In November, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki signed a non-binding “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship” that committed the U.S. in concept to helping “deter foreign aggression against Iraq” as well as “defending its democratic system against internal and external threats.” The White House said at the time that the arrangement would not need “input” from Congress because it was not intended to “lead to the status of a formal treaty.”
Critics of a permanent presence in Iraq blasted Bush’s effort to cut Congress out of the process, saying the President had “absolutely zero credibility” to “unilaterally negotiate an agreement with Iraq on security.” Bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate that would bar the White House from making any such deals without Congressional approval.
The administration is now claiming it has gotten the message, with one “senior administration offical” telling CQ (sub. req’d) that the arrangement is “not going to have a security guarantee“:
But the administration has backed off its previous assertions that a long-term bilateral agreement with Iraq would include a security arrangement to defend the country from external threats.
“It’s not going to have a security guarantee,” a senior administration official said Tuesday. [...]
The administration has maintained that the agreement would not rise to the level of a treaty. The “security guarantee” statement appeared in the announcement because Iraqis wanted it on the table, the administration official said. But, he said, the United States does not believe it to be necessary. “We say, look, if you want a security guarantee, that will be a treaty, and a treaty will have to go to our Senate,” endangering the whole agreement, he said.
According to a “senior administration official” who spoke to CQ, the abandonment of the “security guarantee” means that “the final agreement would not include permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq.” Congressional critics are “wary” of the White House’s commitment, however, “noting that the proof would come with the text of the agreement itself.”
The distrust is understandable, considering that last week President Bush attached a signing statement to a defense authorization bill, saying that he would disregard a provision that “bars funding for permanent bases in Iraq.”
UPDATE: During a Senate hearing today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates confirmed that “any strategic framework agreement” with Iraq “will not contain a committment to defend Iraq.” Watch it: