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Bush's Secret Iraq Deal

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 5, 2008 12:35 PM

Despite opposition from both the Iraqi and American people, President Bush appears to be forging ahead on a multi-year security agreement with the Iraqi government that would lock in the occupation status quo.

A British newspaper reports new details about the ongoing secret negotiations: Bush wants to retain the use of more than 50 military bases in Iraq and is insisting on immunity from Iraqi law for U.S. troops and contractors, as well as a free hand to carry out military activities without consulting the Baghdad government. The pact, which Bush has said he does not intend to submit for Congressional approval, would take effect shortly before he leaves office. Reversing it, while possible, would force a future president to break an international commitment.

But there are signs of increasing resistance on the Iraqi side. At a congressional hearing yesterday, two members of the Iraqi parliament said Bush's terms would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty and perpetuate the violence there. They said any agreement should include a timetable for a quick departure of U.S. troops.

And in case the stakes weren't already high enough, the agreement is shaping up to be yet another proxy battle with Iran.

The Coverage

Patrick Cockburn writes in the Independent: "A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November.

"The terms of the impending deal, details of which have been leaked to The Independent, are likely to have an explosive political effect in Iraq. Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq's position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.

"But the accord also threatens to provoke a political crisis in the US. President Bush wants to push it through by the end of next month so he can declare a military victory and claim his 2003 invasion has been vindicated. . . .

"The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: 'This is just a tactical subterfuge.' Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000 feet and the right to pursue its 'war on terror' in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation. . . .

"Iraq's Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is believed to be personally opposed to the terms of the new pact but feels his coalition government cannot stay in power without US backing."

Anne Flaherty writes for the Associated Press: "Iraqi lawmakers told Congress on Wednesday that they have serious misgivings about a long-term security agreement being negotiated this year with President Bush, putting themselves squarely in line with Democrats who say hashing out a deal before Bush leaves office is bad timing.

"Opposition in the U.S. and Iraqi legislative bodies underscores the political hurdles facing Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as they try to settle the terms under which U.S. troops can continue operating in Iraq after a United Nations authorization expires at the end of the year."

Flaherty writes that the Iraqi lawmakers "said they thought violence in their country would subside after U.S. troops leave, and they embraced the idea of setting a timetable for the troops' departure."

Reuters reports: "A majority of the Iraqi parliament has written to Congress rejecting a long-term security deal with Washington if it is not linked to a requirement that U.S. forces leave, a U.S. lawmaker said on Wednesday.

"Rep. William Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq war opponent, released excerpts from a letter he was handed by Iraqi parliamentarians laying down conditions for the security pact that the Bush administration seeks with Iraq.

Robert H. Reid writes for the Associated Press about how the proposed agreement "is shaping up as a major political battle between America and Iran. . . .

"The agreement, which both sides hope to finish in midsummer, is likely to be among the issues discussed this weekend when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is due to visit Iran -- his second trip there in a year.

"Ahead of the visit, his party sought to calm worries by insisting that the deal would not allow foreign troops to use Iraq as a ground to invade another country -- a clear reference to Iranian fears of a U.S. attack. . . .

"A lawmaker from al-Maliki's party told reporters Tuesday that the Iraqis and the Americans are far apart on the security agreement. He said negotiations 'are at a standstill, and the Iraqi side is studying its options.'

"'The Americans have some demands that the Iraqi government regards as infringing on its sovereignty,' lawmaker Haidar al-Abadi said. 'This is the main dispute, and if the dispute is not settled, I frankly tell you there will not be an agreement.' . . .

"Most Iraqis view the U.S. insistence that American troops continue to enjoy immunity under Iraqi law as an infringement on national sovereignty. U.S. officials maintain they respect Iraqi sovereignty and are not seeking permanent bases."

Donna Abu-Nasr writes for the Associated Press: "One of Iran's most powerful politicians vowed Wednesday that the Islamic world will stop a long-term security agreement that is being negotiated by the U.S. and Iraq.

"Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told a gathering of Muslim figures in the holy city of Mecca that the United States is trying to enslave Iraqis through the deal. . . .

"'The essence of this agreement is to turn the Iraqis into slaves before the Americans, if it is sealed,' the former president of Iran said. 'This will not happen. The Iraqi people, the Iraqi government and the Islamic nation will not allow it.'

"Rafsanjani said the U.S. 'occupation of Iraq represents a danger to all nations of the region' and warned that the security deal would create a 'permanent occupation.'"

Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East affairs for the Congressional Research Service, also testified at yesterday's congressional hearing. Dan Robinson reports for Voice of America that Katzman "believes chances are unlikely of securing Iraqi parliament approval of any draft agreement by July.

"'Maliki is going to have to water down the agreement so much, and try to limit what the U.S. military can do in Iraq so much, that it would then become unacceptable to the U.S. military in terms of what legal status the U.S. military would be under, and mainly the freedom of action enjoyed by U.S. forces after such agreements,' said Katzman."

For more, see the declaration of principles that Bush and Maliki signed in November, and my ensuing column, Locking Us Into Iraq?

Misuse of Intelligence

The Senate Intelligence Committee this morning released its long-awaited report on "Whether Public Statements Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence Information."

I'll have more on this tomorrow, but here's some initial coverage:

Randall Mikkelsen writes for Reuters: "President George W. Bush and his top policymakers exaggerated Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism and ignored doubts among intelligence agencies about Iraq's arms programs as they made their case for war, a Senate committee reported on Thursday.

"The Senate intelligence committee said in a study that major Bush administration statements that Iraq had a partnership with al Qaeda and provided it with weapons training were unsupported by intelligence, and sometimes contradicted it.

"It also said statements on Iraq's weapons before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion were substantiated in most cases by available U.S. intelligence, but that they failed to reflect internal debate over those findings.

"The long-delayed Senate study supported previous reports and findings that the administration's main case for war -- that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- was inaccurate and deeply flawed."

Jeff Bliss writes for Bloomberg: "President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell exaggerated and oversimplified intelligence about the threat Iraq posed before the U.S. invaded the country in March 2003, according to a Senate report. . . .

"At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino said there was nothing especially new in the report concerning Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.

"'We had the intelligence that we had, it was fully vetted and it was wrong,' Perino said. 'We certainly regret that, and we've taken measures to fix it.'"

Scott Shane writes for the New York Times: "Republicans on the committee sharply dissented from some of its findings and attached a detailed minority report that listed pre-war statements by Mr. Rockefeller and other Democrats describing the threat posed by Iraq.

"'The report released today was a waste of committee time and resources that should have been spent overseeing the intelligence community,' said the minority report, signed by Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the committee's top Republican, and three Republican colleagues.

"A second committee report, also made public on Thursday, detailed a series of clandestine meetings between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents in Rome and Paris in 2001 and 2003. It accused Steven Hadley, now the national security advisor, and Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary, of failing to properly inform the intelligence agencies and the State Department about the meetings."

Poll Watch

CBS News reports: "President Bush's approval rating is at its lowest level to date. Just 25 percent of Americans approve of the overall job Mr. Bush is doing as President, an all-time low for him and among the lowest approval ratings ever recorded for a President.

"Sixty-seven percent disapprove of the job Bush is doing - the highest such figure in CBS News polls since he assumed office.

"Only Presidents Nixon (24 percent) and Truman (22 percent) have seen polls showing job approval ratings lower than 25 percent during their presidencies, according to Gallup Polls. President Carter's all-time low was 26 percent."

The CBS number for Bush is the lowest yet for the major polls.

Bush Pushed?

I wrote in yesterday's column that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was expected to use his White House visit to push Bush to take a more aggressive approach toward Iran.

Apparently the two leaders agree on something. Roni Sofer writes for ynetnews.com: "'The strategic alliance between Israel and the US has grown stronger amid the Iranian threat," a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's delegation said Thursday, adding that the countries agreed to cooperate in case of an attack by the Islamic Republic. . . .

"The meetings focused on 'operational matters' pertaining to the Iranian threat, officials said.

"Following the meetings it was determined that the Americans would work toward equipping Israel with F-35 fighter jets and possibly F-22 warplanes as well."

At a brief joint photo op, Bush said: "[W]e're going to spend a lot of time talking about Iran. Iran is an existential threat to peace, and very important for the world to take the Iranian threat seriously, which the United States does, as the Prime Minister will tell you."

Olmert chimed in that he and Bush had talked about "the main threat to all of us, which is Iran."

Here's national security advisor Steven Hadley's non-denial at a press briefing yesterday: "All I can say, really, is that we've talked a lot about Iran and about the options that are available."

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press that the corruption scandal engulfing Olmert "was pushed into the background" as Olmert and Bush "displayed chummy relations. . . .

"Bush warmly saluted Olmert as 'my friend' twice in less than a minute of remarks before their Oval Office talks.

"Olmert, clearly delighted to be again at the side of the U.S. president whose popularity in Israel far exceeds his own, gushed over Bush and grinned broadly at him throughout his brief statement. He effusively praised Bush's speech last month before the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, widely interpreted as favoring Israelis over Palestinians in their long-running dispute, as 'the best expression of the United States commitment to the security and the well-being of the state of Israel.' He even said he admired Bush's emotions. . . .

"In a post-meeting briefing for reporters, Olmert said Iran had been the dominant subject of his discussion with Bush, reflecting a 'shared, deep understanding about the danger of the Iranian threat and the need to deal with it in a way that will bring the result we want.'"

Yes, but did he push Bush to attack?

"'Every passing day we make another real step to deal with this problem in a more effective way,' he said. 'I don't think it would be helpful if I went into detail.'"

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post that Bush held an unannounced meeting with onetime Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky.

"Sharansky's 2004 book, 'The Case for Democracy,' helped Bush shape his second-term agenda of promoting freedom abroad. Now, Sharansky is pitching a new book, 'Defending Identity,' on the connection between freedom and identity, and he received a 40-minute Oval Office audience Tuesday with Bush and his top advisers. . .

"In a telephone interview, Sharansky said he found the president in a sentimental mood, with their relaxed conversation ranging from the new book, which Bush promised to read, to the status of Bush's 'freedom agenda' and the U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. By his own description, Sharansky offered a different perspective on the peace process than the one presented to Bush by Olmert."

For instance, Sharansky "said he voiced skepticism about the future of the Annapolis peace initiative promoted by Bush and Olmert. The two leaders, he said, are returning to 'the same old failed theory' of putting faith in a Palestinian leader (Mahmoud Abbas) without real power, while not doing enough to build civil society in the Palestinian territories. 'There is no way to bring peace from top to bottom. I am very critical about it. It is ridiculous,' Sharansky said."

Speaking of Annapolis

AFP reports: "Striking a full peace agreement with Israel by the end of the year will 'require a miracle,' top Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qorei said in Ramallah on Wednesday.

"'No concrete progress has been made to date,' Qorei said at a meeting of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party leadership."

Another Bush Favorite

Bob Minzesheimer reviews NBC correspondent Richard Engel's new book -- War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq.

"Engel, 33, who has been reporting in the Middle East since graduating from Stanford, was in Washington last year to be on Meet the Press. With little warning, he was invited to the White House for what turned into a 90-minute candid conversation with President Bush.

"It took place without cameras, more of a two-way briefing than a journalist's interview. Engel writes that NBC's Tim Russert warned him, 'You want to make sure you stay a reporter.'

"It doesn't appear he did. That's good for the book, even if it blurs the lines between reporting and commentary.

"'You have been a war president,' Engel told the president. 'You need to become a diplomat.'

"Bush was 'much more in touch with the inner workings of Iraqi politics than I expected,' Engel observes. He also writes, 'Bush's detractors say he doesn't have an attention span. He does.'

"In the end, however, Engel concludes, Bush 'had no idea how to deal with Arabs.' . . .

"Engel's publisher says his conversation with Bush was reconstructed from memory after it happened."

In excerpts published on the Muckraked blog, Bush suggests the war on terror will take four decades: "'This is the great war of our times. It is going to take forty years,' [Bush told Engel]. 'Bush said in forty years the world would know if the war on terrorism, and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, had reduced extremism, helped moderates, and promoted democracy.'"

Incidentally, that's about double Vice President Cheney's recent estimate. At the Coast Guard Academy commencement last month, Cheney said: "I am absolutely convinced that we will succeed in the war on terror -- and I'm also convinced that it will happen on your watch." A typical Coast Guard career is about 20 years.

Also from Engel's book, via Muckraked: "Bush admits to Engel that going to war was a decision based on his personal instinct and not on any long-range strategy for the Mideast: 'I know people are saying we should have left things the way they were, but I changed after 9/11. I had to act. I don't care if it created more enemies. I had to act.' . . .

"Bush tells Engel that the election of Hamas was actually a positive development because it pressured Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas to make reforms. . . .

"And he says that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is an obstacle to peace in the region: 'The problem is Olmert. This is a man who came to power on a promise that he was going to unilaterally define a Palestinian state. You can't pressure democracies.'"

GI Bill Watch

Andrew Taylor writes for the Associated Press: "After promising to veto a huge Iraq war-funding bill because it contains unrelated domestic spending, the White House now wants to boost the costs even higher by letting troops transfer ramped up GI Bill education benefits to their spouses or children.

"The White House is signaling that President Bush could sign the hotly contested and long overdue war funding bill if the benefit transferability provision is added to the 10-year, $52 billion improvement to GI Bill college benefits proposed by Democrats and many Republicans.

"'It's like the Yogi Berra story: 'I don't like that restaurant. Besides, the portions aren't large enough,'' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in an interview. 'They don't like it, but they want more.' . . .

"The imbroglio over the GI Bill is the biggest remaining hurdle to getting Bush's pending $178 billion war funding requests enacted. He has vowed to veto any measure exceeding his request, but the new veterans program is extraordinarily popular, and a veto might be difficult to sustain. That's one reason why White House representatives are trying to negotiate a compromise."

Protest Watch

Trish Mehaffey writes for the Cedar Rapids Gazette: "A federal jury has awarded two President George W. Bush campaign rally protesters $750,000 for being illegally strip-searched at the Linn County Jail in 2004."

The Associated Press reports: "Alice McCabe and Christine Nelson had brought a civil suit related to their arrest and later strip search at the jail.

"An eight-member jury found Wednesday that the Secret Service took lawful action, but that a strip search at the Linn County Jail was not warranted because the women were being charged with a simple misdemeanor."

Now Bush Knows

In the wake of Bush's congratulatory nod to Barack Obama on clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, here's an interesting anecdote from a 2004 William Finnegan article in the New Yorker.

Jan Schakowsky, a liberal Democratic congresswoman who represents Evanston and parts of north Chicago, told Finnegan about a "visit she had made to the White House with a congressional delegation. On her way out, she said, President Bush noticed her 'OBAMA' button. 'He jumped back, almost literally,' she said. 'And I knew what he was thinking. So I reassured him it was Obama, with a "b." And I explained who he was. The President said, "Well, I don't know him." So I just said, "You will."'"

The Cheney Model

John Diamond writes in a USA Today opinion piece that the first order of business for Obama, when it comes to picking a vice presidential candidate, is "to decide how much power he will confer. Will he want a vice president who operates like Cheney, who takes control of entire chunks of U.S. policymaking and functions almost as a separate White House? The answer likely is an emphatic 'no,' as you'd be hard-pressed to find any nominee -- of either party -- willing to outsource the presidency. . . .

"He must lay down a firm principle that the presidency should be run by the president, and that not just Cheney but the Cheney model is flawed."

McClellan Watch

John Young writes in a Cox News Service opinion column about Scott McClellan's first broadcast to discuss his new book on NBC's Today Show with Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer.

"[A]nyone who tuned in seeking to get a better understanding about the mind-set of the policy makers who plunged a nation into that war instead got a further glimpse into how we could be so distracted.

"For 45 minutes, Matt and Meredith probed not the thought processes and decisions of George Bush, or Dick Cheney, or Condoleezza Rice. No, Meredith and Matt probed the thought processes of -- Scott McClellan.

"Why now, Scott? What do you think the president thinks of you? Will you two guys go fishing now? Why didn't you speak up then to the president?

"Watching this, one could easily see how America would be led into a pre-emptive war based on lies. We have watchdogs like Meredith and Matt."

Cartoon Watch

Jim Morin on Bush's house of cards; John Sherffius on Bush's stamp.

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