Friday, February 24, 2006
So many things are left intentionally vague. The Bush administration does not place much importance on revealing its plans to the public, or in modifying those plans if people object to them. It is possible that the two are linked -- the less the people know about the plans, the less they can object to them. I could point out that many of these plans are costly, and the burden of that cost is being borne by the American people, who therefore have a right to know at some level of granularity (to use the current vogue word) how that money is spent -- but I assume that argument was rejected quite some time ago. Probably the Justice Department wrote a memo about it, and why it's not really true and thus easy to ignore.
One of the vague things: What are our plans in Iraq? Are we getting out soon, or not so soon, or not at all? Under what conditions would this withdrawal happen? What events or series of events are we waiting for? Various administration officials have pledged a swift return of the troops. Indeed, they began promising that in 2003, and look, no drawdown.
So the thing to do would be to look at the administration's actions rather than listen to its words. Maybe by examining the nature of the infrastructure the military is building, we might get a hint of its plans.
That is what journalist Tom Engelhardt did in his blog TomDispatch.com. He collected the strikingly few media reports on the so-called "super-bases" that the United States is building in Iraq. Their size and cost indicates more clearly than anything what our real plans are: We're there to stay, friends, whatever election-year rhetoric you may be hearing.
Here's an excerpt from Engelhardt's posting: "For the first time, we have actual descriptions of a couple of the 'super-bases' built in Iraq in the last two and a half years and, despite being written by reporters under Pentagon information restrictions, they are sobering. Thomas Ricks of the Washington Post paid a visit to Balad Air Base, the largest American base in the country, 68 kilometers north of Baghdad and 'smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq.' In a piece entitled Biggest Base in Iraq Has Small-Town Feel, Ricks paints a striking portrait.
"The base is sizable enough to have its own 'neighborhoods' including 'KBR-land' (in honor of the Halliburton subsidiary that has done most of the base- construction work in Iraq); 'CJSOTF' ('home to a special operations unit,' the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force, surrounded by 'especially high walls' and so secretive that even the base Army public affairs chief has never been inside); and a junkyard for bombed out Army Humvees. There is as well a Subway, a Pizza Hut, a Popeye's, 'an ersatz Starbucks,' a 24-hour Burger King, two post exchanges where TVs, iPods, and the like can be purchased, four mess halls, a hospital, a strictly enforced on-base speed limit of 10 MPH, a huge airstrip, 250 aircraft (helicopters and predator drones included), air-traffic pile-ups of a sort you would see over Chicago's O'Hare airport, and 'a miniature golf course, which mimics a battlefield with its baby sandbags, little Jersey barriers, strands of concertina wire and, down at the end of the course, what appears to be a tiny detainee cage. ...'
"There are at least four such 'super-bases' in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with 'withdrawal' from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea."
This means that, even if the current government of Iraq were to unanimously ask the United States forces to leave, they wouldn't. They might withdraw patrols in certain trouble spots. But they're in for the long haul, just as they are in Germany and Cuba and other nations with semiautonomous "little Americas" within their borders.
How much will all this cost? We don't know because nobody will admit it's even happening. Presumably somewhere deep in the Pentagon lies a cost estimate, but I wouldn't even be too sure of that. This is the administration that had no plans for running Iraq after the conquest; it may not really have any plans for the permanent occupation. KBR keeps building Pizza Huts, and who could be against pizza for our boys and girls in uniform?
These things have their own momentum. Suppose the Democrats were to retake Congress this year, would the base building stop? Nope. Suppose a Democrat were elected president in 2008, would the base building stop? My guess is no. The map of the world has been changed, again, by a conqueror.