Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Did Obama Attempt to Delay Troop Withdrawal While in Iraq?

I didn't post on this topic yesterday--I wanted to wait until there was more information. Now that there is, I find I have more questions than answers.

Yesterday in the New York Post, there was an article claiming that Obama sought to delay the withdrawal of troops from Iraq until after the election.
According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari said in an interview.

Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops - and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its "state of weakness and political confusion."

"However, as an Iraqi, I prefer to have a security agreement that regulates the activities of foreign troops, rather than keeping the matter open." Zebari says.

Though Obama claims the US presence is "illegal," he suddenly remembered that Americans troops were in Iraq within the legal framework of a UN mandate. His advice was that, rather than reach an accord with the "weakened Bush administration," Iraq should seek an extension of the UN mandate.
Three things to note here:
  1. Some of this writing makes me suspicious. Phrases like "he suddenly remembered" read like a conservative hit piece and make you think editorial and not news story. Of course, a huge number of mainstream media articles about Bush read like a list of liberal talking points, so this isn't grounds totally dismiss the accusation.
  2. If it is true, it displays the height of arrogance. To say to a foreign leader that "Bush is a lame-duck and confused, I will soon be president, wait to deal with me" is just astounding.
  3. Again, if it is true, undermining the authority of the president and conducting private negotiations with a foreign state is potentially a serious crime. The "Bush is a lemur monkey so it shouldn't matter" argument won't stand here.
In response to the article McCain released a statement saying Obama had to answer this accusation. It's the standard political text saying the actions, if true, bring up questions about Obama's judgement--read it at the Corner if you are interested. The more interesting text comes from Obama's actual response.
But Obama's national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Taheri's article bore "as much resemblance to the truth as a McCain campaign commercial."

In fact, Obama had told the Iraqis that they should not rush through a "Strategic Framework Agreement" governing the future of US forces until after President George W. Bush leaves office, she said.

In the face of resistance from Bush, the Democrat has long said that any such agreement must be reviewed by the US Congress as it would tie a future administration's hands on Iraq.
This response doesn't refute the accusation--it simply gives a reason as to why Obama did it.

I can understand the logic. A decision made at the tail end of an administration will be left to be handled by the next. But it is also a weak argument. The decision to invade Iraq in the first place has long term repercussions that must be handled by future administrations. But more importantly, it is hugely unethical and potentially illegal to conduct your own private negotiations with a foreign power.

Trying to make too big a deal about this would likely backfire--pursuing criminal charges would just get people to rally behind Obama. For example, statements from ultra-conservative sites such as Politpundit:
If this story is true as written, not only should he be disqualified from running for President, he should face some kind of condemnation for interfering with US Foreign Policy DURING A WAR:
aren't realistic or productive.

I do think this story presents a powerful opportunity to push Obama's inexperienced and arrogant angle. For a junior senator to be conducting his own negotiations around the concept of "wait until I am President" and for these negotiations to keep American soldiers in harms way will not sit well with many in America.

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