would grant assurances that America would help Iraq defend against foreign aggression — something a senior White House official says has not been ruled out. That’s a worrying prospect. Such guarantees could further encourage Iraqi dependence on the American military and might draw the United States into a regional conflict.
Among other questions still to be answered are how long the United States wants basing rights in Iraq and how it might assuage Iraqis demanding the right to try American troops and contractors accused of killing civilians and other misdeeds. (The United States almost always brings troops home for trial.)
Mr. Bush is rushing to complete a deal before he leaves office in January 2009. That is just as reckless and irresponsible as most of his decisions regarding Iraq. America’s interests demand that his successor has maximum flexibility to plot a course, which we hope includes a quick and orderly withdrawal of troops.
One way to ensure that flexibility is to make sure that Congress approves any deal with Iraq, as leading Democrats, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, are insisting. The time for Congressional intervention is now.
via//New York Times