In his first debate with President Bush, John Kerry made a surprisingly bold assertion about US policy toward Iraq: "I think a critical component of success in Iraq is being able to convince the Iraqis and the Arab world that the United States doesn't have long-term designs on it," Kerry said. "As I understand it, we're building some 14 military bases there now, and some people say they've got a rather permanent concept to them."
Though the media ignored Kerry's statement and failed to do any substantive follow-up research, his comments were well-grounded in reality. On the day of the debate the Christian Science Monitor spotlighted the findings of defense specialist John Pike, whose website, GlobalSecurity.org, located twelve "enduring bases" in Iraq, including satellite photos and names. In March, the Chicago Tribune reported that US engineers were constructing fourteen such long-term encampments--the number Kerry referred to. The New York Times previously placed the number at four.
While the exact figure may change, suspicions of undisclosed US imperial plans--exemplified by permanent military bases--rightfully linger. Before the war, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz suggested moving US troops stationed in Saudi Arabia into Iraq. In October, a survey by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes found that two-thirds of respondents disapproved of a permanent military presence, even though more than half thought the US would build the bases anyway.
Now comes a report in the New York Sun by Eli Lake revealing that the Pentagon is building a permanent military communications system in Iraq, a necessary foundation for any lasting troop presence. The new network will comprise twelve communications towers throughout Iraq, linking Camp Victory in Baghdad to other existing (and future) bases across the country, eventually connecting with US bases in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan.
"People need to get realistic and think in terms of our presence being in Iraq for a generation or until democratic stability in the region is reached," Dewey Clarridge, the CIA's former chief of Arab operations (and Iran-contra point man), told the Sun.
The fabled "exit strategy" may be not to exit. Thomas Donnelly, a defense specialist at the American Enterprise Institute, said the new communication system resembles those built in West Germany and the Balkans, places where American troops remain today. "The operational advantages of US bases in Iraq should be obvious for other power-projection missions in the region," Donnelly wrote in an AEI policy paper.
Next time the Bush Administration hints at withdrawing troops, keep these grand plans in mind.
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