The next president inherits as many as 140,000 troops in Iraq -- and two obstinate generals in high places: David Petraeus, right, and Raymond Odierno. (AP)
Do we really expect the Bushies to go quietly?
ASK THIS | June 09, 2008
Reporters should be keeping a sharp eye out for things Bush officials are doing to make their policies stay in effect after they leave office. In the first of a five-part series: Putting Iraq on autopilot, risking war with Iran, and purging the military.
By Dan Froomkin
As we enter the twilight of the Bush era, with the distinct possibility of a Democrat moving into the White House next January, it’s reasonable to suppose that top administration officials are spending a lot of their energy trying to make it as difficult as possible for their successors to roll back their policies.
What are the Bushies doing to lock in their current course – even if it’s Barack Obama in the Oval Office on inauguration day? What agreements and contracts are they committing the country to? What rules, line-items, and executive orders will live on beyond their creators? What Trojan horses, landmines and Manchurian Candidates have they put in place throughout government?
In any number of ways -- some overt, some covert – Bush, Vice President Cheney and their loyalists are assuredly taking steps to assure that their successors will find themselves hemmed in by limited options, balky subordinates, and inescapable obligations. Journalists should be looking for them and exposing them for what they are.
PART I: Iraq, Iran, and the Military
Iraq: The Petraeus Factor
The Bush legacy that has the most inertia, of course, is Iraq. The next American president will take office with as many as 140,000 troops still in harm’s way in Iraq, inheriting a war that will be hard to end even in the best-case scenarios. And while Obama is committed to a rapid pullout, there are ways the Bush administration can make it even more difficult than it has to be to change course. Among them: Putting stubborn loyalists in key military positions; continuing to build near-permanent bases until the last minute; letting out multi-year contracts; and committing to long-term agreements with the Iraqi government. In fact, the Bushies are doing all those and more.
For example, in the recent decision to promote Generals David H. Petraeus and Ray Odierno -- putting them in charge U.S. forces in the entire Middle East and Iraq, respectively -- Bush was clearly trying to put the war on autopilot. (See my April 24 column for washingtonpost.com, Putting the War on Autopilot.) As Julian E. Barnes wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “By naming Petraeus to a job that lasts into the next administration, Bush ensures that the new president will confront the military's strongest voice for maintaining a big force in Iraq.”
Civilians are technically in charge of the U.S. military, but recalcitrant generals can make change hard to achieve. And as Spencer Ackerman wrote for the Washington Independent on April 24, despite the clearly stated intentions of the Democratic presidential candidates, “at his congressional testimony earlier this month, Petraeus conspicuously declined to say whether he would, as Iraq commander, plan for withdrawal."
Any military officer of course can be removed and replaced by the commander-in-chief, but doing so in the middle of war is more difficult, both militarily and politically.
Q. What other personnel decisions are being made in the Pentagon that could make it harder for a Democratic president to begin a withdrawal?
When Bush fired Admiral William J. "Fox" Fallon in March from his position as Centcom commander, it was just the latest example of how high the cost has been for officers who don’t share Bush’s philosophy. Indeed, Bush’s purge of his military staff has been relentless.
And as Ann Scott Tyson reported in The Washington Post on May 15. Petraeus has deepened his imprint on the army in his role as head of the promotions board choosing the next crop of one-star generals.
Q. How many top-level military officials are there left who value diplomacy over conflict and see the war in Iraq as an unnecessary strain on military manpower? Enough for a future Democratic president to put together an effective leadership team?
There are lots of other ways Bush can try to make it easier to stay in Iraq than to go. One particularly effective way is to make long-term commitments before he leaves office. To that end, two accords are currently being negotiated between the White House and the Iraqi government: a status of forces agreement and a separate "strategic framework."
Administration officials insist that the new agreements will not specify troop levels or otherwise tie the hands of the next president – but a “Declaration of Principles” signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in November describes “a long-term relationship of cooperation and friendship” and calls for the U.S. to help Iraq defend itself “against internal and external threats.”
Negotiations on both accords are being held in secret, and the White House has said it does not intend bring the agreement before the U.S. Congress.
Some elements of the American negotiating position were recently leaked to Patrick Cockburn of the Independent, who wrote that Bush wants to retain the use of more than 50 military bases in Iraq and is insisting on immunity from Iraqi law for U.S. troops and contractors, as well as a free hand to carry out military activities without consulting the Baghdad government. At the same time, Iraqi resistance to such an accord is apparently on the rise, with many Iraqi lawmakers saying Bush's terms would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty and perpetuate the violence there. For more, see my June 5 column for washingtonpost.com, Bush’s Secret Iraq Deal.
And here’s one possibility Bush is likely to fight tooth and nail: Karen DeYoung wrote in the Washington Post on Friday that the Iraqi government may request an extension of the United Nations security mandate authorizing a U.S. military presence, due to expire in December, which would leave the negotiations over a future U.S.-Iraqi relationship and the role of U.S. forces in the country to the next American president.
Q. What are the White House’s goals in negotiating these two agreements? How are the negotiations proceeding? Why isn’t there greater transparency? Will Congress at least exercise its oversight power to find out what’s going on?
One particularly contentious issue is that of “permanent military bases.” It should be clear to everyone by now that when Bush administration officials deny that they are building permanent military bases, that doesn't mean a thing. See, for instance, this exchange last month between Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) and Assistant Defense Secretary Mary Beth Long. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a permanent military base. So even as Bush officials insist they have no intention of establishing permanent bases in Iraq, they have spent the last five years doing just that.
Q. So how many “enduring” bases are there in Iraq? How much construction is ongoing? What will it take to close these bases down?
It’s also notable that the Bush administration continues to make major capital expenditures for detention facilities.
Q. What new contracts are being let out, and under what terms?
Walter Pincus wrote in The Washington Post on June 2: “The depth of U.S. involvement in Iraq and the difficulty the next president will face in pulling personnel out of the country are illustrated by a handful of new contract proposals made public in May.
“The contracts call for new spending, from supplying mentors to officials with Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries to establishing a U.S.-marshal-type system to protect Iraqi courts.…
The proposals reflect multiyear commitments.”
Q. What sort of detention facilities are currently being built and why? How far along will things be when the new president takes over?
The New York Times recently reported: “The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to build a new, 40-acre detention complex on the main American military base in Afghanistan.”
Even more fundamentally, there are widespread concerns that the military has been so damaged by the strain of fighting two wars at once that the next president will have to spend money and attention simply on getting it back to fighting trim?
Even dwarfing the impact of anything they could do in Iraq, the one thing Bush and Cheney could do that would most dramatically and disruptively narrow the options available to their successors would be to attack Iran.
There have been plausible reports for months that the vice president in particular has been mulling a variety of ways to justify military action. Last year’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iran made a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities politically impossible. But In a February essay on NiemanWatchdog.org, for instance, Leon Hadar speculated that the Bush administration might create a new casus belli, possibly by encouraging Israel to launch its own strike on nuclear facilities or by escalating a (possibly trumped-up) provocation in the Persian Gulf. Another increasingly possible provocation: A U.S. raid on alleged training bases for Iraqi terrorists across the Iranian border. Just last week, it was reported that beleaguered Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was encouraging Bush to launch an attack.
Administration critics, who in this case represent almost the entire foreign policy establishment minus the neocons, warn that an attack on Iran would backfire even more spectacularly than the invasion of Iraq. Military action against Iran would likely have massive, messy and long-term repercussions throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, other Muslim countries -- and potentially within our own borders. The fallout would inevitably occupy much of the next president’s term in office.
Q. Are administration actions intended to provoke Iran into a confrontation? Are administration advocates of an attack on Iran gaining the upper hand? What sort of military planning is taking place?
Q. Is there anything stopping the Bush White House from launching some sort of strike against Iran after the election? Is there anything Congress could do to stop it?
Entrenchment, the Series:
Part One: Do we really expect the Bushies to go quietly?
Part Two: Midnight rulemaking, last-minute hires and executive fiats
Part Three: The time for a national conversation on pardons is before, not after, they're granted
Part Four: What's the vice president up to these days?
Part Five: How far will Bush loyalists go to help McCain win?
I don't see much of anything
07/03/2008, 02:36 PM
Bush can't really tie any following President's hands with mere executive orders, agreements, etc. If it isn't an actual treaty, then it isn't actually binding. There is nothing in the Constitution to indicate any agreement with another country that is not treaty is actually binding. Bush cannot actually stick us in Iraq indefinitely unless he gets an actual treaty passed. Short of that, everyone in Congress and the Executive must actually AGREE to go along with anything else.
An executive order lasts only until the next executive order. Personnel can be fired, particularly if they refuse to follow the law or the CURRENT President's orders (within the law as written). Bush may think he can force the next President's hand, but he actually cannot (unless the next President is pathetic and weak).