A year ago, President Bush boldly said: “Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation and neither does America.” Yet Congress is posed to finalize the president’s $82 billion request for the Iraq war that includes a half-billion dollars for permanent military bases and another half-billion for building the world’s largest embassy. Despite the president’s assurances, the United States is preparing for a lengthy stay in Iraq.
Open-ended deployment in Iraq is bad news for the brave soldiers fighting the war and their families at home. And adding permanent facilities will actually decrease their security as they present a powerful recruiting tool for insurgent groups.
As the U.S. presence has escalated, so too has insurgent recruitment.
In November 2003, there were an estimated 5,000 insurgents. Today there are an estimated 18,000 insurgents and Iraqi officials estimate up to 200,000 additional supporters. The overwhelming common element between the 43 insurgent groups is resentment about the U.S. military presence.
Without context, spending a billion dollars on new facilities seems rather insignificant given that the United States has spent more than $200 billion on the Iraq war so far. But the extent of the U.S. occupation in Iraq is often overlooked. Currently, the United States operates out of about 50 locations including 14 “enduring bases” in Iraq.
That’s a huge presence in a country the size of California.
Adding new and larger facilities will serve as a daily reminder that Iraq is under a foreign military occupation. 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.
While Bush has been extremely vocal about promoting democracy for Iraqis, this new construction is decidedly undemocratic. There has been little role for Iraqis in approving U.S. plans for adding new facilities. Building these facilities sends exactly the wrong message about democracy to the Iraqi people, especially as the new Iraqi government is falling into place.
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. A clear majority of Iraqi voters interviewed in exit polls after the Jan. 30 elections cited their desire to see an end to the military occupation as a major impetus for voting. Building permanent bases directly violates the will of these Iraqis.
The construction of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq also raises serious questions about the footprints our nation is leaving in Iraq. The embassy will be located on 104 acres and will house 1,020 staff and 500 guards. That would make it the world’s largest embassy.
More important than its size, however, is its predicted political strength. Commanding nearly $20 billion in reconstruction funds to be doled out and with advisers in every sector of Iraq’s government, its bulk would leave no doubt the United States has long-term interests there.
It’s also unclear who in Iraq has the authority to negotiate the construction of permanent facilities. The new government would seem to be in charge. Yet to date there’s no formal agreement on the terms in which the United States can operate in a democratic Iraq. Money spent on permanent facilities without a formal agreement with the Iraqi government could go down the toilet if the United States is asked to leave.
Ironically, as Congress is ramping up bases in Iraq, it’s working on a round of base closures both in the United States and in allied countries across the globe. Again, this only serves to reinforce the notion that we need these troops somewhere else, namely Iraq.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reported to the Senate Armed Services Committee this past February that, “we have no intention, at the present time, of putting permanent bases in Iraq.” A wiser policy would be ruling out any possibility that the United States will build permanent bases. This would be a big step toward a fully sovereign and democratic Iraq. We owe the Iraqi people no less.