Saturday, September 20, 2008

Status of the Obama-Zebari scandal -- if you have the stomach for it.

Someone named rg boldly accused the media and cable networks of not having the courage to cover the scandal surrounding Obama’s negotiating with a foreign power. Pretty impressive accusations rg, but hiding behind a couple of initials kind of detracts from the boldness of your article. You miss out on all the hate mail if they don’t know who you are.

Yesterday I read what is probably the best Pro-Obama spin, rationalizing what Obama did. I can’t tell whether this spin came from Obama or from ABC’s Tapper. It appeared in Jake Tapper’s “Political Punch”:

Tapper begins by challenging the Tehari report that Obama privately tried to convince Zebari to delay an agreement on a “draw-down of the American military presence.” Tapper’s “smoking gun” is that “this July meeting was also attended by Bush administration officials such as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and the Baghdad embassy’s Legislative Affairs advisor Rich Haughton, as well as a Republican senator, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.”

Of course the attendance at a meeting by these other people wouldn’t preclude Obama’s being able to buttonhole Zebari privately. I’ve been to a zillion meetings and it is always possible to speak privately to someone while you are milling around before the meeting, during meeting breaks, or afterwards; so Tapper’s comment sounds shocking at first, but it is no smoking gun. Taheri doesn’t mention the other people, but they are really irrelevant – unless Tapper were to state that these other people say that Obama and Zebari never spoke privately together, and Tapper doesn’t say that.

But this would sound sort of like a smoking gun to the inattentive, and it casts doubt on what Taheri said. However, one must come back to the fact that it wasn’t Taheri making stuff up, Zebari told him what Obama did, and, interestingly, Tapper doesn’t single Taheri out like so many of the others did. He writes, “It’s possible Obama advisers believe, that either Zebari or columnist Taheri confused the Strategic Framework Agreement, which Obama feels should be reviewed by Congress, with the Status of Forces Agreement, which Obama says the Bush administration should negotiate with the Iraqis as soon as possible.”

The implication here is that only the Status of Forces agreement discusses troop “draw-down,” but I’ve spent the morning reading everything I could find on the subject and 1) the information has not been published as far as I can tell; so I don’t know how Obama could be sure there was nothing in the Strategic Framework Agreement discussing troop draw down and 2) everything I’ve read suggests that these two agreements will be negotiated with the Iraqis at the same time.

Here is the title of Congressional Research Service “Report to Congress, Order Code RL 34568”: “U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework and Status of Forces Agreement: Congressional Response,” dated July 11, 2008

Notice that this Congressional Document, a document Obama would be familiar with refers to the these two subdocuments as a single document. Also, as I read this CRS report, I noticed that sometimes they referred to both subdocuments as a single document and at others as individual documents. Taheri said that they would both be approved by Iraq at the same time (assuming the approval was forthcoming); therefore the delay of one would delay the other. I could find nothing that backed up that Taheri statement, but it made sense.

Notice what Tapper says Obama admits, that he “agrees with those – including Hagel and Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – who advocate congressional review of the Stategic Framework Agreement being worked out between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government, including the Iraqi parliament.” That definitely contradicts Zebari’s report that Obama harangued him, arguing that he shouldn’t agree anything that would send troops home until after the election, that is, if Iraq agreed to the Strategic Framework and Status of Forces Agreement, then troops would be drawn down in accordance with their secret terms. The ball would then be in Congress’s court to approve the “Status of Forces” portion of the agreement, because that would require congress to fund the forces remaining in Iraq. The White House insists (according to the CRS document) that they don’t need congressional approval for the Strategic Framework portion of the document.

Are you confused? Are you shaking your head in exasperation? Most people would feel the same way and that may be part of the reason that most Republican officials and Media journalists, even Fox journalists, are giving this scandal a pass. It would be too difficult to explain to the voters. Also, you have the fact that many on the Republican side of congress think that congress should have the right to approve the Strategic Framework, and that is what Obama admits to. He admits to saying out loud to Zebari what Lugar and Hagel said in congress.

Once again, that’s not what Zebari told Tehari Obama said, but in the Tapper article we have the Obama spin: Zebari was confused. And if they were speaking privately, how can Zebari prove he wasn’t confused. And if they were not speaking privately, as Tapper hints then the Republican senator Hagel is complicit.

Obama’s staff admitted that Obama told Zebari that the Strategic Framework agreement should be delayed until after the election. If the two subdocuments are to receive Iraqi approval at the same time, that would indeed have delayed troop draw-down. If you delay one until after the election then you delay both. But the Tapper spin can be read to imply that what Obama said to Zebari was something along the lines of “I agree with Senators Lugar and Hagel that the Strategic Forces Agreement should be reviewed by Congress as part of the negotiations.”

What could Hagel say to that? He couldn’t say that he disagrees with this statement. He may say he didn’t know whether Obama spoke to Zebari privately or not.

In the Tapper spin, Obama isn’t even admitting to the violation of the Logan act. Obama should hire Tapper and fire his present national security spokeswoman Wendy Morigi who said (on September 15th) “Obama 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.” What Tapper wrote (on September 16th) is clever. What Morigi wrote is an admission of guilt. If someone seriously began hammering Obama, he could say something like what Tapper says, “Wendy has been so busy lately she got a little confused . . . yatta, yatta, yatta.” But who is dumb enough to spend the time to try and make sense of all this?

Lawrence Helm


Mag K said...

One thing that no one has brought up in all of this discussion is the timeline. One of Taheri's main sources of evidence is Obama's phone conversation with Zebari in June where he suggests slowing down negotiations. However, the Iraqis didn't even suggest a withdrawal timeline until July 7.
It was a couple of weeks after that that Obama went to Iraq. The idea of a withrawal timeline was still a new one and it is most likely that Obama wanted to slow down the process of the long term agreements, but not necessarily the troop withdrawal. Now it seems that the withdrawal and the long term agreements go hand-in-hand. I don't think Obama intentionally wanted to slow down troop withdrawal by asking to wait for the next President and congressional approval, but he may be inadvertantly slowing it down.

Mag K said...
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Mag K said...
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Lawrence Helm said...

You may be right. Actually my initial thought way back when I first read Amir Taheri's article, was that this was further confirmation of something I had suspected namely that Obama had little experience, and was too forceful a personality to be very interested in advice. Someone suggested to me that Biden would be able to compensate for Obama's lack of experience. I just couldn't imagine Obama taking advice from Biden.

So I didn't think Obama intended to delay the troops coming home. I thought that his inexperience might inadvertently result in that as you say. And at the very least it opens him up, politically, to ineptitude. Even if what you suggest is true, he is still in violation of the Logan Act.



DanaC said...

My only problem with this is in Obama's july 16th interview he clearly stated he talked about both the Status of Forces agreement and strategic framework agreement, which he clearly lied about.

This is a bit taken from that july 16th article.

In response to a question about how much flexibility there would be to withdrawal plans, Obama said he still believed U.S. forces could be out of the country within about 16 months and that "I've also consistently said that I will consult with military commanders on the ground and that we will always be open to the possibility of tactical adjustments. The important thing is to send a clear signal to the Iraqi people and most importantly to the Iraqi leadership that the U.S. occupation in Iraq is finite, it is gonna be coming to a foreseeable end."

He said he told Zebari that negotiations for a Status of Forces agreement or strategic framework agreement between the two countries should be done in the open and with Congress's authorization and that it was important that that there be strong bipartisan support for any agreement so that it can be sustained through a future administration. He argued it would make sense to hold off on such negotiations until the next administration.

"My concern is that the Bush administration--in a weakened state politically--ends up trying to rush an agreement that in some ways might be binding to the next administration, whether it was my administration or Sen. McCain's administration," Obama said. "The foreign minister agreed that the next administration should not be bound by an agreement that's currently made."

Lawrence Helm said...

Dan: I believe you are referring to the YouTube Obama interview. Actually, I posted that and discussed on another Forum -- but I can't find my note. I'd appreciate it if you could post the Youtube site if you have it handy.

Yes, I agree with you, but as I say in a later note, there is lots of spin going on, maybe more than anyone can counter. But yes, there are Obama's words and Wendy Morigi's statement. It's hard to make those go away, even with Chuck Hagel coming to Obama's aid.