Thursday, November 21, 2013

Afghanistan is different from Iraq

Afghanistan may soon agree to permit American forces to remain in the country until 2024, something the U.S. couldn't get Iraq to agree to allow. What accounts for the difference? Iraq is more of a democracy than Afghanistan.

Foreign occupations are unpopular. Really really unpopular. I can't imagine Congress ever ratifying an agreement that would allow some foreign army to operate on U.S. soil, foreign soldiers to enter American homes to search or detain people, or to grant foreigners immunity if they kill American citizens. But that is what we keep asking other countries to agree to. No politician who has to answer to the general public would ever agree to something like that.

The Status of Forces Agreement for Iraq had to be ratified by the Iraqi parliament, and it was pretty clear from the get-go that the parliament wasn't going to go for it. The SOFA for Afghanistan, just has to be ratified by the Loya Jirga, a convenient feature of Afghan culture in that it is a council which makes us Westerners associate it with an elected body. But it is not elected. Its members are appointed and vetted by the Karzai government. So while the proposal "is sure to face at least some criticism," it's not in serious danger. (Think about how faint "sure to face at least some criticism" is. They are talking about a proposal to allow a foreign military to operate on their soil and to give up their ability to hold any of those foreign soldiers accountable if they should do something terrible to their citizens. And not just any foreign military, a military that has already been accused of several massacres of their citizens. Once again, imagine we were talking about a foreign military operating in your own country to see ludicrousness of "at least some criticism.")

So why isn't the Afghan-American SOFA being submitted to the National Assembly for ratification? Article 90, Section 5 of the current Constitution of Afghanistan states that among the powers of the National Assembly is "Ratification of international treaties and agreements." I'm assuming they are bypassing the NA by using Article 111, which defines the powers of a Loya Jirga, among them is "To take decision on the issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and supreme interests of the country." But wouldn't that provision effectively annul the National Assembly's ratification power?