Bridge over Troubled–SOFA–Waters
It has become so commonplace for American politicians to ignore the lame duck Bush administration as to constitute a “dog bits man” story. When, however, the government of Iraq does the same thing, that’s news: “man bites dog.” And yet that is apparently what has happened over the ill-fated Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to extend the American stay in Iraq past the December 31 withdrawal date set by the United Nations.
As reported in this space, the Bush administration has hoped to negotiate and sign a long-term presence in Iraq that would tie the hands of the next administration–much more of a bind for Obama than McCain. The Iraqis have been resisting these advances (much to the surprise and consternation of the Bush “brain” trust), and yesterday the hammer went down. As described in the Washington Post Sunday edition, there will be no long-term agreement between now and the new administration. Instead, negotiations will continue for a “bridge agreement” that will avoid the U.S. being unceremoniously thrown out as the ball drops in Times Square. The United States calls what is being sought a “temporary operating protocol”; the Iraqis call it a “memorandum of agreement” (MOU); the rest of us can call it a ringing defeat for the Bush administration.
As noted in earlier postings, the Iraqis have been troubled by various aspects of an extension of the occupation, and apparently the immunity of US troops from prosecution for alleged crimes has proven the sticking point; moreover, provincial elections are scheduled for the fall in Iraq, and no Iraqi politician wants to be associated with having expedited an open-ended US stay. So, they said “no deal; we’ll talk to the new adminstration.”
The bridge over troubled waters being discussed would likely carry through 2009, allowing the Obama or McCain administration to negotiate either a complete pullout or some more limited form of continued stay. At any rate, this is one instance where kicking the can down the road is usefully empowering for the recipient, since the new administration will not be stuck with a long-term albatross from which it can only extricate itself indelicately.
The administration has, of course, slapped lipstick on the pig as best it can. The Post quotes an unnamed adminstration official rationalizing the situation with a curiously mixed metaphor; the US will now negotiate “a bridge to have the authority in place so we don’t turn into a pumpkin on December 31.” George W. Bush himself could hardly have said it better!