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Reporting from Washington -- Antiwar groups and other liberal activists are increasingly concerned at signs that Barack Obama's national security team will be dominated by appointees who favored the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on other important foreign policy issues.I believe they're in for some additional disappointment.
The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war.
"Obama ran his campaign around the idea the war was not legitimate, but it sends a very different message when you bring in people who supported the war from the beginning," said Kelly Dougherty, executive director of the 54-chapter Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Those who weren't paying attention when the Senator clarified his views on Iraq in July ("Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months" was replaced by "The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government. Military experts believe we can safely redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month -- which would remove all of them in 16 months.") probably didn't notice his latest subtle shift involving the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraq.
To fully understand the significance of the shift, you must know what a SOFA is. Basically, it's an agreement we have with most countries where we have troops stationed on a long-term basis (as Obama, perhaps to his supporters' dismay, desires for Iraq). The obvious exception: countries where we are at war. The agreement covers legal niceties such as criminal jurisdiction, basing, financial commitments, and other critical details necessary for continued presence of U.S. troops on foreign soil. The US has SOFAs with Germany, Japan, Korea, and several other nations where troops are stationed throughout the world. And for months (at least since early 2008), the U.S. has been developing a SOFA with Iraq in hopes of eliminating the requirement for the United Nations annual resolution authorizing our continued presence there.
Rumors about the content of that agreement throughout the months of negotiations caused Senator Obama to prominently include this statement as a key point in his Iraq policy: "Obama and Biden also believe that any security accord must be subject to Congressional approval. It is unacceptable that the Iraqi government will present the agreement to the Iraqi parliament for approval—yet the Bush administration will not do the same with the U.S. Congress." That oversight can be assumed to to be desired as a way to ensure that any incoming president would not be tied to a treaty that didn't suit their own plans for Iraq.
But this week, the strict demands were quietly replaced with a "sort of maybe": "Obama and Biden believe it is vital that a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) be reached so our troops have the legal protections and immunities they need. Any SOFA should be subject to Congressional review to ensure it has bipartisan support here at home."
Gone are "must" and "approve" - the new terms are "should" and "review". What could explain the lack of concern for congressional oversight? I can offer two likely reasons:
One - the president elect, having read the SOFA in its near-complete version (it lacks only that mandatory Iraqi parliamentary approval) has determined that it offers an acceptable framework for future US-Iraq relations
Two - the President-elect no longer cares what it says or what Congress thinks, he's going to do what he pleases with (or to) Iraq come hell or high water.
I believe option one is the more likely scenario. Perhaps I'm delusional in that regard (and certainly circumstances on the ground can change between now and January 20 or thereafter, especially since the document is not yet official) but I'm also inclined to believe that whatever the outcome, IVAW and the other folks quoted in that LA Times article are in for much greater disappointment than I am.
Tom Andrews, national director of Win Without War, said that ...Obama should be given the benefit of the doubt.But Kevin Martin, executive director of the group Peace Action, is expressing more concern: "There's so much Obama hero worship, we're having to walk this line where we can't directly criticize him," he said. "But we are expressing concern."
"I take him at his word that he is committed to ending the occupation of Iraq in 16 months and that he's going to assemble a team that's committed to that goal," Andrews said.
But assuming Iraq agrees to the SOFA, the only real remaining question is will the U.S. leave an unspecified number of troops in Iraq for an unspecified amount of time, per the remaining unchanged portion of Obama's Iraq plan, or will all troops be removed, per unverified reports on the content of the SOFA.
And perhaps for the "peace activists", there's the question of Afghanistan. The drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq is ongoing, and one Brigade scheduled for Iraq later this year has already been re-programmed for Afghanistan. Obama has pledged that others so scheduled will follow. He's likewise promised to "kill bin Laden" and to make "crushing al Qaeda" our "biggest national security priority." However, unlike Iraq, any plan or policy for Afghanistan has never been included on the candidate's (or the President-elect's) web site(s).
Update: More from Jules Crittenden.