In the Arena

Iraq History Lesson

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Karl Meyer reminds us that the deal that ended the British Mandate in Iraq in 1930 bears no small resemblance to the Status of Forces Agreement being negotiated with the Iraqis now. I’m not sure that Meyer has the outlines of the deal right: no way will there be 58 long-term U.S. bases. But the key issue is the same–how much sovereignty will Iraq demand and the U.S. allow.

This seems a simple proposition: the Iraqis should have all the sovereignty they want. It is probable that the Maliki government will want a U.S. military presence, for the time being. But the rules governing that presence should be similar to those accorded the U.S. military in countries like Japan and Germany–i.e. without the right to act unilaterally on Iraqi terrain. Any intimation that the U.S. is forcing conditions on the Iraqis will result, as Meyer notes, in long-term resentment and reaction–and continued violence against our troops.

In the end, as I’ve written here before, there is no good rationale for a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq; it will be a permanent irritant. And this seems one of the clear foreign policy differences in the presidential campaign: McCain wants a long-term presence. Obama doesn’t.