[Guest post by DRJ]
In Monday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Dana Perino introduced General Lute, the Assistant to the President for Iraq and Afghanistan, to discuss the signing of a US-Iraq Declaration of Principles. President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki signed the Declaration in a video teleconference Monday morning.
General Lute described the Declaration as a non-binding agenda designed to guide the US and Iraq into a long-term agreement governing any future US presence in and/or assistance to Iraq:
“Today’s agreement is not binding, but rather it’s a mutual statement of intent that will be used to frame our formal negotiations in the course of the upcoming year. It’s not a treaty, but it’s rather a set of principles from which to begin formal negotiations. Think of today’s agreement as setting the agenda for the formal bilateral negotiations that will take place in the course of ’08.
Let me just outline the importance of this document. First of all, I think it’s important to the people of Iraq. It signals a commitment of both their government and the United States to an enduring relationship based on mutual interests. The basic message here should be clear: Iraq is increasingly able to stand on its own; that’s very good news, but it won’t have to stand alone.”
“President Bush’s agreement with the Iraqi government confirms his willingness to leave office with a U.S. Army tied down in Iraq and stretched to the breaking point, with no clear exit strategy from Iraq.
“The President should take responsibility for his Iraq policy rather than expect the American people or the next Admisitration [sic] to bear the consequences of his mistakes. The President can do that by working with Democrats who are fighting every day to bring our troops home responsibly, honorably, safely and soon.”
The truth probably lies somewhere in between Surber’s and Pelosi’s views but Surber is a lot closer than Pelosi. Nevertheless, while it may be difficult to predict where Iraq will be in a year, the White House press corp’s questions were predictable and pathetic. The following are selected questions from the press conference, and my summary of General Lute’s responses appears in brackets following each question:
Q “Is there any precedent for this in history? I mean, there wasn’t anything like this after Korea or Vietnam or any other kind of American engagement.”
[The US has been a party to a long-term agreement with Korea and is a party to bilateral agreements with 100 other nations.]
Q “How can any nation make a deal under occupation and not feel coerced? And anyway, they don’t really have a sort of government there at all.”
[A declaration is not something that must be voted on but, nevertheless, all major Iraqi leaders agreed to it and it was read to, discussed and generally agreed to by the council of representatives.]
Q “Is this a facade for the Middle East conference, so it doesn’t wave this big cloud of our being in Iraq?”
[The declaration is part of a process that started August 26 and has no relation to what's going on in Annapolis.]
Q “You mentioned the size and the shape or the scope, stuff like that. Will this contain time lines or goals for the withdrawal of troops?”
[That's not part of the declaration but it will be part of the negotiations and "all these things are on the negotiating table."]
Q “General, will the White House seek any congressional input on this? … Is the purpose of avoiding the treaty avoiding congressional input?””
[Negotiations like this are handled by the State Department and are not subject to Congressional approval. There are about a 100 similar agreements between the US and other nations and the vast majority are not treaties.]
The White House transcript didn’t identify the questioners but it’s not hard to guess who may have asked these questions.