Did Obama try to scotch an Iraqi-US agreement on military forces?
Amir Taheri accuses Barack Obama of interfering in the attempt to negotiate a status-of-forces agreement with Iraq while making his trip to Baghdad in July. In his New York Post column, Taheri quotes the Iraqi Foreign Minister, on the record, telling him that Obama tried to convince the Iraqis to end the negotiations and instead ask the UN for another one-year extension to the current mandate. That would have left US troops in current position for another year, but more importantly, would have provided the US a diplomatic setback that Obama could have exploited on the campaign trail:
WHILE campaigning in public for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.
According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.
“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said in an interview.
Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops – and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its “state of weakness and political confusion.”
Color me skeptical in one aspect of Taheri’s argument. He claims that this would have hypocritically delayed the withdrawal of American troops until 2011, and you have to read the column to see how he calculates that through Iraqi elections and parliamentary procedure. That assumes, however, that an Obama administration would bother to negotiate a drawdown and withdrawal with Baghdad. Obama probably will just pull American troops out of Iraq without worrying about such niceties as a status-of-forces agreement.
Hypocrisy isn’t the issue here; it’s the interference of Obama in military and diplomatic affairs. Just on diplomacy, interfering with the United States in its diplomatic efforts is a Logan Act violation. Interfering with war policy treads on even more serious ground, especially since the primary motivation appears to be winning an election without regard to whether it damages our ability to fight the enemy or drives wedges between us and our ally, the elected, representative government in Baghdad.
Taheri has had some credibility problems in the past. He falsely accused the Iranian mullahcracy, who really need no help in villainy, of passing dress-code legislation that required religious minorities to wear color-coded clothes. That created a firestorm until reporters reviewed the legislation and found no reference to any kind of requirement for dress identification for Jews, Christians, or Zoroastrians. Taheri offered a weak defense of his story, which was not sourced on the record, and it passed into urban-legend status.
This looks different, if for no other reason than Taheri’s main source goes on the record. Hoshyar Zebari didn’t hide behind a “high-level source in Baghdad” tag for this story. Zebari’s testimony puts the onus on Obama to explain why he attempted to interfere with the Bush administration’s negotiations despite his having absolutely no authority to do so. If Obama wants to negotiate a defeat for America, he needs to wait until Americans elect him to the White House before betraying our allies and our troops in the field.