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  The Era of Magical Thinking: SOFA Smokescreens and Presidential Power
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The Era of Magical Thinking: SOFA Smokescreens and Presidential Power

by Chris Floyd
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
It is absurd in the extreme to pretend that the "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) with Iraq is not a treaty-level matter, requiring full debate and a vote in the Senate.
The American media is by and large swallowing the propaganda line that the Iraqi cabinet's acquiescence to a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) with the U.S. occupation force means that the Iraq War will be over in 2011. This will further cement the conventional wisdom that the suppurating war crime in Iraq is now behind us, and the topic will be moved even further off the radar of public scrutiny.

But as usual, there is a wide, yawning abyss between the packaged, freeze-dried pabulum for public consumption and the gritty, blood-flecked truth on the ground. As Jason Ditz reports at, the so-called "deadline" in 2011 for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces remains, as ever, an "aspiration," not an iron-clad guarantee. The pace and size of the bruited "withdrawal" will remain, as ever, "conditions-based," say Pentagon and White House officials -- a position long echoed by the "anti-war" president-elect. And as we all know, "conditions" in a war zone are always subject to radical, unexpected change.

Ditz also hones in on a very important -- and almost entirely overlooked -- point: the ballyhooed "agreement" (which has yet to pass the Iraqi parliament, of course) "just covers the rules of US troops operating in Iraq from 2009-2011, and... nothing would prevent a future deal keeping the troops there past the scope of the SOFA." American negotiators had originally insisted on stating this point explicitly in the text of the agreement, but finally removed it to allow their oft-disgruntled puppet, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to claim, falsely, that the SOFA will at last rid the country of the widely-loathed American presence.

It will not. If, by the end of 2011, America's bipartisan foreign policy elite -- and the profiteers of the vast, interlocking corporate conglomerate that fuels the War Machine -- decide that it is in "the national interest" (i.e., their interests) for the occupation to go on, it will go on. If they feel they have squeezed Iraq dry enough, then they may well move on to greener pastures -- in a newly "surging" Afghanistan, no doubt, and perhaps even Pakistan. But that decision will not be in the hands of the Iraqis.


Of course, going this far into the weeds on the details of the "agreement" ignores the fact that the entire process is actually a brutal sham. Disregarding for a moment the murderous nature of the Hitlerian war crime perpetrated on Iraq by the American government -- which removes the situation from any kind of "normal" considerations of diplomacy -- what we have here are negotiations dealing directly with the very essence of a nation's sovereignty, and America's continuing, intimate -- and armed -- involvement in that nation's life. It is absurd in the extreme to pretend that this is not a treaty-level matter, requiring full debate and a vote in the Senate, but simply a side issue to be left up to the President's discretion.

Yet that is the case. Bush makes the deal alone -- after all, as Obama continually reminds us, "we only have one president," and even if he is a twerpish, murdering, nation-gutting son of a bitch, we should all defer respectfully to his judgment. All Obama asks is that any agreement to extend the war crime in Iraq will provide "sufficient protections for our men and women in uniform." As for "sufficient protections" for the Iraqi men and women -- and children -- out of uniform, who have been killed and displaced by the millions, our singular president and his successor have little to say. As always, they play no part in these high affairs of state. And neither, apparently, do the American people, or their elected representatives.

But all of this is entirely in keeping with our cowed and craven post-Republic era, where in the end, all must yield to the prerogatives of the "commander-in-chief." The constant use of this title as a synonym for "the presiden"t is yet another mark of our democratic degradation. For of course the president is only the commander-in-chief of the armed forces in wartime -- not the military commander of the entire country. It has been astonishing to see the erasure of this distinction not only in the popular mind but also among our powerful elites. It is one of the clearest expressions of the true state of the Union: a nation that has willingly submitted itself to rule by a military junta, surrendering, without a shot, the liberties it once claimed as its very raison d'etre.

So now we lurch from election to election, hoping that this time we will get a "good" commander, a benevolent tyrant. Witness the plethora of recent articles in our most august journals, wondering anxiously what Obama will do about the concentration camp in Guantanamo, and issue of "preventive" indefinite detention, and the torture techniques instituted by Bush, and the secret, warrantless wiretapping of the American people, and the "signing statements" that ignore the Constitutional authority of the elected legislature and impose the arbitrary will of the president, and all the other authoritarian powers now claimed by the Unitary Executive.

The unspoken assumption behind all the stories is that it is up to Obama, alone, to decide these issues. It is he who will now decide how we define torture. He will now decide what's to become of the captives in Gitmo and the other gulag hidey-holes around the world. He will decide whether or not to "re-visit" the spying powers that he voted to give the Executive just a few months ago. And so on down the line. All of the extraordinary hopes now invested in Obama boil down to this: the powerless wish that he will be a "good" king, well-intentioned and masterful, and not a cruel and bumbling ruler like the last "commander."

Magical thinking. Cringing and fawning. Looking to the Leader to make everything right. This is the state of American "democracy" today -- even after the historic "transformation" of Election 2008.

UPDATE: But as Chris Hedges points out at, even these pitiful, serf-like hopes are likely to be dashed, due in large part to the fatal flaw in the well-intentioned and masterful young commander in waiting: his embrace of the imperial system and its most malignant growth, the "War on Terror." Hedges:

Obama and those around him embrace the folly of the “war on terror.” They may want to shift the emphasis of this war to Afghanistan rather than Iraq, but this is a difference in strategy, not policy. By clinging to Iraq and expanding the war in Afghanistan, the poison will continue in deadly doses. These wars of occupation are doomed to failure. We cannot afford them. The rash of home foreclosures, the mounting job losses, the collapse of banks and the financial services industry, the poverty that is ripping apart the working class, our crumbling infrastructure and the killing of hapless Afghans in wedding parties and Iraqis by our iron fragmentation bombs are neatly interwoven. These events form a perfect circle. The costly forms of death we dispense on one side of the globe are hollowing us out from the inside at home....

Those clustered around Barack Obama, from Madeline Albright to Hillary Clinton to Dennis Ross to Colin Powell, have no interest in dismantling the structure of the imperial presidency or the vast national security state. They will keep these institutions intact and seek to increase their power. We have a childish belief that Obama will magically save us from economic free fall, restore our profligate levels of consumption and resurrect our imperial power. This naïve belief is part of our disconnection with reality. The problems we face are structural. The old America is not coming back.

Chris Floyd at his deskChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.

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This story was published on November 18, 2008.


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