When is a treaty between two nations not a treaty? When the president doesn't call it a treaty and refuses to submit it to Congressional scrutiny.
The Boston Globe reported Friday that the Bush administration plans to sign a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that would commit U.S. troops to stay in Iraq indefinitely.
It's called the "Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America." The first principle of the declaration is to support Iraq "in defending its democratic systems against internal and external threats."
But that principle, which implies that U.S. forces would defend Iraq against any external threat, makes this "declaration" a treaty, and according to the U.S. Constitution, that means it is subject to Senate ratification.
But the Bush administration has rarely paid attention to the Constitution when it wants something. A White House official told the Globe it has no intention of submitting the deal to Congress -- a move that is unprecedented in American history.
For example, after World War II, when the United States entered into security agreements with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and the original members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Presidents Truman and Eisenhower designated the agreements as treaties and submitted them to Congress.
Similarly, in 1985, when President Reagan made guarantees to commit U.S. forces to defend the Marshall Islands and Micronesia, he also submitted the agreements to Congress.
The United Nations Security Council mandate that permits U.S. forces to occupy Iraq expires on Dec. 31, 2008. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki would like to get a deal done before Bush leaves office to ensure a lasting American military presence in Iraq.
The deal is not just about security for Iraq. It also includes promises of debt forgiveness, economic and technical aid and preferential treatment for American investments in Iraq. Again, to make promises like this without involving Congress has never been done before.
You can see why Bush is pursuing this path. He realizes that a deal like this would be nearly impossible to sell to both Congress and the American people. So, by pretending this is not a treaty, he can get away with cutting out public scrutiny of the deal.
Additionally, such a pact would make it more difficult for the next president to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. While the next president could tear up this agreement, diplomatic protocol states that when a country makes an agreement, it has to honor it.
However, this argument rings a bit hollow since the Bush administration has rejected or refused to take action on more international agreements than any president in history. Some of the big ones include the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (because they prevent the United States from deploying a new generation of nuclear weapons), the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases (because it might hurt the ability of corporate America to make endless profits), as well as agreements on reducing the proliferation of small arms and land mines that fuel regional wars around the world (because we are the largest arms dealer in the world), and the International Criminal Court (because we don't want our leaders tried for war crimes).
Military leaders are saying that U.S. forces need to stay in Iraq for at least another decade. The proposed agreement between Bush and Al-Maliki would cement that strategy.
Some may be asking, "Wait a minute, hasn't the "surge" made a difference? Aren't things calmer in Iraq now and aren't fewer Americans getting killed?"
Well, if you measure a sovereign nation by its ability to maintain internal security and repel external threats, Iraq is not at that point. If you include the millions of displaced Iraqis, the total collapse of civil society and the lack of a functioning infrastructure, Iraq remains a basket case.
Committing our soldiers to stay in Iraq for decades to come will not change this picture. Maintaining a military occupation that a majority of Iraqis want to see end will not improve conditions. But if the goal is to kick the problem down the road so that someone other than President Bush takes the blame for the failure, mission accomplished.
© 2008 The Reformer