People are wondering why the Bush Administration effort to install permanent US bases in Iraq (oh, I'm sorry, not permanent US bases, but military bases that the US rents permanently, which of course is a huge difference) would tie the hands of a future President.
I guess the first answer to that is that we live in a political era where a substantial amount of Democrats voted to authorize the war, most of them have authorized funding for it again and again, and even after being given a mandate to end the war, they have expended little real effort to do so. A permanent agreement can become yet another justification for a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress to continue the occupation, fearful still of being seen as soft on terror and security. Those of us who have seen this movie don't want to give any opportunity to have it re-run. With the working conservative majority in the Congress it's not at all clear that there will be any bold moves on Iraq no matter who is the next President. I don't think a President Obama would pledge to send unlimited troops to Iraq the way John McCain did yesterday, but he might feel constrained by events on the ground and wary of a unilateral disarmament. So there are constitutional realities, that a new President can break an old treaty, but there are also political realities, that suggests no President would want to see the troops airlifted off the roof of the Saigon embassy.
In addition, if there is a legally binding framework mandating that the US must come to the aid of Iraq should they come under attack, it would be very hard to ignore, both politically and legally. It appears that this is part of Administration demands. We know that they are discussing the use of 58 bases, as well as this:
Leading members of the two ruling Shiite parties said in a series of interviews the Iraqi government rejected this proposal along with another U.S. demand that would have effectively handed over to the United States the power to determine if a hostile act from another country is aggression against Iraq. Lawmakers said they fear this power would drag Iraq into a war between the United States and Iran [...]
Other conditions sought by the United States include control over Iraqi air space up to 30,000 feet and immunity from prosecution for U.S. troops and private military contractors. The agreement would run indefinitely but be subject to cancellation with two years notice from either side, lawmakers said.
Two years notice. So Obama could cancel the agreement but be required under international law to follow it for 24 months, at which point he'd be hammered by Republicans throughout as we begin a long and slow withdrawal. The one way to get around this is to state that the agreement absent Congressional approval is not binding and illegal, because it goes beyond the confines of a status of forces agreement. That is what leading Democrats are doing, but in a fairly muted way.
Also, if both George Bush and Michael O'Hanlon say it wouldn't tie the next President's hands and we shouldn't worry about it so much, I immediately get worried.
What we know is that the strongest force pushing against this key Administration goal is the Iraqi people, and they have been steadfast enough that they could scuttle the whole plan.
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is conceding for the first time that the United States may not finish a complex security agreement with Iraq before President Bush leaves office.
Faced with stiff Iraqi opposition, it is "very possible" the U.S. may have to extend an existing U.N. mandate, said a senior administration official close to the talks. That would mean major decisions about how U.S. forces operate in Iraq could be left to the next president, including how much authority the U.S. must give Iraqis over military operations and how quickly the handover takes place.
The official said the goal is still to have an agreement by year's end. And the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said he feels no pressure from the U.S. political calendar, and that Dec. 31 is "a clear deadline."
Still, Crocker also said last week, "My focus on this is more on getting it done right than getting it done quick."
Protests in the streets have a little more import than strongly worded letters. The Iraqis are fighting for their survival. Whether they can overcome the threat of blackmail of $50B in foreign reserves remains to be seen.