Many people were puzzled by Obama’s denial yesterday of Amir Taheri’s allegation that Obama tried to stall an agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, since the denial seemed to confirm the allegation. Today, the consensus seems to be that Obama’s denial is making a distinction between the the Status of Forces Agreement and the Strategic Framework Agreement.
I originally discounted that explanation, since Taheri’s article nowhere specifically mentioned either agreement, so it could hardly be denied on that basis. Furthermore, the text of Obama’s denial jumbles the two together, at least as reported by AFP:
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.
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.
But Taheri has taken Obama’s denial that way, and written a lengthy response, pointing out that the SOFA negotiations and SFA negotiations cannot be (or at least are not) separated.
Obama needs to be more clear about what it did and did not say to the Iraqis, and why. So far they’ve merely issued a denial that doesn’t deny much of anything. At a minimum, Obama has admitted going behind the Administration’s back to frustrate some of its negotiations with the Iraqi government. That’s already pretty bad. Whether it’s worse than that isn’t clear yet.