Last November President Bush signed a "declaration of principles" with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: an agreement that established the framework for a formal "bilateral relationship" between the U.S. and Iraq. He signed something 'very much like an agreement' to provide for a long term (or perhaps permanent) U.S. military presence in Iraq. The "U.S.-Iraq Declaration of Principles for Friendship and Cooperation" it was called.
What he signed was a treaty.
The president did not refer to this agreement as a treaty, however. By the terms of the U.S. Constitution, treaties require the approval of Congress.
The document our president signed essentially outlined the method by which a U.S. occupation force, the troops and equipment, the military bases, could all remain and be re-conceived of as aspects of "a normalized bilateral relationship" with Iraq. While the document left room for negotiation, it established certain central parameters. As the U.N. authorization for the "Coalition of The Willing" comes to a close late in 2008, U.S. troops will remain "to provide security assurances to the Iraqi Government." They will remain to "deter any external aggression," Prime Minister al-Maliki explained in a statement at the time. They could be used to address any "internal" problems for a "democratic Iraq" as well, he said.
As he announced the signing, Prime Minister al-Maliki was careful not to refer to this "declaration of principles" as a treaty - just like President Bush. You see, the Iraqi Constitution requires that treaties and binding international agreements be ratified by a two thirds majority of their legislative council.
There was scant attention for this agreement-excuse me-I mean 'declaration'- as it was signed back in November. Perhaps a few more noticed when the President attached one of his famous signing statements to a defense appropriations bill earlier this year. The bill contained language barring the administration from using the funds to establish permanent bases in Iraq. Such language, Bush explained as he cashed the check and signed the bill, could not be construed as a limit on his presidential powers as commander-in-chief. Bush argued that his military powers were not limited to his own tactical and strategic control of the armed forces (at times at odds with the wishes of Congress and the American people), but that he could also commit that military to engagement beyond his own term of command.
The Bush administration has apparently put some real "hard work" into the negotiations with the al-Maliki government since November. The Washington Post reports on March 6th that "U.S. officials are traveling to Baghdad this week with drafts of two documents - a status-of-forces agreement and a separate "strategic framework" - that they expect to sign with the Iraqi government by the end of July."
Certain members of Congress have apparently questioned President Bush's assumption of unregulated power, and have asked to actually see these agreements. Some have gone so far as to opine that these agreement require their oversight and approval before they are signed. They argue that when something functions like a treaty ... it's a treaty. And there's this matter of the Constitution.
You'll never guess how the Bush League responded
The Bush administration's Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey T. Bergner responded to Congressional demands that the administration submit the newest agreement documents (you know -treaties) for their approval, by saying that all the Congressional approval needed for these agreements was already in place -by virtue of the measures passed in the weeks following September 11th and the 2002 authorization for the use of force against Saddam Hussein.
That's right, folks. The same authorization that the administration used as its premise for dispensing with Habeus Corpus and The First Ammendment, that justified circumventing FISA and a host of other laws, now disposes of Congressional authority over international treaty.
Maybe just to rub it in, Bergner pointed out that "Congress has repeatedly provided funding for the Iraq war."
And so, as the imbecile monarch in 'Amadeus' observed, "There it is!" With a six year old resolution, passed to express our common resolve in the face of terrorism, and another from five years ago that was meant to empower action against an impending immediate threat from Iraq - with these the administration gleans an understanding of unfettered authority for itself and obsolescence for the Constitutional concept of Congressional oversight.