What Exactly Did President Obama Fly All the Way to Afghanistan to Sign?
President Obama went to Afghanistan today to sign The U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement. The Agreement is a classic agreement to have further agreements, but doesn’t really commit either side to many specifics. The most important thing they agreed to do is to negotiate a Bilateral Security Agreement within a year. But other than agreeing to seek funds in Congress for further support for Afghanistan, this agreement doesn’t commit the U.S. (or Afghanistan) to do much of anything (even seeking funds is a future commitment, not a guarantee). So this is purely symbolic agreement that commits neither side to do much of anything in particular. That hardly seems to justify a state visit by the President (unless the symbol of his visit itself is the purpose).
Is it a treaty? Nope, there is no prospect of it being sent to the Senate. It is, the White House says, an executive agreement. And given the fuzzy nature of its commitments, I doubt anyone in the Senate would object. But what about the Bilateral Security Agreement? That will also probably be concluded as an executive agreement. But that agreement could have some serious obligations attached to it, and it would be an obvious candidate for treaty status. But I’m betting that the Obama Administration will follow the example of their predecessors, and bypass the treaty process to conclude a sole executive agreement in that context as well. Duncan’s post here on similar Iraq agreements suggests that this would probably somewhat questionable, as a legal matter. I am guessing Congress has no stomach for weighing in here, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do so.