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May 01, 2012

More Foreign Policy Wins Inherited from GDubya

It's hard to make sense of President Obama's super secret trip to Afghanistan today without looking back to the 2008 election when President Bush was trying to negotiate a similar agreement with the government of Iraq. Back then, Candidate Obama did everything within his power to undermine the Strategic Framework agreement - up to and including personally interfering with ongoing negotiations between the Bush administration and the Iraqis and then bragging about it:

It's not just Amir Taheri pushing the Logan Act story. Before he ever went to Iraq, Obama's bragging about his meddling in U.S. foreign policy made the pages of the NY Times:
Among the issues being discussed with the two presidential candidates is the long-term security accord between Iraq and the United States. [Ed.note, because this will become important later: this is the strategic framework agreement referred to later in the post] While the Bush administration would like to see an agreement reached before the summer’s political conventions, Mr. Obama said today that he opposed such a timetable.

So it seems The One had already commenced unsanctioned telephone negotiations with Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari back in June. His goal was to prevent the White House from successfully concluding negotiations for a long term security agreement with Iraq. Bizarrely, Obama not only admitted what he was doing, but bragged about it repeatedly over the next few weeks:

My concern is that the Bush administration, in a weakened state politically, ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it’s my administration or Senator McCain’s administration,” Mr. Obama said. “The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that’s currently made.”

Fast forward to 2012. Here we are in the middle of another presidential election season and President Obama is doing exactly what he tried to prevent his predecessor from doing: negotiating an agreement that will bind whoever wins in November. Back then, not content with conducting unsanctioned negotiations with a foreign power, Candidate Obama openly suggested the Bush administration was trying to circumvent Congress:

Obama and Biden believe any Status of Forces Agreement, or any strategic framework agreement, should be negotiated in the context of a broader commitment by the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops and forswearing permanent bases. 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. The Bush administration must submit the agreement to Congress or allow the next administration to negotiate an agreement that has bipartisan support here at home and makes absolutely clear that the U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

In a series of intriguing posts on the Foreign Policy blog last fall come these observations:

... where Obama has continued along policy lines laid out by Bush, he has achieved success, but where he has sought to make dramatic changes, he has failed. The bigger the change, the bigger the failure. Not surprisingly, Friedman presents this as a critique of Bush ("Obama and his national security team have been so much smarter, tougher and cost-efficient in keeping the country safe than the "adults" they replaced. It isn't even close, which is why the G.O.P.'s elders have such a hard time admitting it."). Friedman's sneer about the "adults" is unmistakable and it causes him to miss the obvious: where Obama has embraced that "Bush adult" worldview, it has gone well for him and for America. Where he has not, it has not. Indeed, where he has listened to Friedman and other bien pensant types, it has gone very poorly indeed (cf. Israel-Palestine peace process). And where he attempted a major shift in American grand strategy (elevating climate change to be a national security threat co-equal with WMD proliferation and terrorism) he has made almost no progress whatsoever.

President Obama campaigned on a scorched earth critique of the foreign policy he inherited from President Bush. He promised to undo all of it. Some of those promises (withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months) barely survived the first few days, while others (unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad or closing Gitmo) were only jettisoned after months of failed efforts. The correlation is almost perfect: the longer Obama hewed to his campaign critique, the less well it has gone in foreign-policy. And, by the way, the supposedly hyper-partisan Republican opposition actually has chalked up a record that compares very favorably with the recent past: where Obama has pursued a genuinely bipartisan policy, he has enjoyed strong bipartisan support.

Back in 2008, despite all the fulmination about an arrogant, unilateral, secretive Bush White House, the negotiations between the US and Iraq took place in the open. I know, because I wrote about it several times. Now, from a man who excoriated his predecessor and then proceeded to double down on policies he had assured us were morally indefensible, we get yet another demonstration of Obama's real position on bipartisanship and transparency. Peter Feaver again:

... the Obama team has been especially loathe to note any parallels with its predecessor ... except in one particular area. In public and private settings, Obama supporters have taken pains to remind people that it was President Bush who negotiated and signed the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SoFA) Strategic Framework Agreement that obligates U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Indeed, some have claimed that this is an inconvenient fact of its own, at least for Republican critics who want to charge that Obama is being reckless in his Iraq policy.

The implicit message is obvious: "we can't be criticized for ending the war in this way because, after all, we are just following the treaty obligations that Bush agreed to. If they were good enough for Bush, they are good enough for us."

That's not quite fair to the Bush policy, however. The Bush team viewed the 2008 SFA, and in particular the 2011 sunset, as a least-worst deal that they could strike with Maliki in advance of Iraqi elections. It was widely understood - and this understanding was directly encouraged by Iraqi interlocutors - that the SFA would be renegotiated after the Iraqi elections, when the new Iraqi government would have a bit more freedom to take necessary but unpopular decisions like allowing a follow-on stabilization force. Bush officials disagreed amongst themselves as to how forthcoming the Iraqis would be in a follow-on deal, but most agreed that it was imperative that a serious attempt be made to renegotiate the SFA at the earliest possible moment.

You don't have to take my word for it. If the plan all along had been simply to implement the 2008 SFA, why did President Obama send a team to Iraq to negotiate a new agreement? Why did the military plan on leaving a residual force? Indeed, as Tom Ricks quotes a colleague as asking, if that was really the plan then why the heck didn't the military plan on leaving at the end of 2011?

In other words, it sure looks like Obama supporters are trying to hide behind the Bush policy, trying to share credit (blame?) for a policy that might be problematic and in need of a little bolstering.

Now I ask you: does this sound like the Obama we all know and love?

UPDATE: Welcome Blackfive readers!

Check out the great video at the link above!

Posted by Cassandra at May 1, 2012 05:53 PM

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Yanno, I've meant to say this several times, but as I'm still *smiling* from the last line in your post....
It may be just me, but when I'm going from one post directly to the next at the top of the page and I get to the most recent, I can't help but chuckle to read these words: "Brett Barboursville and the Case of the Hairy Egyptian". I can't tell you how many times I've read that post simply 'because'.
We now return you to your regularly scheduleds commentary......

*checks to see if it's safe to stop smiling....nope, not yet*

Posted by: DL Sly at May 1, 2012 07:00 PM

I can't help but chuckle to read these words: "Brett Barboursville and the Case of the Hairy Egyptian". I can't tell you how many times I've read that post simply 'because'.

Those were good times :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 1, 2012 09:10 PM

The difference, my dear, is that this President does not spend much time planning for contingencies. That there would be a different administration to be bound by this agreement is, quite frankly, inconceivable.

Posted by: Vizzini at May 1, 2012 10:07 PM

You keep using that word.

I do not think it means what you think it means.

Posted by: "Inconceeeeeeeeeivable!" at May 2, 2012 08:13 AM

Is this a Gil Elvgren painting??

Posted by: Tony H at May 2, 2012 11:16 AM

Yes, Tony. I think it was called One for the Money.

Posted by: Cass at May 2, 2012 11:26 AM

Obama is a devious and, cowardly weasel; incompetent,vindictive to the core.

He like to crown himself with feathers earned by others.

Posted by: cali at May 3, 2012 05:29 PM