Am I the only one who thinks it’s strange that precisely at the moment when we’re seeing punditocratic cries for Barack Obama to acknowledge the “facts on the ground” in Iraq, and reject his timetable plan the actual facts on Iraq are developing in the direction of Iraqi insistence on a timetable? Well, I can’t be the only one. Meanwhile, more facts on the ground include what appears to be the definitive breakdown of SOFA/SFA negotiations. And as Dr. Irak explains, this failure is plausibly the result of the Bush administration’s opposition to timetables:
Because talks were not occurring against the backdrop of negotiating a U.S. withdrawal and a clear signal that we did not want to have the rights and prerogatives to stay in Iraq indefinitely, two things happened:
1. Iraqi sovereignty and nationalist anxieties were exacerbated by the perception that we were negotiating a permanent occupation (regardless of how many times the administration asserted it wasn’t seeking permanent bases). This made it difficult for Iraqi officials–including those that wanted a long-term agreement negotiated under Bush–to sign on to anything.
2. U.S. negotiators framed the whole thing to the Iraqis as us wanting to negotiate a way to stay in Iraq. This reversed the leverage in negotiations, making us appear increasingly desperate to give the Iraqis concessions so we could stick around indefinitely. This made it look like we needed them more than they needed us, which is completely back-ass-ward.
I’m not sure I would chalk this all up to appearances, but by and large that’s the right way to think about it. In the context of a framework for withdrawal, US military cooperation with the Iraqi government during the interim is viable. But in the Bush/McCain context with the shadow of endless occupation on the table, it’s not possible to work anything out. Now that said, the United States is a huge rich powerful country and I’m sure a McCain administration determined to stay in Iraq indefinitely could prevail upon the Iraqi government to see things their way. But that approach cuts against the grain of the actual situation.