Testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight
Mr. Chairman, Honorable Members. Thank you for this opportunity to testify.
On December 10, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent a letter to the UN Security Council requesting that the Council extend the mandate of the U.S.-led Multinational Forces for one year, beginning December 31, 2007.
Maliki's actions are perfectly permissible under terms of the Iraqi Constitution. They are also permissible under precedent: The Security Council's November 28, 2006 extension of the mandate of the Multinational Force's presence in Iraq until December 31, 2007 was also in response to a request by the Iraqi Prime Minister.
Under Article 58 of the Iraqi Constitution, it is the job of the Iraqi Council of Representatives to ratify international treaties. This requires a two-thirds margin of support. Then, according to Article 70, the measure goes to the President to ratify the treaty. Such treaties are considered ratified after 15 days.
None of this is relevant to the case of the Prime Minister's request to extend the Multinational Force's mandate. The simple fact is that neither Maliki's communiqué nor UN Security Council resolutions any more constitute treaties for Iraq than they would for the U.S. Congress.
Despite the indisputable fact that this UN Security Council resolution does not constitute a treaty, the Iraqi Council of Representatives does have recourse if it disagrees with the Prime Minister's actions: A no-confidence vote requires only a simple majority. Despite grandstanding among some members of the parliament, especially among parties more sympathetic to Iran, none have chosen to avail themselves of the constitutional right to a no-confidence vote.
While it is tempting in the American political context to second-guess the elected Iraqi government on this matter, there should be little doubt that doing so undermines the nascent Iraqi democracy and is counterproductive to Iraqi security and stability. In turn, it will be that security and stability that creates an environment which will ultimately enable a U.S. draw down.
Indeed, while it is the duty of the U.S. Congress to help make and guide U.S. foreign policy, micromanagement of the Iraqi political process often backfires. As the distinguished members of this Committee know, a Representative's first duty is to his constituency. The same is true in Iraq: An Iraqi politician who weighs the vote of the House Foreign Affairs Committee over his own voters will not be an elected politician for long. For Iraqi politicians striving to do the right thing, the often conflicting messages received from the United States sometimes do more harm than good.
The Iraqi Prime Minister's request to extend the Multinational Force's mandate for a year is one of those rare actions which serve the interests of the United States, the United Nations, and Iraq.
Whatever the long-term U.S. debate about the merits of the surge, the U.S. military strategy has created space to enable Iraqi political leaders to address political reform and reconciliation. As the U.S. Congressional leaders know, hard-fought political compromises on even minor issues can take weeks and months. Those involving fundamental constitutional interpretations and reforms take months if not years. An attempt to stoke bickering between the Iraqi Council and the President over the decision to extend the Multinational Forces' mandate will undermine the very reconciliation process we have worked so hard to protect.
Finally, the extension of the United Nations mandate for Iraq addresses a key problem of legitimacy for that world body that should not be dismissed. For while many in the West see the United Nations through the prism of the noble goals of its founding charter, many Iraqis view the UN through the prism of Oil-for-Food program corruption and former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's warm relations with Saddam Hussein. Restoring UN credibility in Iraq is an important goal, and this resolution will enable time for political discussion, greater security force training and may also allow time for the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration of militiamen.
Mr. Chairman, Honorable Members. The Iraqi political process is far from perfect. But its best chance for success lies not in second-guessing an elected Iraqi prime minister's request to the United Nations' Security Council, but in respecting his very responsible decision to deny populist temptations and focus on the tough reforms ahead.
Mr. Rubin is a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, and editor of the Middle East Quarterly.