“Cutbacks Don’t Apply in Iraq”

Ironically, as the Pentagon proposed to close 33 military bases in the United States, including four in Georgia, Congress passed a spending bill for the Iraq war that included half a billion dollars for permanent military bases and another half billion for building the world’s largest embassy on Iraq’s soil.

These decisions have a devastating impact both at home and abroad. And they are equally unpopular. Here, local communities are struggling to save nearby bases and the jobs they supply, while overseas Iraqis clearly don’t want a permanent U.S. presence on their soil.

A January 2005 Zogby poll in Iraq found that 82 percent of Sunnis and 69 percent of Shiites favor U.S. withdrawal either immediately or after an elected government is in place. Building permanent bases directly violates the will of these Iraqis.

The United States now operates out of approximately 50 locations in Iraq, including 14 “enduring bases.” Iraqis can’t help but notice the 150,000 U.S. soldiers surrounding them and the 12,000-plus patrols that happen each week in their towns.

These permanent bases actually endanger the well-being of our soldiers and us here at home. The U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia was Osama bin Laden’s chief recruiting tool there, and the same dynamic appears to be working for Iraq’s insurgents.

For example, in November 2003, there were an estimated 5,000 insurgents. Today there are an estimated 18,000, and Iraqi officials estimate up to 200,000 additional supporters.

President Bush uses democracy to justify a continued U.S. presence in Iraq in every speech he gives these days. Yet the new military construction there, just like the Pentagon’s base-closing commission, is decidedly undemocratic.

Iraqis have virtually no input into these plans. Building new facilities sends exactly the wrong message about democracy to the Iraqi people, especially as the new government is desperately working to take political control.

The price for following the Pentagon’s current course of shuttering U.S. domestic bases while building new ones in Iraq is high. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld estimated that the closings would save the military $5.5 billion a year after initial closing costs were paid and about $49 billion over 20 years. Strikingly, he did not provide estimates on what costs the communities affected by these decisions would pay.

Equally outrageous is the tab for the Iraq war, now more than $200 billion and rapidly rising. Each month alone the United States spends more than $5 billion for the war. That’s the military’s total estimated savings per year for the proposed base closures.

As the president often mentions, freedom, democracy and peace often demand heavy sacrifices. But plans to build new bases jeopardize these ideals. Just as the base closing process will hurt thousands of Americans, so too will new bases in Iraq. They should not be part of the legacy we leave behind.