Barring an inane and extremely provocative attack on Iran between now and Jan. 20, a highly remote possibility at best, it appears that this may be my last opportunity to bash Bush, one of the most inept and lonely lame duck Presidents in our history. Doing so has been a six-year long endeavor, beginning with his illegal invasion of Iraq, and, in a perverse sense, I will miss him.
The world is now listening to this abysmal President as he tries to put the best face on his administration, a task that involves no small amount of surrealism combined with the enormous value of a faded, or convenient, memory. To prove a point, recently he lamented the false intelligence that led to the war in Iraq. Mr. President, try micro-managed intelligence. Surely, you remember your former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and his efforts to doctor intelligence through his Office of Special Plans, headed by David Feith. In his eleventh hour as President, this man who has never admitted to monumental mistakes made during his administration, is still lying, still trying to create his own reality from thin air. Fortunately, there are many who have not been subject to faded memory and know the truth concerning the failed administration. Bush's lamentations are falling on deaf ears.
The above paragraph provides some scope of the gargantuan perfidy of Bush, for which he feels, incomprehensibly, no regret and no responsibility. It is only fitting that, as the sun sets on this malfunctioning administration, Bush would involve himself and our nation in a highly controversial decision with another nation with few supporters on either side - the SOFA.
What exactly is a SOFA? Well, it is not that thing you are sitting on, enjoying holiday delights while watching key football match-ups. The acronym stands for Status Of Forces Agreement, which is an agreement that is intended to clarify the terms under which a foreign military is allowed to operate within a host country. Due to its huge military presence on the globe, the U.S. has by far the largest number of SOFA's, but other nations have them as well, including the U. K, South Korea, Russia, Australia, and Germany. A SOFA is concerned with the legal issues associated with military individuals and property. This may include issues like entry and exit into the country, tax liabilities, postal services, or employment terms for host-country nationals, but the most contentious issues are civil and criminal jurisdiction over the bases. For civil matters, SOFA's provide for how civil damages caused by the forces will be determined and paid. Criminal issues vary, but the typical provision in U.S. SOFA is that U.S. courts will have jurisdiction over crimes committed either by a service member against another service member or by a service member as part of his or her military duty, but the host nation retains jurisdiction over other crimes. In other words, a SOFA is generally pretty routine, not controversial. This, however, is not true of the SOFA between the U.S. and Iraq, an agreement necessitated by the expiration of the U.N. mandate for Iraq on Dec. 31st.
After no small amount of haggling over a period of several months, this agreement was finally okayed by Iraq's three-member presidential council on Dec. 5th, after first being allowed passage by Iraq's cabinet, which is dominated by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Shiites, and later Iraq's parliament. Unfortunately, Americans have a vast number of reservations concerning the agreement.
I might begin by saying that, in essence, we do not have a clear idea as to what we are signing onto because the Bush administration is refusing to make public the security pact it has signed with Iraq. In addition, our representatives in Congress are equally in the dark. This contrasts rather sharply with the nascent democratic government in Iraq that has posted the document on its media website. Foreign Policy in Focus Fellow Erik Leaver comments on the jarring disconnect. "How ironic it is that a country we sought to bring democracy to is reading and debating the agreement, while in the US there isn't even an official translation of the document for the public."
Rep. Bill Delahunt, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organization and Human Rights recently held the eighth in a series of hearings on the SOFA. He was forced to use an English translation from the Arabic version provided by Raed Jarrar, Iraqi consultant to the American Friends Service Committee, and that had to be in closed session with the public not even seeing that document. "Even now the National Security Council has requested that we do not show this document to our witnesses or release it to the public. Now that's incredible -- meantime the Iraqi government has posted this document on its media website," Delahunt stated.
The problem is there is no direct translation from Arabic to English, which accounts for the several different ways the Islamic icon, Mohammad, is spelled in the Western Press. The same holds true for al-Qa'ida along with thousands of Arabic terms. The only true way an Arabic document could be translated into English is if the translation is done by the Arabic writer of the document, assuming he has a full and complete knowledge of the English language along with its nuances to accurately translate the various Arabic nuances. Or simply provide an official English version for the American people and its representatives in Congress. What is the Bush administration hiding?
Theoretically, some of the provisions of the agreement have been made public, and what the American people have heard concerning the pact is not encouraging, for example, a hard timeline and relatively soon. Coalition forces must withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of June, 2009. A finite timeline of that short duration could easily prove dangerous. Knowing that terrorist attacks in Iraq largely occur in and around urban areas, resistance forces could simply cool their heals for a while, build up their numbers, rearm, and strike after coalition forces have left the op area, the cities.
Another provision states that U.S. troops must leave Iraq by Jan. 1, 2012. That is three years from now and twice the amount of time (16 months after he takes office) President-elect Obama has committed himself to withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq. At the risk of attempting to have it both ways, I am not too comfortable with that, either. Is our nation committed to a nine-year war in Iraq? It seems our nation is committed to a perilous short-term timeline while at the same time agreeing to an unacceptable extended timeline with little maneuverability that may be required for changing circumstances.
Then there is the one-year provision. Basically what this says is that, if either side changes its mind, it must give a one-year warning before canceling it. This provision has two dramatic effects. The SOFA provides for a referendum in July 2009. If the Iraqi people vote the SOFA down - a likely prospect - the SOFA will remain valid for another year due to the one-year warning clause. Also, it means that President Obama cannot immediately suspend the SOFA by executive order. His hands are tied by the previous administration.
Moreover, there are open-ended commitments with which Americans should not be too fond. The agreement states that the U.S. will defend Iraq against "external or internal danger ... against Iraq or an aggression upon ... its sovereignty, its political stability, the unity of its land, water, and airspace ... [and] its democratic system or its elected establishments." Leaver asks, what if Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Mahdi Army, which has fought U.S. forces, twice, who is strongly opposed to the al-Nouri government, who is strongly opposed to the U.S. military presence in Iraq, is made prime minister by fair and open elections - Hamas in Palestine is recalled - would the U.S. protect him?
The agreement also states that Iraq will have criminal jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers "when such crimes are committed outside agreed facilities and outside duty status." It does not define "duty status." Hypothetically, if a fourth-term American soldier commits an alleged indiscretion outside his barracks, he faces Iraqi justice, not American military justice? Pardon my French, that stinks. That is exactly the purpose for which UCMJ was designed. Is nothing sacred with this blasphemous administration? Even our own troops?
Arguably, I have saved the worst for last. The SOFA states according to the translated version, "All such military operations that are carried out pursuant to this agreement shall be conducted with the agreement of the government of Iraq. Such operations shall be fully coordinated with Iraqi authorities." That is outrageous. A foreign government will have veto power, essentially in command, over American forces. Oona Hathaway, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said it appeared the agreement would give the joint committee operational control over U.S. military operations. If so, that would be "unprecedented and extremely unusual," she said. Hathaway then added, "The president can enter into agreements on his own but this agreement goes far beyond the president's independent constitutional powers."
Try to imagine yourself as a soldier who is serving his third or fourth tour of duty in Iraq. The soldier knows that American military forces have already suffered over 30,000 casualties. The soldier is aware of the tremendous chaos in Iraq, and may be vaguely aware of the tremendous casualties the Iraqi people have suffered, a million or more. The soldier is aware of the huge cost in life and fortune. Then the soldier reads what little is discernible in the SOFA because his Commander-in-Chief wants to keep it a secret from him. What would the soldier be thinking? Does betrayal come to mind?
Regretfully, I am not able to answer that soldier's questions. Nor can anyone at this point in time. The soldier has become the forgotten man or woman.
Columnist and editor, Maya Schenwar, contributed to this article.