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Obama Victory Advances SOFA Signing in Iraq

Boots from troops killed in Iraq

Barely a week ago, the Iraqi government was refusing to sign a status of forces agreement with the U.S. military, despite the agreement’s guarantee of a full-scale troop withdrawal by 2011. Prominent Iraqi dignitaries were talking about scrapping the document entirely and securing another 12-month United Nations mandate for the occupation. The discussion bogged down so much that Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, practically threatened to take his toys and go home.

Then, on Tuesday, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. And lo, the waters have parted. Reports the New York Times:

Barack Obama may have been elected only three days ago, but his victory is already beginning to shift the political ground in Iraq and the region.

Iraqi Shiite politicians are indicating that they will move faster toward a new security agreement about American troops, and a Bush administration official said he believed that Iraqis could ratify the agreement as early as the middle of this month.

“Before, the Iraqis were thinking that if they sign the pact, there will be no respect for the schedule of troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011,” said Hadi al-Ameri, a powerful member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a major Shiite party. “If Republicans were still there, there would be no respect for this timetable. This is a positive step to have the same theory about the timetable as Mr. Obama.”

And Ameri is right. John McCain, when asked about the so-called SOFA, misrepresented its withdrawal guarantee on CNN. If you were an Iraqi negotiator and you heard the potential next president of the United States do that, why would you have any faith in your interlocutor? Swopa made this point in May.

OK, substantive comment: the agreement really does guarantee a U.S. troop withdrawal by 2011 and a U.S. withdrawal from Iraqi cities and towns by next spring. In other words, it ends the war, and ends it in stages. Obama won’t be able to enter office with the Iraq problem solved. But it will be well on its way to being solved. The strategic framework for his desired withdrawal will be in place. And since he and the Iraqi government see eye to eye on the issue, Obama will have the credibility in place to work toward a political compact among the different Iraqi factions — something the Bush administration hasn’t ever had and a McCain administration wouldn’t ever have had. That’s not to say Obama will achieve it, just that the stars are better aligned now.

Non-substantive comment (or quasi-substantive comment): It wasn’t long ago that Obama’s rivals for the White House mocked people’s belief in Obama as an agent of change. "Let’s get everyone together, let’s get unified, the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and everyone will know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect," mocked Hillary Rodham Clinton. Well, the Iraqis didn’t think it sounded like such a bad thing. No one’s mocking now. Look at that, Republicans: not even in office yet and Obama has already done what you couldn’t. You should take this opportunity to ask yourself why that is.

Crossposted to The Streak.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman