November 10, 2008

Iraq-U.S. Troop Withdrawal Agreement - A Bad Deal

The current iteration of the agreement between the governments of Iraq and the United States is a bad deal for both countries. The Iraqis are being typically xenophobic and short-sighted, and the United States is giving up too much in the rush to sign an agreement before the end of the year when the current United Nations mandate expires. Or, could it be that the United States is rushing to complete an agreement before the current administration leaves office in January?

Some Sunni and Shi'a leaders have suggested that they should wait until Barack Obama takes office before concluding an agreement, hoping to accelerate the withdrawal of American forces from the proposed three-year timetable to the 16 month pullout promised by Senator Obama during his presidential campaign. That sounds good to the Iraqis, although if there is no agreement in force on December 31, American forces technically will be required to cease operations. In theory, American forces will be sidelined until there is a legal framework in place to allow them to operate. In reality, any American officer who places his forces in jeopardy because of this political manuevering is not being true to his troops.

That said, if American troops cease operations, it just may demonstrate to the Iraqi leadership just how fragile their current relative calm is. Iraqi military and security forces have come a long way in the past few years, and may be able to handle much of the direct on-scene operational duties required to maintain some semblance of calm, but they are not in a position to provide the requisite logistics, transportation, medical, intelligence, etc. - all those combat support functions that are not yet fully operational in the fledgling Iraqi units.

The Iraqi politicians are acting as if they are in the driver's seat. Lest they forget who gave them this opportunity to practice democracy, we should at all times remind them that it was American forces - U.S. soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen - that fought and died ro remove Saddam Husayn and the Ba'thi regime. There are almost 4,200 American families that gave their most precious commodity - their sons and daughters - to give them this this chance. We should demand a say in what goes on for the immediate future.

The Middle East is a dangerous, yet critical, part of the world, and it will remain so as long as we Americans are dependent on fossil fuels as a cornerstone of our energy resources. In the absence of any semblance of leadership or even mere cooperation from our European "allies," the United States needs to stand firm and demand an agreement that meets our security needs, rather than accept what is not in our national interest. The presence of 152,000 American troops should count for something.

So what do the Iraqis want, and what can we not live with? Let's take a look at some of the points that this administration has caved on.

Let's eliminate the jurisdiction issue. The language of the agreement in all iterations is similar to agreements we have made all over the world - hardly a show stopper. More to the point, however - the initial draft provided for an American troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011, open to negotiation at that time. If press reports are correct, the latest draft removes language authorizing Iraq to ask U.S. forces to remain in any capacity beyond the end of 2011 - the new text is, "United States forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011."

Unacceptable. No one can predict the situation in Iraq in 2011, let alone the situation in Iran at that time. We did not sacrifice over 4,000 Americans to establish an Iranian surrogate. Both Iraq and the United States need the flexibility to determine American force presence at that time based on the situation. We should demand no less.

The Bush Administration should rethink these concessions, and the incoming Obama Administration should reject them.