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Musings on the US in Iraq: `Enduring’ Presence/Permanent Bases (1)

July 11, 2007

“The message we’re sending to everyone, not just Iran, is that the United States will have an enduring presence in this part of the world [where else? The Middle East]. We have been here for a long time; we will be here for a long time and everyone need to remember that, both our friends and those who thinking themselves to be our adversaries.”

-Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defense, December 2006

“It’s very clear, our love is here to stay
Not for a year, but forever and a day”


Exchange `love’ for `bases’ and in one word a schmatzy love song gets transformed into a political critique of some relevance. Not bad.

The discussions about the future of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq are heating up. The impression is certainly growing – or being crafted – that the US troops will not be there for long. Republicans are joining their Democratic colleagues in Congress in their criticisms of the policy, the failure of the so-called `surge’ is common knowledge. There are other signs of a shift. For all that, if one watches what the Bush Administration does rather than what it says, all the indications are that the United States has no intention of completely withdrawing from Iraq in the forseeable future. At best what is considered is a kind of tactical withdrawal from urban areas where the US military has proven vulnerable and ineffective. The hundred or so US military bases are being consolidated in to some smaller number (not yet clear how many). They are not referred to as `permanent’ but `enduring’ bases. Chances are they will still be in Iraq for some time.

Much of what we are seeing in Congress and the media is something different: attempting to respond to public opinion, to give the impression of preparations of withdrawal, while exploring the ways to prepare the people of this country (and the world) for somewhat reduced, but still permanent and indefinite US military presence in Iraq. Such a plan appears to have bi-partison support in Congress with a few notable exception (Kucinich for one). It follows a script not unlike that acted out by the British in Iraq in the 1920s when they too were forced to largely withdraw from urban areas to the security of their megabases.


No doubt public opinion has shifted dramatically since the US occupation of Iraq began in March of 2003. Then, the Bush Administration was able to market the lies that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and to link Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden in the public mind. Since then at least 660,000 Iraqis have died, perhaps double the number, the country remains largely in shambles, scandals of torture, rampant US violations of human rights and international law, the death of 4000 US troops (probably alot more as those who die of their wounds are not counted), the expansion of all kinds of secret operations in Iraq and beyond have become common place. The cost of the war – known costs because 40% of the military budget is secret – is now close to half a trillion dollars and mounting. In no war have US veterans been treated more shabbily – as little more than cannon fodder for Halliburton, military industries and the plans of neo-cons obsessed about the US dominating the world in the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR.

This is the tip of the ice berg and one could go on and on to list the human and financial costs of what has already shaped up to be the greatest debacle in US foreign policy history, with implications already more profound than even those of the US loss (read that word again: loss) in Vietnam three decades ago.

As the war has proceeded, domestic oppostion at first quite modest, has continued to swell. Four years on, polls tell us that 77% of the American people are opposed to the US war in Iraq and Bush’s popularity couldn’t get much lower. The distrust, disgust continues to grow. Many believing that the Bush Administration is capable of anything, believe that one way or another, Bush himself was responsible in some way for Sept 11. According to a poll I read this morning on the internet, almost 45% of the people of this country, Democrats, Republicans and Independence support indicting both Bush and Cheney. The media both local and national which cheered the war on in 2003 – indeed and should be indicted for war crimes as much as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeldt – now, responding to the shifte in public opinion – does cautious exposes and embarrassing investigative stories with some regularity.

The `enduring presence’ of the US military in the Middle East has created `an enduring opposition’, one that has been factored into the Bush Administration’s plans as being more of an annoyance than a serious challenge to all these plans. Of course if the movement does become more effective, broader, there are all kinds of plans to snuff it out a la COINTELPRO programs of the 1970s and with enough legal structure to do so thanks to the Patriot Act. For the moment, anti-war demonstrations remain not particularly large and few of that 77% who oppose the war are actively opposing it, even fewer taking to the streets. True, `the people’ are behind us (the anti-war movement), but sometimes so far behind us that they can only be seen with high powered binoculars. And we wonder if it is the lack of a draft, living in a hyper consumer society, the American fixation of sports, `movement fatigue’ , boredom with movement tactics or some combination there of which has led to the strange lull in activism. A nation of people stoned, most without every having smoked a joint. Virtually any time I sit with serious peace organizers, some variation on this theme emerges. I don’t know the answers. Perhaps it is that we’re just living in different times, the 60s had a very different social/political chemistry than today.

Whatever., let’s not sell ourselves short. This isn’t the first time that the powers that be, the media would like peace activists to believe that our efforts are for naught – just `feel good’ shit of guilt ridden, do gooders, as irrelevant as we are harmless. That has been a constant life long theme many of us have heard: you don’t count, your voice means nothing and furthermore you can’t organize for shit anyhow. The problem is that the famous `they’ repeat that mantra too often, suggesting that they themselves don’t believe and that they are, frankly, like Nixon was, scared.

One indication that the past four years was not a complete waste of time was the results of the elections last November. While the growing distaste for the war itself was probably the primary factor in swaying people, the anti-war movement, doing what it could, as it could to keep the issue in the public conscience, was a key contributing factor to the changed national mood and the electoin result. It was seen as a mandate on Bush’s policy on Iraq – and the resounding defeat suffered by Republicans – was almost universally interpreted as a turning point in public opinion on the war. The message was quite simple, wasn’t it: Get out, the sooner the better. That the ruling class is as stupid as some of us think is seen in the fact that before the election, the powers that be put together a bi-partisan, high level task force, the so-called Baker-Hamilton report whose main themes were outlined even before the votes were counted. It suggested a change of direction. Rumsfeldt’s precipitous departure just after the election back to Taos where he compensates for destroying Iraq with heavy contributions to the local pueblo also suggested that change was in the air. Gates and Rice seemed to be moving in the direction of a different policy, even if at a snails pace.

Some thinker that I read rather carefully (Wallerstein for instance), suggest given the scope of the mess and tragedy in Iraq that US troops will be out of Iraq in a year or two (or in the near future) and that the war in Iraq has reached a turning point. I hope that they are right, but fear they are not. For starters, most of the Democrats themselves have put the breaks on any quick Iraq withdrawal. Nancy Pelosi’s pre-emptive strike to neutralize the impeachment movement (which is still growing) took a valuable tool away from the peace movement. The discussions on time lines, a political maelstrom which trivialized the issue, which resulted in nothing, combined with the eventual vote to give Bush a free hand to use more than $100 billion in additional funding with no strings, suggested that the staying power of the neo-cons, the Bush Administration (and pro-militarist lobbies like AIPAC) is greater than thought.

A closer scrutiny of the Administration’s position suggests that, the fact of the matter is, that the United States is not about to leave Iraq. Yes the role might change some (a tactical withdrawal from most of the cities), but withdrawal is not in the cards. Instead, Iraq is being molded to be the military epi-center of a network of US military bases that spans the whole region. Enormous amounts of money, great construction efforts, the building of what Chalmers Johnson has referred as `medium sized American cities’ are being crafted by a military whose intentions and projects are known not only by the American people, but also by Congress.

What I hope to look at in the blogs that follow is how this policy has evolved over the past 30 years (It was intensified after Sept. 11, 2001 but began long before that), and the shape it appears to be taking. So…tune in.

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