Friday, September 9, 2011

tattered SOFA

The policy pundits and media are politicizing U.S. policy in Iraq. That's unfortunate, since the situation is bad enough without turning the issue into Obama vs. the U.S. military.

The Obama administration has indicated a desire to keep about 3-4,000 American troops in Iraq after 2011. American military commanders reportedly prefer a much higher figure, like 14-18,000.  Even fair-minded critics like Peter Feaver are calling the policy reckless, and others are suggesting a renewed civil-military crisis.

Wait a minute. Yes, there are domestic American political pressures on the decision, not least the President's promise to end the U.S. combat role this year. And yes, the military has good arguments for having more American soldiers around for security than fewer.

But the real problem is in Baghdad, not Washington. The status of forces agreement [SOFA] signed by George W. Bush set the December 31, 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, despite the Bush administration's earlier criticism of any use of withdrawal timetables. The Iraqi government has failed to propose any alternatives to that deadline because of internal disputes among the ruling coalition. So the U.S. military is properly planning troop drawdowns to be compliant, even as it wishes for both certainty and specifics regarding any residual U.S. force. I say "Iraqi government," but the sad fact is that no successor government has been formed since the March 2010 elections. Iraq has a caretaker government that isn't taking care of the chief security issue that nation faces.  The Americans int he White House and Pentagon are just trying to cope with the dysfunctional government in Baghdad.

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