Does the U.S. want
permanent bases in Iraq? Sure. But how hard is it willing to twist arms to get them? Larry Diamond's
Iraq: FUBAR Squandered Victory has a revealing
anecdote. Back in January and February of 2004, Iraqis and the U.S.
were hammering out the interim constitution that came to be known as the
Transitional Administrative Law, or TAL.
Over to Diamond:
Perhaps the greatest source of friction between the United States and the Iraqi drafters of the TAL concerned security issues. Even prior to my arrival, CPA officials had been seeking a highly expedited process to enable the transitional government to adopt treaties.
The U.S. was pushing the position that a simple majority vote in a transitional gov't should suffice for ratifying treaties. The Iraqis said that 1) a transitional gov't shouldn't be allowed to make treaties 2) if they are, ratification should only happen with a super-majority vote. Diamond apparently voiced his opposition to the U.S.’s position:
I found it bizarre, disturbing, and politically unwise for the United States to be asking the emerging Iraqi democracy to accept a lower threshold for treaty ratification than the Founders of the United States had deemed appropriate. I was appalled, and at the same time amused, to see--not only for the first time--the Iraqis taking the democratic side of a constitutional argument with the United States.
But U.S. negotiators--on instructions from Washington--stuck to their guns. Diamond:
What this smacks of, more than evil statecraft-y ways, is simple, breathtaking incompetence. (In that way, it reminds me of the election-influencing plan that Sy Hersh tried to nail.) Even if the U.S. could have beat down Iraqi opposition and gotten Iraqi negotiators to agree that treaty ratification only needed a simply majority, that wouldn’t have achieved much: Sunnis don’t exactly seem inclined to voting for permanent bases. Nor do Shiites. So getting a majority of (temporary!) Iraqi legislators to agree to permanent bases would have only been likely in Cheney’s dreams.
As the TAL negotiations struggled into the second week of February, the elimination of the two-thirds requirement for parliamentary ratification of international agreements rose to an A-level concern—one of Washington ’s highest priorities. Although it was never spelled out in so many words, I understood that the Bush administration wanted to conclude a treaty with the Iraqi transitional government granting the
U.S. long-term bases in Iraq, and perhaps other concessions as well.
Maybe that’s why though U.S. negotiators’ strong-arming eventually won out and there is only a simple majority required for treaty ratification, no treaty has been offered. The U.S. simply doesn’t have the votes. Of course, with all the pullout talk nowadays, even if the U.S. did somehow manage to ink a permanent bases deal, it would not exactly be the ideal photo-op. In fact, it’d create a political shitstorm, both in Iraq and the U.S.
As Diamond puts it, "We were much more stubborn and arrogant than we were smart." Sounds like an appropriate epigraph--for more than just this incident.