Another Backfire in Iraq
Wednesday, June 11, 2008; 1:19 PM
President Bush's brashest attempt to lock in his Iraq policy beyond his presidency, like so many other Bush initiatives in the region, appears to be backfiring spectacularly.
Secret negotiations between U.S. and Iraqi officials over a multi-year security agreement aren't so secret anymore. Details have been dribbling out over the last several days (see my June 5 column, Bush's Secret Iraq Deal).
And the American demands seem to be infuriating Iraqi lawmakers, some of whom are even threatening to kick out U.S. troops entirely.
Bush claims he is trying to make things easier for his successor. He told the Times of London in an interview this week: "My focus in the remaining time of my presidency is to leave behind a series of structures that makes it easier for the next president to be able to deal with the problems that he is going to have to face."
But committing to a sustained occupation is a blatant attempt to tie the hands of Barack Obama should he become president in January. The presumptive Democratic nominee favors a relatively quick withdrawal of American troops.
And now an ironic result of Bush's overreach could be that the domestic debate over American troop withdrawal -- in which presumptive Republican nominee John McCain is Bush's most ardent defender -- becomes moot, with the Iraqis insisting that we leave on their terms.
That would mean that, for once, a Bush backfire in the Middle East wouldn't actually further entangle us in the region, but would serve the interest of the American people.
The latest CBS News poll, for instance, shows a plurality of Americans (45 percent) want U.S. troops home immediately or within a year; and a sizeable majority (66 percent) want them home within two.
Bush held a joint press conference this morning with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In his response to a question from Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen, he tried to spin the dissent in Iraq as a positive sign, expressed no concern about the direction of the negotiations, and once again repeated his meaningless assertion that the U.S. is not seeking permanent military bases in Iraq. (In a Senate hearing in April, a senior Defense Department lawyer acknowledged that the Pentagon had no definition for the term "permanent base" and that it "doesn't really mean anything.")
Here's what Bush had to say: "I think we'll end up with a strategic agreement with Iraq. You know, it's all kinds of noise in their system and our system. What eventually will win out is the truth. For example, you read stories perhaps in your newspaper that the U.S. is planning all kinds of permanent bases in Iraq. That's an erroneous story. The Iraqis know -- will learn it's erroneous, too. We're there at the invitation of the sovereign government of Iraq. . . .
"And as I said clearly in past speeches, this will not involve permanent bases, nor will it bind any future President to troop levels. You know, as to -- look, Eggen, you can find any voice you want in the Iraqi political scene and quote them, which is interesting, isn't it, because in the past you could only find one voice, and now you can find a myriad of voices. It's a vibrant democracy; people are debating."
Here's the Washington Post story by Amit R. Paley and Karen DeYoung that Bush was disparaging. It's worth reading from beginning to end. But here are some excerpts.