Bush hands Iraq mess to next prez

In their testimony before Congress this month, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker made it clear the Bush administration is passing its Iraq disaster on to the next administration. To make matters worse, their testimony indicated Bush intends to tie the new administration’s hands with a backdoor deal to lock in U.S. military, political and economic presence in Iraq.

The Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Quaker peace lobbying group, warns that the administration is planning to keep up to 14 permanent military bases in Iraq.

As far back as April 2003, the FCNL notes, The New York Times reported that “the U.S. is planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region.”

A year later, the Chicago Tribune reported that U.S. engineers were focusing on constructing 14 “enduring bases.”

The supplemental Iraq war funding bill signed by President Bush in May 2005 provided money for construction of U.S. bases in Iraq including “in some very limited cases, permanent facilities.”

The administration is now trying to bypass Congress in a rush, before summer, to ink a deal with Iraqi politicians that would guarantee a permanent U.S. role in their country.

A draft of the agreement, dated March 4 and marked “secret,” was obtained by the UK Guardian. The deal authorizes the U.S. to “conduct military operations in Iraq” without time limit.

In their appearances before Congress this month, President Bush’s Iraq commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker refused to specify a plan or timetable for ending the U.S. military role in Iraq. But the one specific they did provide was a July 31 deadline for sealing the long-term pact with Iraqi leaders.

Crocker insisted to skeptical lawmakers that this agreement would not be a treaty requiring Senate consent.

“There is literally no question that this is unprecedented,” Yale Law School professor Oona Hathaway told the Boston Globe recently. “The country has never entered into this kind of commitment without Congress being involved, period.”

Bush and his backers are anxious to seal a deal before the United Nations mandate for the U.S. occupation expires this December, and before Bush leaves office. They hope to accomplish this by backroom wheeling and dealing with a weak Iraqi government. Opening debate in a Congress already unhappy over the war could throw a monkey wrench into this scheme.

FCNL is urging voters to press their representatives to sign on to a bill introduced by Rep. William Delahunt that would prevent the Bush administration from agreeing to a long-term military presence in Iraq without the approval of Congress. HR 5626, the Protect Our Troops and Constitution Act, is co-sponsored by Democrats Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Keith Ellison (Minn.), Sam Farr (Calif.), Barney Frank (Mass.), Jim McGovern (Mass.) and House Chief Deputy Whip Jan Schakowsky (Ill.). It is now under consideration by the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

Congressional Democrats and some Republicans sharply challenged Petraeus and Crocker at the hearings, pressing them to say what circumstances would make possible a U.S. pullout. Sen. Edward Kennedy noted that Bush says we can’t withdraw because the violence is up in Iraq, or because the violence is down. “The president’s arrows always point in the same direction” — toward open-ended commitment, Kennedy said.

When administration spokespeople argued that the proposed U.S.-Iraq agreement did not specify “permanent” U.S. bases in Iraq, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) responded, “We’ve had bases in Korea since 1953, anyway, and I would be hard-pressed to say they’re permanent. How long is permanent?”

The senators challenging Petraeus and Crocker included presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Obama was particularly probing. Apparently thinking ahead to fulfilling his pledge to end the war if elected president, Obama pressed the officials for a scenario for beginning troop withdrawal. We are more likely to resolve the complicated political situation in Iraq, Obama said, if we apply “increased pressure in a measured way … [that] includes a timetable for withdrawal” and a “diplomatic surge.”

A mid-March CNN poll showed 61 percent of the public favored a new president withdrawing most troops within a few months of taking office. In the same poll, 71 percent said the war is one reason for the economic problems in the U.S.

suewebb@pww.org