Sunday, June 08, 2008

Lying on the SOFA

The negotiations between the U.S. and the Maliki “government” (if by government you mean the Arabic phrase meaning “flock of predatory birds feathering their nests") regarding the long-term military assistence and Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) are slowly filtering their way through the news media. There has been a great deal of speculation in a very below-the-U.S.-public radar regarding the Iraqi factions and their various reception to this deal – which seem to range from outright rejection (from the Sadrists, principally, as well as from the Sunni groups affiliated with the active muj) to selective receptivity (from the Shia elements not directly associated with Maliki’s Dawa trend and several of the Sunni factions) to generally favorable indifference (the Kurds, since they don’t plan to be part of this “Iraq” thing anyway who gives a flying fuck?) to pussyfooting approval (principally the Sunni Awakening groups, who understand that without American insistence they will get exactly two things out of the Maliki kleptocracy, Jack and shit, but who also know that to openly endorse an open-ended occupation will be suicide politically and probably personally) to enthusiasm by necessity (the Malikists, who know that short a couple of dozen U.S. brigades they are going the way of the Mensheviks).

I don’t really give a rat’s ass what the Iraqis want. It’s their country. If they don’t want to have several hundred thousand heavily armed foreigners tooling around with extraterritorial powers to arrest or kill their fellow countrymen and/or invade and generally fuck with their neighbors then it’s up to them to refuse us the permission and kill enough of us to persuade us to leave we don't listen. Don't whine to me about "rights". Nations have rights when they have the lawyers, guns and money to kick an invader square in the balls. Ask the Saxons how much the Normans worried about their "rights". Oh, right, there ARE no more Saxons. My bad.

What I care about is my country. And I see this deal as a poor one for the U.S. for several reasons. Let’s take them in order of importance.

1. This deal commits my country to be a player on the ground in the Middle East, a volatile and unstable region whose only real importance is the production of a fungible product, petroleum.

Our first President cautioned us about “entangling alliances”, and what he spoke of was not alliances per se. What he meant was alliances like this one, alliances with messy, nasty strings attached, alliances that committed us to unequal partnerships in contentious places where the risks of losing blood and treasure were not worth the purported gains.

To an extent we are already there: look at the recent speeches the two candidates made before AIPAC, particularly Barak Obama’s remarks regarding Jerusalem. A unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is absolutely NOT a political necessity or even a worthwhile bit of political entertainment for the United States. We gain nothing from the notion, and in fact gain added enmity of the Arab players in the region. As is often the case our entangling alliance with our most useless “ally”, Israel, has brought this issue into the discussion as an American policy when it is, in fact, an Israeli one. As the permanent occupying – call it what it is, the colonial – power in Iraq, we will be placed in the position of having to conflate the internal policies of our Iraqi proxies with our own, constraining our freedom of action and binding us hip and thigh to “our SOBs”.

2. This deal forces us into a long-term arrangement with a semiautocratic, generally corrupt, post-Ottoman society, AND permanently deals ourselves out of an accommodation with any flavor of Iraqi nationalist.If we go through with it we can NEVER allow a Sadrist, or a Sunni nationalist, or any other Iraq-for-the-Iraqisist anywhere near the levers of power in Iraq. It forces us to become not just an on-the-ground regional player but a local Iraqi political player, too, another thug in the thug life, another dirty mug in a mug's game, and aligned with the very factions that have the most slippery hold on power; the international exiles and non-nativists who will be increasingly seen as the tools of the colonial masters.

3. This deal pushes us as a nation further down the slippery slope towards neocolonialism. Despite the bullshit you will hear from the Usual Suspects, this is not "just like we stayed in Germany for sixty years". We won't be defending Iraq from an overwhelming external threat, but in effect trying to keep a failed state from failing while meddlng in the affairs of several nearby unstable polities. This is imperial frontier wetwork with a bullet, and a democracy is poorly suited to running foreign empire. Imperialism abroad tends to, mmmmmshall we say, “fray” liberal policies at home. Ask any Roman republican. Oh, wait. You can’t. Caesar cleared them from the board 2,000 years ago because the citizens ceded powers and abrogated laws to fight their enemies foreign and domestic. Until they found the enemy wore the same uniform they had...

4. This deal would go further into making my Army a long-service, imperial constabulary. We’ve seen what happens when you take Americans and make them into colonial rulers once before.Civilizing them with an M4 is unlikely to be better for the American soldier in the long term than civilizing them with a Krag was; witness the water-cure of the Philippine Insurrection has reappeared nearly in its original form in Iraq and elsewhere.Having American soldiers walking the streets of foreign capitals as police, judge, jury and executioner makes them less like Willie and Joe and more like the miles gregarius of Leg. X Fretensis. And ask any good imperial grunt how rubbing up against surly natives teaches one to knock the locals on the head first and ask questions later.Ask any of the residents of Jerusalem circa 70AD if you doubt it. Or Amritsar. Or the concentration camps of South Africa and the Philippines. Or Fallujah.

If you can find any.

I would add that policing the imperial hustings quickly saps the conventional warfighting capability of the imperial constabulary. The British suffered from immense technical and tactical incompetence in WW1 not because they were stupid or bad soldiers or poorly educated but because leading a column against the Black Mountain Hazaras is poor training for facing the Bavarian II Corps complete with horse, foot and artillery. The Israelis are starting to suspect that more than forty years bashing Palestinian skulls has reduced the IDF from the army of the Chinese Farm to the force that was stymied in Lebanon two summers ago. I loathe the idea that we should return to killing and jailing brown people as a matter of policy. But as a soldier the idea of sending American soldiers to bash wogs for a living offends me as much as the idea that we should rule a foreign country for our own benefit disgusts me as an American.

And as a last, geopolitical thought: the notion that we will be able to use these hypothetical Iraqi bases as a power projection platform as well as a sort of lever in regional geopolitics assumes that sheer weight of metal will be the decisive factor. This assumption seems to be as prescient as the “they’ll greet us with candy and flowers” Rumsfeldian brilliance that got us there in the first place.

And if they’re not going to be power projection platforms, what benefit to us are they and is this SOFA deal?I leave you with the open question.

Update 6/10: In a McClatchy news item, Shia party legislators are quoted as reporting that a draft U.S. proposal included:
1. A request for 58 locations as foreign troop "bases" (without specifying where or what these are)
2. the power to determine if a hostile act from another country is aggression against Iraq.
3. control over Iraqi air space up to 30,000 feet, and
4. extraterritorial right of freedom from Iraqi law for both U.S. troops and U.S. contractors.

Point 1 is, although foolish, a legitimate request from a major power to a minor one. Great Powers ask for and get basing rights from allies and neutrals all the time; we have bases across the globe from Spain to Samarkhand.

Points 2 through 4 make me stare at the screen with my mouth agape. Are our State Department (or, more probably, our Defense Department) negotiators absolutely fucking nuts? This is 2008, not 1908, and these are modern Middle Easterners, not a bunch of wogs squatting in the desert or Manchu Chinese mandarins confronting the Big Stick. No modern post-colonial regime can or could accept these conditions, and the fact that we were so stupid to offer them suggests that our five years "experience" in Iraq has been utterly worthless. We have learned nothing about our Iraqi "allies" if we thought that they would swallow these Intolerable Acts. This "proposal" is the work of a total fucking geopolitical moron.

Sigh. We Are SO DEEPLY and TOTALLY Fucked.


Ael said...

The biggest problem with the neocolonial adventure in Iraq is that it leads the Indians and Chinese down the wrong path. (and you better believe that they are paying attention!)

America should use its waning days as sole superpower to enmesh the rising powers of the East into a system of international laws and agreements.

Setting up an internationalist culture between nations will give America far better security than trying to whack insurgent moles in the dustier corners of the planet.

rangeragainstwar said...

ael, yes US policy ignores the key geopolitical issues and focus's on the inconsequential. jim

You Know Where You Are With said...

Well, the "benefit" to us is that it allows us to continue the Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz fantasy. And a people will swallow it because imperialism comes wrapped in the flag. Cue red, white, and blue.

And ael is exactly right: we're setting ourselves up for a global spanking.

mike said...

It is a crime that Obama has bought into AIPAC. And he did it less than 24 hours after securing the nomination. Next he ill call for Congress to endorse the Iraqi SOFA.

Samantha Power must be seething. Will she also call him a monster???

pluto said...

FDC, where did you get ANY reliable information about the SOFA? I can't find anything reliable anywhere. I've seen a tremendous amount of rumor on it but nothing solid.

FDChief said...

pluto: check out "missing links": for the best Arab language information I can find on both the U.S. expectations as well as the Iraqi reactions.

What I find interesting is that "badger", the blog host, seems to feel that the agreement is a done deal, and that the Iraqi factions with the power to approve it are simply playing for time and to be able to disassociate themselves with the public backlash to the inevitable surrender of soverignty this will incur.

And as several commentors point out, the fundamental dysfunction of our political system allows the Iraq misadventure to dominate our geopolitical worldview to the detriment of problems that look likely to end "The New American Century" well short of its centennial...

pluto said...

I agree that Badger is a good source of information but even he is working very second or third-hand here.

There's absolutely NO reliable information about the SOFA, whether it is being negotiated, whether it is a done deal, or even what is in the agreement, if one exists.

Considering the fact that the SOFA is a major document that would require intense amounts of negotiation to achieve anything like an agreement, and that any such negotiations would leak like a sieve, I can only conclude that the true situation is one of the following:

1) There is no agreement. This is the most likely situation. The Bush administration may have something in mind but they haven't presented it yet to the Iraqi "government."

2) The Bush administration drafted something and rubber-stamped it and aren't letting the Iraqi "government" see it yet. Does a SOFA require Congressional approval? It would make sense that Congress should have a say in approving such an important document but they've given away so much they could have given this away as well. If Congress doesn't need to approve this document then this is the next most likely situation.

3. The Bush administration drafted something and rubber-stamped it and gave it to the Iraqi "government" but it's so inflamatory they are sitting on it. I really can't see this. Maliki's gang leaks like a sieve, even when you pay them to be silent.

4. There is a real agreement but both the Iraqi and US governments are sitting on it for some reason. This is the least likely situation given all of the above.

Given that there probably isn't an agreement, I don't see anything to get worked up about except for the fact that there probably isn't an agreement.

I'm saving my outrage for when the agreement comes out. No matter how classified it is, the document will leak at some point if it exists.

On the other hand, the fact that we're all in limbo about one of the most important agreements in our short-term military future is a cause for outrage. Is it possible that Bush is purposely leaving this mess for the next administration? Nah, he'd NEVER be THAT irresponsible!

FDChief said...

Everything I see and hear - particularly the McClatchy items - suggests that the PNAC/wingnut faction of the Bush Adminstration tried to slam a maximal agenda into these agreements in the hope that the survival instinct of the Malikists forced them to grab the armed life preserver regardless of its implications for Iraqi "soverignty" (as if you can pretend to have anything like soverignty with 140K uncontrolled armed foreigners running around your "country"). I suspect that all the reported clauses: the bases, the extraterritoritality, the detention, etc. etc. were included. And that the same faction is unwilling to do a lesser deal. All or nothing seems to be the goal.

The question in my mind is the Iraqi pols. Without U.S. guns many of them have a highly problematic life expectancy. And yet, if the deal goes through as the U.S. wants it to, Iraq, the Iraq they pretend to rule and that is their source of private lucre, becomes an American protectorate for the forseeable future. The will become guests in their own house.

So ISTM that the next step is all about how they see their survival. Do they embrace the foreigner, and hope that brute force does the old imperial trick? Or do they hope for some local miracle, a sudden capability in their militia (the "IA/IP") that allows them to rebuff the invader? Or is their some betwixt and between comrpomise?

Publius said...

Well, the good news is that it now appears the Iraqis are going to be the ones to save us from this incredibly stupid administration, which will blessedly soon pass into history. They'll be out of power and they won't be able to do much about what many historians are already terming "worst president ever."

Apparently even the Iraqi puppets can't stomach everything on the wish list and are now thinking kicking the can to the next administration might be a good idea.

It seems there is now also considerable sentiment within Iraqi political circles for just asking us to leave. IOTM the best thing for our nation at this point might be for the Iraqis and other Arab nations to tell us the welcome sign is not longer lit. Oil is expensive, but we can still afford it. We're a destablizing force now, and we're driving those prices up.

If the Israelis want us to protect them, the least they could do is invite our combat forces into their country. Why don't we put our forces in Israel? Everybody in the Mideast already knows the truth.