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Shunning the Word “Permanent”
And With Good Reason
Military bases R U.S. Or so it seems. After the invasion of 2003, the Pentagon promptly started constructing a series of monster bases in occupied Iraq, the size of small American towns and with most of the amenities of home. These were for a projected garrison of 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops that top officials of the Bush administration initially anticipated would be free to hang out in that country for an armed eternity. In the end, hundreds of bases were built. (And now, hundreds have been closed down or handed over to the Iraqis and in some cases looted). With present U.S. troop strength at about 47,000 (not counting mercenaries) and falling, American officials are now practically pleading with an Iraqi government moving ever closer to the Iranians to let some American forces remain at a few giant bases beyond the official end-of-2011 withdrawal date.
Meanwhile, post-2003, the U.S. went on a base-building (or expanding) spree in the Persian Gulf, digging in and enlarging facilities in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, “home” to the U.S. Fifth Fleet. In that island kingdom, an Obama administration preaching “democracy” elsewhere has stood by in the face of a fierce Bahraini-Saudi campaign of repression against a majority Shiite movement for greater freedom.
Not to be outdone by the Pentagon, the State Department decided to build a modern ziggurat in Iraq and so oversaw the construction of the largest “embassy” on Earth in Baghdad, a regional citadel-cum-command post meant to house thousands of “diplomats” and their armed minders. It is now constructing a similar facility in Islamabad, Pakistan, while expanding a third in Kabul, Afghanistan.
In fact, in the years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the Pentagon, as Nick Turse reported for TomDispatch.com, went on a veritable base-building bender in that country, constructing at least 400 of them, ranging from micro-outposts to monster spreads like the Bagram and Kandahar air bases, complete with gyms, PXs, Internet cafes, and fast-food outlets. Now, in the tenth year of a disastrous war, the Obama administration is evidently frantically negotiating to make at least some of these permanently ours after the much-vaunted departure of American “combat” troops in 2014.
As in Iraq, American officials carefully avoid the word “permanent.” In 2003, the Pentagon dubbed the Iraqi bases “enduring camps,” and this February Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered the following description of the Afghan situation: “In no way should our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will of its people... We do not seek any permanent American military bases in their country.”
And yet, despite all the bases built in the Greater Middle East and all the firepower on them, the U.S. has found itself, embarrassingly enough, dealing with a region spinning ever more rapidly out of its control. Perhaps, remembering our similarly giant base complexes in Vietnam -- the pyramids of their day -- and their postwar fate, U.S. officials have simply decided to shun "permanent" as a reasonable precaution against reality. After all, what’s permanent? Not us. Consider, for instance, the analysis offered by the remarkable Noam Chomsky, author of Hopes and Prospects, in his latest, “Who Rules the World?” on the subject of what on this planet is too big to fail. The answer: nothing.