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.
There was something in there about "preferential treatment" for future U.S. investment in the Iraqi economy. This might involve oil.
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.
Now, I know executing a "declaration of principles" that entails a long term, open ended (perhaps permamnent) commitment of troops in exchange for "preferential treatment" for investments sure sounds like a treaty-or at least like an agreement. But the American President and the Iraqi Prime Minister assure us this isn't so.
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.
In a letter to Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-N.Y.) -one of those meddlesome Congressmen- Assistant Secretary of State Bergner pointed to the language in the post 9/11 legislation granting the President powers "to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States" as all the granted authority necessary. And further that "Congress expressly authorized the use of force to 'defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq'"in 2002.
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.