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Imperialism In Iraq? Get Real!

For a couple of weeks now, liberals and anti-warriors have been freaking out about reports by Patrick Cockburn that the Bush administration was planning some secret arrangement with the Iraqi government (the latter presumably under duress) for a permanent US … Read More

By / June 10, 2008

For a couple of weeks now, liberals and anti-warriors have been freaking out about reports by Patrick Cockburn that the Bush administration was planning some secret arrangement with the Iraqi government (the latter presumably under duress) for a permanent US occupation of the country involving some 58 separate military installations and a military detachment whose members are not subject to Iraqi law. The administration's trump card, according to Cockburn, was the threat of withholding tens of billions of dollars of Iraqi assets now kept at the Federal Reserve bank in New York.

Unsurprisingly, Andrew Sullivan and Matthew Yglesias are breathing a sigh of relief about today's independent reports that the Maliki government won't go for the deal. "A decision of this magnitude should not be made by an out-going administration regardless of the evolving views of the American people. Americans deserve to debate this as well as Iraqis," says Sullivan. "Leaving decisions about how U.S. forces operate in Iraq up to the next president sounds like an awfully good idea to me," says Yglesias.

Now call me a Luddite if you must, but Article II, section 2 of the US Constitution does quite clearly state that the president requires two thirds approval of the Senate to ratify a treaty. In practice, of course, presidents skirt such rules all the time, including the present. But by the same token, since whatever offer the administration makes sure the Iraqis can't refuse is not a binding treaty under the Constitution, the next administration can just rescind it at its discretion. In the meantime, in the eight months between now and inauguration day, the de facto reality of the US presence in Iraq isn't going to change substantially, regardless of formal changes in its classification. So the Bush occupation plan just isn't that important; if the US occupation of Iraq continues through the next administration, it will be because of the next president's decisions, not George Bush's.

None of this is to absolve the Bush administration of charges of imperialism. A country occupied by a foreign power in perpetuity under rules that supersede any of its laws isn't an independent sovereign state, it's a satrapy. The Bush administration just isn't very good at imperialism, and there's no need to give them credit for power they don't really have.

ADDING: The political angle, though, is obvious. If Bush can scratch out some agreement, no matter how coerced and contrary to Iraqi sovereignty, that provides (flimsy) grounds for hawks to scream "betrayal" and "backstabbing" in case the next president winds down the occupation. 

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