White House: Confusion Over Long-Term Agreement With Iraq Resulted From A Sloppy Arabic Translation

In November, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki signed a non-bindingDeclaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship” that committed America to defending Iraq:

Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats. […]

Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace.

At the time, the White House said that the unprecedented arrangement would not need “input” from Congress.

After facing intense criticism from lawmakers, the White House backed off, recently stating that arrangement is “not going to have a security guarantee.” Officials are now trying to come up with excuses to explain away their initial bumbling as well. Their latest? The long-term agreement was incorrectly translated from Arabic to English. Politico reports:

But the senior administration official, who briefed two Politico reporters on the condition that he not be identified by name, said that the “security assurances” phrase “was something we struggled with, it really was.” He said the original Arabic phrase was “translated in kind of an interesting way,” and that a better translation might have been, “We’ll consult.”

This excuse seems unlikely. First, White House officials have never before mentioned it. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) said that the administration “certainly did not speak to this unfortunate translation from Arabic” when it briefed senators on the planned agreement recently. Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) also said that he hadn’t heard the argument.


Second, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Bergner recently stated that Bush does have “constitutional authority” to “continue combat operations” in Iraq without Congress’s authorization. As evidence, he cited the 2002 authorization of force against Saddam Hussein and the resolution passed after 9/11. Clearly, Bergner never thought there was an Arabic mistranslation.

Both Webb and Delahunt also have their doubts about the administration’s newest excuse:

Delahunt said he suspected that the administration, having been “outed, if you will” by congressional oversight, has decided that it’s the “safe course” to argue that the words aren’t what they appear to be. Webb’s spokeswoman, Jessica Smith, wondered why the White House didn’t “retranslate” the offending language before releasing the Declaration of Principles.

This distrust is understandable; in January, 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.”

The truth is that White House officials tried to undermine Congress on Iraq and were forced to muster a weak excuse when they were caught.