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June 16, 2008

New Tomdispatch


The Greatest Story Never Told
Finally, the U.S. Mega-Bases in Iraq Make the News

By Tom Engelhardt

It's just a $5,812,353 contract -- chump change for the Pentagon -- and not even one of those notorious "no-bid" contracts either. Ninety-eight bids were solicited by the Army Corps of Engineers and 12 were received before the contract was awarded this May 28th to Wintara, Inc. of Fort Washington, Maryland, for "replacement facilities for Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq." According to a Department of Defense press release, the work on those "facilities" to be replaced at the base near Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, is expected to be completed by January 31, 2009, a mere 11 days after a new president enters the Oval Office. It is but one modest reminder that, when the next administration hits Washington, American bases in Iraq, large and small, will still be undergoing the sort of repair and upgrading that has been ongoing for years.

In fact, in the last five-plus years, untold billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction and upgrading of those bases. When asked back in the fall of 2003, only months after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops, Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer then "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq, proudly indicated that "several billion dollars" had already been invested in those fast-rising bases. Even then, he was suitably amazed, commenting that "the numbers are staggering." Imagine what he might have said, barely two and a half years later, when the U.S. reportedly had 106 bases, mega to micro, all across the country.

By now, billions have evidently gone into single massive mega-bases like the U.S. air base at Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. It's a "16-square-mile fortress," housing perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops, contractors, special ops types, and Defense Department employees. As the Washington Post's Tom Ricks, who visited Balad back in 2006, pointed out -- in a rare piece on one of our mega-bases -- it's essentially "a small American town smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq." Back then, air traffic at the base was already being compared to Chicago's O'Hare International or London's Heathrow -- and keep in mind that Balad has been steadily upgraded ever since to support an "air surge" that, unlike the President's 2007 "surge" of 30,000 ground troops, has yet to end.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 16, 2008 01:27 PM

The Americans won't leave until The Iraqis drive them out.

Posted by: cemmcs at June 16, 2008 02:23 PM

cemmcs: AGREED. This house of cards is falling by the minute.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 16, 2008 02:50 PM

But -- but -- if we don't keep those bases, Saddam Hussein will attack America with weapons of mass destruction and conquer us without firing a shot!

Posted by: Duncan at June 16, 2008 10:12 PM

Some folks inherit
Star Spangled eyes
Oooh,they send you
Down to war
And when you ask 'em
"How much should we give?"
Oooh, they only answer
More, more, more, more
Well it ain't me
It ain't me
I ain't no military son
It ain't me
It ain't me
I ain't no fortunate one
Lord no
It ain't me
It ain't me
I ain't no fortunate son-----CCR

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 17, 2008 03:56 AM

Hadn't we discussed the significance of enduring bases here on ATR? Wasn't it Susan(?) that pointed out funding legislation forbade it?

The trick of course is to call them something else -- after all what is permanence? Nothing of course; it's just a matter of timeframes.

The strategy all along has been to establish concrete facts on the ground so that when the public is exposed to them down the line (by the major networks), the situation would be much harder to change -- a form of poison pill if you will.

Imagine that Obama, or Democratic legislators show up at a place like Balad, and they note that, 1) it is a major city with lots of modern and high tech crap, and 2) that high tech crap is built in their districts, and 3) the symbolic value of clearing out of a massive place like that (once built) cannot be ignored.

Once those permanent bases get established and dug in, it's going to be very, very difficult to disgorge them regardless of Obama's campaign promises.

It will be interesting to see what happens when he returns from his scheduled visit.

Posted by: Labiche at June 17, 2008 10:39 AM

The problem with power and privilege is that it obliviates the need for any skill, meaning not merely that bad men rule, but a vast number of bad men rule. What do I mean? Well, if it took skillful lies and complicated ruses in order to do evil in public office, less evil would be done just because of how difficult it would be to do it. As it stands, you are actually punished in office for not doing evil, which means complete failures of human beings can be "successful" in politics.

Which brings us to Obama and permanent bases. What will he do about them? Profit from them, one way or another. It is utterly impossible for us to force him to do right on the issue in conventional politics. We lost that battle at least by 2006, the last time the Dems pretended to listen to us -- perhaps even sooner. Sure, the funding could be cut off, but we have no mechanism to make either branch of government close the spigot. So Obama will lie -- very, very poorly -- and that will be that.*

*Obama's virtue, using the term loosely, is that his rhetorical style is above-average for a politician: that is to say, mediocre instead of abysmal. That, and the fact that our Ministry of Truth approves of the bases, will be more than enough to forclose discussion on our permanent invasion, even as the budget is crushed. Watch for drawdowns on domestic spending and austerity measures which ignore our military budget -- oldie but a goodie!

You all want an upside? As soon as progressives gain even a smidgen of power in the fed, all they have to do is hold up the expenditures. All of this evil costs a lot of money, and any stonewalling of funding sends the scheme into a tailspin. But we have to get there first.

Posted by: No One of Consequence at June 17, 2008 01:09 PM