A decade, a century or more for the US in Iraq?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2008, 12:00am

How long will the American occupation of Iraq last? Friendly nations which expect it to pass with the Bush administration are in for a rude surprise. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton figures at least through her first term, if she is elected; President George W. Bush says a decade or more.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates endorsed a 'long and enduring presence', pointing to Japan and South Korea, which have hosted US troops for more than 60 years, as models. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain says US forces could stay for a century.

Indeed, the Bush administration is currently negotiating with Baghdad to maintain American forces in the country. 'The pact will cover the tasks of US troops in Iraq and their mission in the next phase,' said Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister. He insisted that a permanent occupation was a 'red line' that would not be crossed.

Really? The US retains substantial clout in Baghdad, since American rather than Iraqi security forces ensure the current regime's survival. And Mr Bush evidently initiated the war expecting to establish permanent bases in Iraq.

At least Senator Barack Obama opposed Mr Bush's misguided war policy from the start, but he would come under enormous pressure to be 'reasonable' and avoid a 'precipitous' troop withdrawal.

The Bush administration appears to be working to ensure that the US never leaves Iraq. For instance, Washington is constructing a mammoth new embassy, costing almost US$600 million. Moreover, it is pushing to include in its Iraq agreement the right to undertake combat operations while exempting US personnel, including civilian contractors, from Iraqi law.

Indeed, those most interested in controlling Iraq from Washington expect to forge a role likely to be very unpopular among Iraqis, and thus enforceable only if the US maintains substantial coercive power - that is, combat troops - in Iraq.

Casting further suspicion on its behaviour is the administration's attempt to cut Congress out of the process. Lieutenant-General Douglas Lute, the deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, explained that the discussions were not expected to 'lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress'.

Yet the ultimate agreement will incorporate the promise of US military aid against internal and external foes, and congressional assent has always been required for such commitments.

To avoid an eternal American military presence in Mesopotamia, the American people must use their vote in November to show their opposition to the war. Moreover, the US Congress must fight to carry out its constitutional responsibilities.

The decision to invade Iraq was a tragic mistake which cannot be redeemed by a lengthy occupation and permanent bases.

Doug Bandow is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defence Alliance and a former special assistant to president Ronald Reagan