Iraq security pact will go to legislators -- Iraqi legislators, anyway

Irony abounds in the battle over the long-term security arrangements currently under negotiation between the Nouri al-Maliki and George Bush administrations. One of these two will submit the pact for legislative approval this summer — the legislature for whom democracy has been dismissed by a large portion of the other. The Iraqi National Assembly could get the agreement by July, while the American Congress may not see it at all:

Iraq will seek parliamentary approval for a strategic agreement being negotiated with the United States even though it expects heated debate over the deal, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said.

U.S. and Iraqi officials began talks last month on a strategic framework agreement that defines long-term bilateral ties and a separate “status of forces” deal outlining rules and protections governing U.S. military activity in Iraq.

The issue has become highly charged in Washington, with members of Congress saying it could tie the hands of the next administration by locking the United States into a long-term military presence in Iraq and arguing Congress should give its consent. …

“There isn’t any hidden agenda here. This agreement will be transparent, it has to be presented to the representatives of the Iraqi people, the parliament, to ratify it,” he said.

“I’m sure there will be some heated political debate when we come to that but I think on the other hand there is a strong will by the mainstream leadership in this country that this is for Iraq’s good. We need that continued engagement.”

That’s absolutely rich. Congress will find itself in the position of arguing that the US has handled this in a less democratic manner than their Iraqi counterparts — the same nation for which Democrats despaired of succeeding in transforming into a functional democracy over the last three years. They will have to use the Iraqis as precedent for their demand to ratify the security partnership as a treaty.

However, they will still have a point in doing so. The Constitution makes clear that the Congress has oversight on foreign pacts, and for good historical reasons. The framers did not intend to create an executive who could encumber the US with foreign partnerships unsupported by the will of the people. The Bush administration’s reliance on parsing the word “treaty” is simply Clintonian. This security partnership involves significant long-term commitments and should have Congressional oversight.

It actually comes at a great point in time for the Bush administration. The Democrats want to avoid another national debate about Iraq. This pact puts them in the position of abandoning the Iraqis even after the successful completion of combat missions. It shows them as unrepentant defeatists, and just in time for the upcoming national elections.

Put them on the spot. If the Iraqi National Assembly approves the agreement, Congress will find it very difficult to reject it, and it will force yet another capitulation from Democrats on Iraq.