By DeWayne Wickham
On Tue Jun 17th , 2008.
The biggest thing Iraqi officials have going against them in their negotiations with the Bush administration over the status of U.S. forces in that country is history. What the United States wants from countries it occupies, it usually gets.
Last week, as some lawmakers in Iraq complained about what they saw as heavy-handed efforts of U.S. negotiators to secure a long-term agreement to maintain nearly 60 military bases in that country, President Bush was in Germany assuring the world that the deal would get done.
When asked during a news conference whether he was concerned about how the negotiations were going, Bush said: "I think we'll end up with a strategic agreement with Iraq. … We're there at the invitation of the sovereign government of Iraq."
Forget about that shameless distortion of the truth for a moment and read between the lines. What Bush was really saying is that with the U.S. Army occupying Iraq, he expects to get what he wants. After all, we saved Iraq from the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein, and it owes us big time. Bush expects the U.S.-installed democracy that replaced Saddam's regime to give this country the right to maintain a military presence in Iraq for what is being described as an indefinite amount of time.
Iraqi officials who scoff at this plan have good reason to do so.
While Bush has repeatedly said that he does not want to establish permanent military bases in Iraq, his administration has been hard-pressed to define what it considers permanent. If that doesn't worry Iraq, these two words should: Guantanamo Bay.
That's the location on the southern tip of Cuba where the United States has maintained a military base since 1903, five years after it invaded that Caribbean island to free that country from Spanish colonial rule. The Spanish-American War lasted less than four months — after which the United States occupied Cuba for four years.
The occupation ended only when the Cuban government agreed to the terms of the Platt Amendment, a congressional edict that, among other things, required Cuba to provide the U.S. military land for a naval base.
If that bit of history doesn't cause Iraq's central government to worry about the blowback that the stalemated U.S. military forces negotiations might produce, maybe a recounting of what happened to Colombia, when it refused to give this country what it wanted, will.
In 1903, after Colombia's legislature refused to ratify a treaty that would have given the United States the right to build a canal to connect the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, President Theodore Roosevelt supported the splintering of that South American country. He used U.S. naval forces to keep Colombia's central government from reinforcing its troops in the breakaway province of Panama. With this help, Panama established itself as an independent state and quickly agreed to give the United States "in perpetuity" control of the Panama Canal that was to be built.
The United States maintained a military presence in the Canal Zone for 88 years, until control of the land was returned to Panama in 1999.
As to the current negotiations with Iraq, the Bush administration wants to wrap things up by the end of next month. The president is seeking to get this deal done quickly, but the Iraqis should not capitulate. The billions of dollars the United States has poured into the training of its police and military forces should be the best guarantee of Iraq's sovereignty — and its peaceful coexistence with its neighbors.
Instead of caving in to the demand for a long-term U.S. military presence in their country, Iraqi leaders would be wise to tell the Bush administration: Yanquis, go home.
DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.
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