November 26, 2007

Iraqis Offer Long-Term Security Partnership

The Iraqi government has offered the US a long-term security partnership that envisions a lower profile for American troops, as well as economic advantages for US investors. The agreement would replace the current UN mandate, which Iraq wants extended only to the end of 2008. It might also revive conspiratorial criticisms that have dogged the Iraq effort (via Memeorandum):

Iraq's government, seeking protection against foreign threats and internal coups, will offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership, two Iraqi officials said Monday.

The proposal, described to The Associated Press by two senior Iraqi officials familiar with the issue, is one of the first indications that the United States and Iraq are beginning to explore what their relationship might look like once the U.S. significantly draws down its troop presence.

In Washington, President Bush's adviser on the Iraqi war, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, confirmed the proposal, calling it "a set of principles from which to begin formal negotiations."

As part of the package, the Iraqis want an end to the current U.N.-mandated multinational forces mission, and also an end to all U.N.-ordered restrictions on Iraq's sovereignty.

The favorable treatment of American investments will restart the meme that the Bush administration invaded Iraq to get oil contracts for American firms at the expense of the French and the Russians. That ignores the obvious point that we could have dropped sanctions and allowed free trade with Saddam Hussein at any time after 1991 if that was our only concern. The French and the Russians begged us to do that from 1999 to 2003. In fact, if oil was our only concern, we never would have kicked Saddam out of Kuwait. We would have shrugged it off as the evolution of Middle East consolidation.

A negotiated security partnership makes sense for both nations. Iraqis now understand that the Americans do not want an imperial outpost in southwest Asia, but a stable democracy able to fight against terrorism and radicalization. The Americans want to see Iraq succeed on its own for a number of sometimes conflicting reasons. Such a partnership would allow a significant drawdown of American combat troops while allowing a substantial core to continue counterterrorism operations and forcebuilding for Iraqi security organizations.

Internationally, it may not play as well, but the shift to a voluntary partnership should quell most of the criticisms of the US involvement in Iraq. The elected, representative government will have once again endorsed American assistance. Their emergence from UN mandate will remove another burdensome question from international diplomacy. Europe may not like the preferential economic access that the US will receive, but then again, few in Europe invested in Iraqi liberation and stability.

The open question will be whether the next US President will fulfill our side of the agreement. Hillary Clinton might or might not be strong enough not to cave to the isolationists, but Republicans almost to the man would strongly commit to a partnership with Iraq. Will such an agreement influence the 2008 elections?


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