Don't Call It Permanent

Spencer Ackerman has the penetrating analysis of The New York Times's somewhat unclear reporting on efforts to negotiate a status of forces agreement for American troops in Iraq. Basically, as Spencer says, it would be a huge mistake to make a big deal out of the fact that the agreement won't say "these bases of yours are permanent."

It took the Philippines nearly 100 years to get the U.S. out of Subic Bay and the Clark Air Base. That’s because the fact of the U.S. presence creates additional, subordinate facts—economic dependency in the area around the base, for one, and more fundamentally, a political dependency on the U.S. for a security guarantee, which is the whole point of the bilateral deal. In Iraq, a weak central government requires the U.S. to keep it alive against its multitudinous armed adversaries, a weakness that Iraq’s sectarian quasi-democracy actually fuels. (Elections in Iraq tend to become sectarian census counts in a power struggle.) So while the Iraqis may push back, no Iraqi government that could actually take power—one led by the Sadrists, for instance, or the harder-line Sunnis—would actually kick the U.S. out. That in turn drives a divide between the fearful Iraqi government and the anti-occupation Iraqi populace, further entrenching the government’s dependency.

Meanwhile, I'd also note that there's little sign that the training and equipping missions we're doing in Iraq are actually geared to creating a situation whereby Iraq can defend itself without outside support. Instead, security institutions are being set up in such a way as to presuppose enduring American involvement. Spencer's post, incidentally, appears in The Washington Independent a new and exciting online media venture dedicated to investigative reporting on a non-profit basis.