President Obama’s full throated opposition to the Iraq War and subsequent surge are well reported. The absence of Presidential focus and comment on the Iraq War over the last year and a half are equally well reported. What was only vaguely reported, and denied at the time, was the effort by the Obama campaign to delay the Status of Forces (SOF) agreement with Iraq until after the 2008 election.
Current mention of that agreement, executed by President Bush nearly two years ago, is anemic at best. However, some provisions of that agreement are worth revisiting as the recent departure of American combat troops was the result, in part, of that agreement. The agreement leaves wide spaces for discretion amongst the parties.
That agreement committed the U.S. and Iraq to mutual recognition of sovereignty, an important issue for Iraq at the time as it activated legal precedents for the ongoing U.S. presence. The SOF clearly defined the U.S. presence as temporary; while in today’s world that may not appear critical it was highly significant at the time and was a crucial consideration for the Iraqi Government related to domestic politics. Our agreement to many of those stipulations was an act of courage in and of itself.
Also critical was the provision that required Iraqi approval of U.S. Military operations, a provision that resulted in no reported controversies and stands as a tribute to both the military and diplomatic skills of senior leaders in the U.S. Military. The agreement defined the scope and limitations that would govern the ongoing American presence.
The first 19 of the 24 pages of the agreement were committed to issues as disparate as the wearing of uniforms, taxes, import and export activity, respect for Iraqi governance, culture and religion, vehicle tags and who owns what.
Article 24 addresses “Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq”. Article 24 represents both the context and ultimate goals of the SOF. This section is the point of context that has brought us to this point in time. The agreement called for two time sensitive benchmarks.
By June 24th 2009; U.S. forces would depart Iraqi cities, they did; on December 31, 2011 all forces would depart Iraq. Interestingly, the recent withdrawal of Combat troops was not addressed by a date certain in the SOF.
The agreement also provided the option for Iraq to request U.S. withdrawal at any time. Paragraph five of Article 24 simply addressed “mechanisms and agreements” to reduce U.S. forces. We can safely assume that the recent redeployment of U.S. combat forces was a subject of ongoing negotiation with the Iraqi’s brought to a, we hope, successful conclusion.
What may or may not be reported, or spoken of by the President in his Tuesday speech are Iraqi options under the SOF agreement. Dependant upon the “security situation” and the presence of “external or internal” threats Iraq can request ongoing American military support related to the addressment of the security situation. In other words Iraq can ask us to stay longer and do more. Should that option be exercised, the minimum time frame for additional U.S. presence would be a year beyond the December 2011 benchmark. The scope of any ongoing presence remains undefined and subject to agreement between the parties, meaning almost anything.
The Iraqi government can also request ongoing assistance beyond the time frame of the agreement in combating terrorism as a specific provision of the agreement. Iraq has suffered a significant increase in terrorism of late, on the heels of the U.S. combat troop withdrawals. The agreement does not allow for U.S. based in Iraq.
One can hope that, on Tuesday, the President will not follow the rhetorical lead of Vice President Biden and take credit for the success in Iraq, which both opposed in the strongest terms.
One can hope that the focus of the President’s speech will be the incredible performance by the U.S. Military; called to execute a mission unique in its history. The victory lap, if there is to be one, belongs to them. In the face of unique and complex challenges they set the stage of possibilities for a democratic Iraq.
One can hope that the efforts of Ambassador Ryan Crocker and his team will be elevated and recognized for the difficult, frustrating, thankless and important work that they did.
Once can hope that the President will focus on the sacrifice of military and diplomatic families.
One can hope that the courage of the purple fingered Iraqi people will be enshrined in the President’s comments. They contributed the indispensible symbol of desire that only they could.
One can hope that the President will speak directly to the Iraqi people in an attempt to inspire their continuing aspirations to freedom, the rule of law, rejection of extremism and the embrace of democratic principals.
One can hope that the President will focus on those damaged soldiers that, in spite of their suffering, asked to go back. They asked to go back, damage and all, to their units, their compatriots; their mission. Humble courage that serves as an inspiration transcending what force words can bring to bear.
One can hope that the President will not engage in self aggrandizement or self congratulation. One can hope that he avoids the temptation to revise history and deflect attention.
One can hope!