Permanent Bases and Temporary Presidents

By David Swanson

Did you notice something about the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group Report? It recommends all sorts of changes, all of them far short of actually ending the war, but it recommends them all to the same person responsible for the disastrous situation we’re in now. It doesn’t suggest what Congress should do to rein in an out-of-control president. Rather, it recommends that the President do dozens of things. Here’s one of them:

“RECOMMENDATION 22: The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. If the Iraqi government were to request a temporary base or bases, then the U.S. government could consider that request as it would in the case of any other government.”

Bush came close to stating this on April 13, 2004, when he said “As a proud and independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation and neither does America.” But the Iraq Study Group does, and so – judging by other remarks and actions, does Bush. When you refuse to set a definite time for getting out, you are supporting an indefinite occupation. Robert Gates, the new Rumsfeld, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that he thought the “war on terror,” which he dishonestly connected to the War on Iraq, would last “a generation.” That’s pretty indefinite.

But what if Bush were to state that the United States does not seek permanent bases? How would that differ from Bush stating that he had no warning of Katrina, or that he knew Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or that the United States does not torture, or that he planned to keep Rumsfeld on another two years?

Speaking of Rumsfeld, on February 17, 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, testifying before the same Senate Armed Services Committee, said: ”We have no intention, at the present time, of putting permanent bases in Iraq.” Now, in Rumsfeldspeak this probably meant that he would build temporary bases and then decide later to make them permanent, or that they would just be “enduring,” which would mean permanent but not, you know, permanent — in the same way that an “enemy combatant” is a prisoner of war without the rights of, you know, a prisoner of war. In any case, what is gained by having Bush or Rumsfeld say the words? Wouldn’t it make more sense to recommend to Congress that it do something that used to be the role of Congress: namely, pass a law?

But there’s the catch. Congress already has. Since the moment we entered Fiscal Year 2007 in October, every dime spent on permanent military bases in Iraq has been illegal. But no one even knows how to find out how many dimes that is. And that illustrates a broader problem. Bush not only began this war in secret with money that Congress had approved for something else, but he also immediately turned it into a permanent occupation and began constructing permanent bases. It took Congress three years to get around to cutting off the funding for more such construction, but Congress had never approved the whole idea. Neither, of course, had the Iraqis.

This past weekend there was a huge protest in Italy where a permanent U.S. military base plans to expand with the construction of a new base nearby. In South Korea it’s a similar story, with the added kicker that our military is evicting townspeople, eliminating their village, and building a new base with a golf course attached. There’s a global meeting planned in March in Ecuador on eliminating foreign military bases. It was U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia that enraged Osama Bin Laden. Americans pay a fortune to maintain bases all over the world, and the primary product of them is anger.

Last March, when Congress passed the “emergency” supplemental funding for the war for 2006, both houses of Congress included language banning the use of funds to build permanent bases. A Republican-run conference committee “reconciled” this agreement by deleting it.

But leaders on this issue like Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) didn’t give up. Similar language was included in the “Defense” Appropriations bill for 2007. Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa) introduced an amendment on the floor of the House to again delete the language on no-permanent-bases. But most of the Republicans and almost all of the Democrats went against him. Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R., Fla.) urged King to withdraw his amendment: “If we strike this prohibition from this bill that was well thought out, what we are saying to the Iraqi people and what I am satisfied the propaganda machine of al Qaeda in Iraq are going to do is use this and say: see there, we told you so. The Americans plan to occupy us for the rest of our lives.” The House voted 376-50 for no-permanent-bases. It’s been the law since October. The 2007 “Defense” Authorization bill passed including the same language.

Why did King want to allow the construction of permanent bases? He argued on the floor: “I believe that we should not foreclose our options in Iraq . . . Historically, basing rights agreements have been a necessary part of diplomatic relations with foreign governments.” Well, yes, but that’s exactly what the Iraq Study Group recommends: working the basing arrangements out with the puppet government. Indications are that the Iraqis are not fooled.

When a number of us wrote to Congressional leaders to thank them for cutting off funds for permanent bases, we noted that: “This important step comes as evidence increasingly points to its need. A University of Maryland poll recently showed that 77 percent of Iraqis believe that the United States intends to maintain permanent bases in that country, while a State Department study found that a majority of Iraqis are calling for U.S-led military forces to withdraw immediately. The recently issued National Intelligence Estimate confirmed what many of us had feared for so long: the U.S. presence in Iraq is increasing terrorist threats and not making America’s homeland more secure.”

So, over three-quarters of Iraqis are hip to what we’re doing. Americans don’t lag so far behind. In a new study released by the same university this week, we learn that 66 percent of Americans (including a near majority of Republicans) believe that a majority of Iraqis oppose the establishment of permanent U.S. bases in their country, and 68 percent of Americans (including a majority of Republicans) believe that, in any case, we should not have such bases. Tom Engelhardt points out that: “This is an especially remarkable set of figures, given that the permanent bases have received next to no attention in the American mainstream media.”

Enough has been reported, however, for us to know that we are spending billions of dollars to construct bases in Iraq for the U.S. military. The new Democratic majority in Congress knows this, knows the damage these bases are doing, and knows the good that could be done by making better use of all that money, not to mention the lives lost in the process. If we speak up, perhaps the new majority will also know how quickly it can become a minority again if it does not seize this issue, expose it, and set it right. As Congressman Dennis Kucinich said on the floor of the House on Wednesday: “The American public did not vote for the Iraq Study Group. They voted for a new congress and a new direction in Iraq – – out.”

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