In an op-ed in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, confident in the steps that Iraqi leaders are taking to solidify their country’s sovereignty, called on Congress to support negotiations of a “normal bilateral relationship” between the U.S. and Iraq. The U.N.’s authorization of American presence in Iraq is set to expire at the end of the year, and Rice and Gates, anticipating a longer-term need for U.S. troops, advocate for developing a renewed “status-of-forces” agreement — which dictates the terms under which troops act — directly between the U.S. and Iraq.Critics have contested that this sort of agreement would amount to forming a treaty while conveniently bypassing the Senate’s treaty-ratification prerogative. Rice and Gates contend that, rather than hamstringing the next president, this agreement will actually give him or her more leeway in pursuing US interests in Iraq. Nonetheless, this proposal is sure to make some Democratic lawmakers uncomfortable. Iraqis’ political progress is far from an established fact, and the prospect of a prolonged American engagement in Iraq — particularly one orchestrated by an administration in its last year in office — rankles those opposed to the war.
What Rice and Gates fail to discuss is the the UN’s role in Iraq (a prospect that we’ve frequently addressed). They dismiss the current UN authorization as out of step with normal diplomatic convention and out of touch with Iraqi leaders, but they fail to stress the critical neutral role played by the U.N. and its invaluable and stabilizing humanitarian work (in particular with regard to refugees). While currently a relatively small political mission, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq has performed admirably, and, as Iraq progresses politically, it will continue to need the UN’s valuable political assistance and ability to maintain peace and support stable governance. It will need resources (particularly from the U.S.) to do so.