In two days of congressional hearings, only passing reference was made to a critical document, the long-term-security agreement the Bush administration is negotiating with Iraq.

What reference was made had to do with whether it required, as most treaties do, Senate approval.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said it did not and that there were no plans to submit it to the Senate because it was an “executive agreement.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden said that that it did. “You need to do much more than inform the Congress, you need the permission of the Congress if you’re going to bind the next president of the United States in anything you agree to,” he told Crocker.

Congress shouldn’t wait for the agreement, or treaty, to be concluded. It should keep a close and watchful eye on its contents while they’re being drafted, especially given President Bush’s overly expansive views of presidential powers. This document will determine the extent and nature of our long-term — perhaps permanent — presence in Iraq. And since the Iraq war will be the biggest part of Bush’s legacy, it’s understandable that he will want to shape as much of it as possible before leaving office.

It certainly looks as if the administration is planning for the United States to stay. We’re building the largest U.S. embassy in the world, both physically and in terms of personnel, and the most expensive. It is in a Baghdad enclave, the Green Zone, which we’ve heavily fortified at great expense. In addition, we’ve made a huge investment in military infrastructure, including four mega-bases and a satellite network of forward operating bases that, despite their name, are all but permanent.

Asking where all this investment is heading is well within Congress’ legitimate oversight functions. If Congress waits around for the agreement to be completed, the Senate may find it not so much ratifying a treaty as rubberstamping a fait accompli.