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Monday, June 30, 2008

An Agreement No One Agrees With

McCain and Talabani embraceThere are times when what you're told and what you know for a fact are two different things. When this happens, you can only come to one of two conclusions -- either what you're told is a mistake or a lie. Either way, it's false. Sometimes, the distinction is unclear -- you can't say for certain whether you're being lied to or whether someone's mistaken. At other times, this distinction is clear as an unmuddied stream. It's not a mistake, it's clearly a lie.

That was the situation I found myself in this weekend, when I read about a meeting between GOP presidential candidate John McCain and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Associated Press:

Appearing together in solidarity, Republican John McCain and Iraq's president said Saturday that the war-ravaged country is making significant but fragile progress.

The GOP presidential nominee-in-waiting expressed confidence about prospects for the two countries completing a complex agreement that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year-end. And, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said an American military presence still was needed.

"I, of, course am encouraged," McCain told the press after the meeting. "We both agree that the progress has been significant but the progress is also fragile. And there's a lot of work that needs to be done."

The problem, of course, is that things aren't going well at all. What this is really about is a long-term security agreement between the US and Iraq. Unpopular in both countries, McCain and Talabani represent the minority opinions in their respective nations. By appearing together, both can tell the home audience, "See? They all agree with me," and pretend a self-appointed spokesperson for the minority is really the spokesperson for all. But the truth is that even fewer Iraqis want a long term US military presence in Iraq than do Americans.

It's an occupation that few want, but those who want it want it really, really bad. Talabani revealed his minority opinion status by saying; "In my personal opinion, we are in need to have some, at least some, military bases as a symbol for preventing" other states (presumably Iran) from "interfering" in Iraqi politics.

And therein lies the split. Just the day before, negotiations between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Bush administration broke down over the issue of military bases in Iraq. The administration wants free reign in Iraq -- pretty much forever -- that includes the ability to conduct military operations, to arrest and jail citizens and unchecked use of Iraqi airspace and territorial waters. Details on the disagreement aren't available, but it's not hard to imagine what the hang-up might be -- the Bush administration, as it always is, is being bullheaded, stupid, and unreasonable, demanding everything they want and accepting nothing less. "Negotiation" isn't something neocons actually do.

"We have reached an impasse, because when we opened these negotiations we did not realise that the US demands would so deeply affect Iraqi sovereignty and this is something we can never accept," Maliki told reporters.

Kind of sounds like PM Maliki and President Talabani aren't on the same page, doesn't it? It also sounds like Sen. McCain and President Bush are.

In a totally unrelated and coincidental event, which was in no way meant to threaten or punish Maliki, a US special forces counter-terrorism unit raided the town of Janaja. In that raid, which just happened to occur the day after Maliki rejected Bush's kind offer to let Iraq become an unofficial US territory, special forces -- damn the luck -- killed a relative of Maliki. This all happened in Maliki's home province. Small world, huh?

Bush wants the agreement before he leaves office very, very badly. He feels that such an agreement would force the next president to continue his policies. But Bush argues that this isn't a treaty -- so he can forgo congressional approval of it -- which kind of makes that argument BS. An agreement between Bush and anyone is an agreement among men, not nations. A binding agreement between nations is a treaty by definition. Any leader would be a fool to rely on the sort of agreement Bush proposes, which would only have the force of political opinion behind it. And, since almost everyone believes the Republican party will be significantly weakened in the elections this November, that political force won't amount to much. Maliki may not be that fool who takes that agreement, but it sure looks like Talabani would be.

The lie that McCain and Talabani told was told to each other's nations. McCain's position was as a pretense of continued American support for Talabani's position. And Talabani's was the same, only aimed for American audiences. They both represent almost no one, but claim to speak for almost everyone. That's not a mistake, that's a lie.


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