"Enduring Camps" in Iraq portend a long stay

As a New Year full of uncertainties begins, there's one thing you can be certain of – many thousands of US soldiers will still be in Iraq on New Year's Day of 2008. That sad fact will be true every year in the foreseeable future, based on activities at the four largest military bases in Iraq where construction continues at a high pace.

It doesn't matter what the President or anyone else says about those bases, what matters is the reality of concrete and steel growing into buildings on the sand. Once labeled "enduring camps" but now called "contingency operating bases", the large facilities – primarily air bases with hardened runways – are still under construction in every province in Iraq.

The Iraqi people have seen little or no reconstruction projects at work in their shattered cities, but more than one hundred billion dollars have been spent on military housing and infrastructure to serve a permanent contingent of American troops. Camp Victory North, near Baghdad International Airport, is designed to house at least 14,000 soldiers in relatively comfortable conditions. Balad Air Base north of Baghdad, the largest American base in the country, holds 20,000 troops now and is still growing. Al-Asad Airbase in western Anbar province sprawls across 20 square miles of desert.

The intention to have a permanent military force strategically placed across the region in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq was part of the overall Mideast strategy of the people in this administration many years before the Bush/Cheney team took office. That policy has its roots in a Defense Policy Guidance report crafted by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in the months following the first Gulf War. The 46-page memorandum from 1992 describes itself as "definitive guidance from the Secretary of Defense", who at that time was Dick Cheney.

After reading the report, West Virginia's Senator Robert Byrd offered his summary of its contents, saying, "The basic thrust of the document seems to be this: We love being the sole remaining superpower in the world and we want so much to remain that way that we are willing to put at risk the basic health of our economy and well-being of our people to do so."

The first President Bush also rejected the policy of using military superiority to create a global American Empire. He described it as "undesirable" and "unachievable" before ordering Cheney to rewrite the document.

Jump ahead to the spring of 1998 when the neoconservative movement was gearing up for a serious run at the White House. The Project For A New American Century, a self-styled advisory panel, was formed and began to publish policy papers that offered a refinement of the original Wolfowitz/Cheney policy, culminating in an extraordinary 2000 document titled "Rebuilding America's Defences: Strategies, Forces And Resources For A New Century."

The opening pages contain a description of America's world status that serves today as a stark reminder of how far this country has fallen since the invasion of Iraq:

"Today, the United States has an unprecedented strategic opportunity. It faces no immediate great-power challenge; it is blessed with wealthy, powerful and democratic allies in every part of the world; it is in the midst of the longest economic expansion in its history; and its political and economic principles are almost universally embraced. At no time in history has the international security order been as conducive to American interests and ideals."

It refers to the 1992 Wolfowitz/Cheney report as "a blueprint for maintaining US pre-eminence" throughout the world, but then makes the strange and false claim that the report "was subsequently buried by the new (Clinton) administration".

The rest of the document, signed by more than a dozen men who were later given posts in the Bush administration, openly calls for US military and economic expansion across the planet in the name of peace.

"The presence of American forces in critical regions around the world is the visible expression of the extent of America’s status as a superpower and as the guarantor of liberty, peace and stability," according to the theorists at the PNAC.

In particular, the report speaks of the need to "...protect enduring American interests" in the Persian Gulf:

"The need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. From an American perspective, the value of such bases would endure even should Saddam pass from the scene. And even should U.S.-Iranian relations improve, retaining forward-based forces in the region would still be an essential element in U.S. security strategy given the longstanding American interests in the region."

What exactly are the "American interests" that the report refers to repeatedly? The answer isn't in the report itself, because that kind of naked truth is rarely written into policy documents that the public might actually read. There is one brief reference to the "resource-rich regions" of the Middle East, but no actual explanation of why it's in America's best interest to station US soldiers in the sands of Arabia.

"Rebuilding America's Defences" also included an amazingly accurate bit of prophecy, as it described the need for "a Pearl Harbor-type event" to occur before the American people would support an invasion of Iraq. When the Twin Towers of New York came crashing down in 2001, the entire neoconservative geopolitical dream instantly became a fully operative strategy.

Recent comments indicate that it's still the operative strategy as far as Cheney is concerned, and that the President still believes in the dream of an American Empire. US troops may be kept off the streets of Baghdad to avoid being human targets, but there will be US soldiers in the deserts of Arabia through 2008 and beyond, eating at Burger King and Pizza Hut outlets and playing on miniature golf courses and bowling alleys that already exist on several huge – and permanent – US military bases in Iraq.

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