Can you say artillery barages?
They won't ask you to leave
Can You Say "Permanent Bases"?
The American Press Can't
By Tom Engelhardt
We're in a new period in the war in Iraq -- one that brings to mind the Nixonian era of "Vietnamization": A President presiding over an increasingly unpopular war that won't end; an election bearing down; the need to placate a restive American public; and an army under so much strain that it seems to be running off the rails. So it's not surprising that the media is now reporting on administration plans for, or "speculation" about, or "signs of," or "hints" of "major draw-downs" or withdrawals of American troops. The figure regularly cited these days is less than 100,000 troops in Iraq by the end of 2006. With about 136,000 American troops there now, that figure would represent just over one-quarter of all in-country U.S. forces, which means, of course, that the term "major" certainly rests in the eye of the beholder.
In addition, these withdrawals are -- we know this thanks to a Seymour Hersh piece, Up in the Air, in the December 5th New Yorker -- to be accompanied, as in South Vietnam in the Nixon era, by an unleashing of the U.S. Air Force. The added air power is meant to compensate for any lost punch on the ground (and will undoubtedly lead to more "collateral damage" -- that is, Iraqi deaths).
It is important to note that all promises of drawdowns or withdrawals are invariably linked to the dubious proposition that the Bush administration can "stand up" an effective Iraqi army and police force (think "Vietnamization" again), capable of circumscribing the Sunni insurgency and so allowing American troops to pull back to bases outside major urban areas, as well as to Kuwait and points as far west as the United States. Further, all administration or military withdrawal promises prove to be well hedged with caveats and obvious loopholes, phrases like "if all goes according to plan and security improves..." or "it also depends on the ability of the Iraqis to..."
Since guerrilla attacks have actually been on the rise and the delivery of the basic amenities of modern civilization (electrical power, potable water, gas for cars, functional sewage systems, working traffic lights, and so on) on the decline, since the very establishment of a government inside the heavily fortified Green Zone has proved immensely difficult, and since U.S. reconstruction funds (those that haven't already disappeared down one clogged drain or another) are drying up, such partial withdrawals may prove more complicated to pull off than imagined. It's clear, nonetheless, that "withdrawal" is on the propaganda agenda of an administration heading into mid-term elections with an increasingly skittish Republican Party in tow and congressional candidates worried about defending the President's mission-unaccomplished war of choice. Under the circumstances, we can expect more hints of, followed by promises of, followed by announcements of "major" withdrawals, possibly including news in the fall election season of even more "massive" withdrawals slated for the end of 2006 or early 2007, all hedged with conditional clauses and "only ifs" -- withdrawal promises that, once the election is over, this administration would undoubtedly feel under no particular obligation to fulfill.
Assuming, then, a near year to come of withdrawal buzz, speculation, and even a media blitz of withdrawal announcements, the question is: How can anybody tell if the Bush administration is actually withdrawing from Iraq or not? Sometimes, when trying to cut through a veritable fog of misinformation and disinformation, it helps to focus on something concrete. In the case of Iraq, nothing could be more concrete -- though less generally discussed in our media -- than the set of enormous bases the Pentagon has long been building in that country. Quite literally multi-billions of dollars have gone into them. In a prestigious engineering magazine in late 2003, Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq, was already speaking proudly of several billion dollars being sunk into base construction ("the numbers are staggering"). Since then, the base-building has been massive and ongoing.
In May 2005, however, Bradley Graham of the Washington Post reported that we had 106 bases, ranging from mega to micro in Iraq. Most of these were to be given back to the Iraqi military, now being "stood up" as a far larger force than originally imagined by Pentagon planners, leaving the U.S. with, Graham reported, just the number of bases -- 4 -- that the Times first mentioned over two years earlier, including Balad Air Base and the base Poole visited in western Anbar Province. This reduction was presented not as a fulfillment of original Pentagon thinking, but as a "withdrawal plan." (A modest number of these bases have since been turned over to the Iraqis, including one in Tikrit transferred to Iraqi military units which, according to Poole, promptly stripped it to the bone.)
The future of a fifth base -- the enormous Camp Victory at Baghdad International Airport -- remains, as far as we know, "unresolved"; and there is a sixth possible "permanent super-base" being built in that country, though never presented as such. The Bush administration is sinking between $600 million and $1 billion in construction funds into a new U.S. embassy. It is to arise in Baghdad's Green Zone on a plot of land along the Tigris River that is reportedly two-thirds the area of the National Mall in Washington, DC. The plans for this "embassy" are almost mythic in nature. A high-tech complex, it is to have "15ft blast walls and ground-to-air missiles" for protection as well as bunkers to guard against air attacks. It will, according to Chris Hughes, security correspondent for the British Daily Mirror, include "as many as 300 houses for consular and military officials" and a "large-scale barracks" for Marines. The "compound" will be a cluster of at least 21 buildings, assumedly nearly self-sufficient, including "a gym, swimming pool, barber and beauty shops, a food court and a commissary. Water, electricity and sewage treatment plants will all be independent from Baghdad's city utilities." It is being billed as "more secure than the Pentagon" (not, perhaps, the most reassuring tagline in the post-9/11 world). If not quite a city-state, on completion it will resemble an embassy-state. In essence, inside Baghdad's Green Zone, we will be building another more heavily fortified little Green Zone.
Even Tony Blair's Brits, part of our unraveling, ever-shrinking "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, are reported by Brian Brady of the Scotsman (Revealed: secret plan to keep UK troops permanently in Iraq) to be bargaining for a tiny permanent base -- sorry a base "for years to come" -- near Basra in southern Iraq, thus mimicking American "withdrawal" strategy on the micro-scale that befits a junior partner.
As Juan Cole has pointed out at his Informed Comment blog, the Pentagon can plan for "endurance" in Iraq forever and a day, while top Bush officials and neocons, some now in exile, can continue to dream of a permanent set of bases in the deserts of Iraq that would control the energy heartlands of the planet. None of that will, however, make such bases any more "permanent" than their enormous Vietnam-era predecessors at places like Danang and Cam Rahn Bay proved to be -- not certainly if the Shiites decide they want us gone or Ayatollah Sistani (as Cole points out) were to issue a fatwa against such bases.
Nonetheless, the thought of permanency matters. Since the invasion of Saddam's Iraq, those bases -- call them what you will -- have been at the heart of the Bush administration's "reconstruction" of the country. To this day, those Little Americas, with their KBR-lands, their Pizza Huts, their stop signs, and their miniature golf courses remain at the secret heart of Bush administration "reconstruction" policy. As long as KBR keeps building them, making their facilities ever more enduring (and ever more valuable), there can be no genuine "withdrawal" from Iraq, nor even an intention of doing so. Right now, despite the recent visits of a couple of reporters, those super-bases remain enswathed in a kind of policy silence. The Bush administration does not discuss them (other than to deny their permanency from time to time). No presidential speeches deal with them. No plans for them are debated in Congress. The opposition Democrats generally ignore them and the press -- with the exception of the odd columnist -- won't even put the words "base," "permanent," and "Iraq" in the same paragraph.
It may be hard to do, given the skimpy coverage, but keep your eyes directed at our "super-bases." Until the administration blinks on them, there will be no withdrawal from Iraq.
The Iranians and Turks will come to admire American handiwork.
I wish people who write these pieces actually talk to someone who knows what the fuck they're talking about.
Because the first thing you have to mention is that no Iraqi government can survive foriegn bases in Iraq. It led to the 1920 uprising, the 1941 alliance with the Nazis and the 1958 uprising.
So I don't think President Sadr is going to be cutting any deals for bases. And Sadr has the whip hand in the parliament, now. He picked the PM for God's sake. One day he'll take the top job and the Sunnis will cheer him on as they deal with SCIRI, who now seem to possess a death squad.
This is just pissing away American money, because if we are foolish enough to try and hunker down in one of these bases, it will turn into Con Thien overnight, with routine artilliery barrages to make the point we have to leave. Because when we hunker down, all those cannon we stored, will come out of mothballs and rain steel on out bases.
They won't need to issue a fatwa, destroying those bases, if the US tries to stay, will be a condition for holding power.
posted by Steve @ 12:42:00 AM