Home Is Where We Park Our Tanks
and where we pour our concrete and spend our dollars, whether or not our government admits it.
The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a "heli-park" as good as any back in the States.Who to believe? Our lying eyes, or our lying President?
At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq's western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.
At a third hub down south, Tallil, they're planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.
Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.
"I think we'll be here forever," the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base.
We will leave Iraq, but when we do, it will be from a position of strength, not weakness.I'll stick with my eyes. And Iraqis agree.
The Iraqi people suspect the same. Strong majorities tell pollsters they'd like to see a timetable for U.S. troops to leave, but believe Washington plans to keep military bases in their country.Perpetual war for perpetual peace. But, not just yet. Neither the Iraqi nor the American public is primed for the US to maintain a permanent presence in Iraq.
The question of America's future in Iraq looms larger as the U.S. military enters the fourth year of its war here, waged first to oust President Saddam Hussein, and now to crush an Iraqi insurgency.
[Iraq's] interim prime minister [said] he opposes permanent foreign bases . . . Such bases would be a "stupid" provocation, says Gen. Anthony Zinni. . .Every good marketing strategy begins by laying the groundwork (literally) for the final sale.
[I]n explosive situations like Iraq's, [events] can turn "no" into "maybe" and even "yes."So, they lay out the products that they're about to manufacture, but refrain from making a sales pitch prematurely.
The Shiite Muslims, ascendant in Baghdad, might decide they need long-term U.S. protection against insurgent Sunni Muslims. Washington might take the political risks to gain a strategic edge - in its confrontation with next-door Iran, for example.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq [and other U.S. officials] disavow any desire for permanent bases.In the end, consumers must WANT to buy the product. Can't be too pushy.
[L]ong-term access, as at other U.S. bases abroad, is different from "permanent," and the official U.S. position is carefully worded.In the meantime, the facts are being built on the ground.
[A] Pentagon spokesman [said] it would be "inappropriate" to discuss future basing until a new Iraqi government is in place . . .
[When] asked about "permanent duty stations" by a Marine [in December, Rumsfeld said] that it was "an interesting question" [that] would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if "they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time."
[W]hat is heard is the pouring of concrete.When you build a fence around no-man's-land, the message is 'it's some-man's-land.'
In 2005-06, Washington has authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for U.S. military construction in Iraq . . .
The [budget] would provide $7.4 million to extend the no-man's-land and build new security fencing around the base, [which] is so large that many [take] the Yellow or Blue bus routes to get around [it].
Army engineers say 31,000 truckloads of sand and gravel fed nine concrete-mixing plants on Balad, as contractors laid a $16 million ramp to park the Air Force's huge C-5 cargo planes; an $18 million ramp for workhorse C-130 transports; and the vast, $28 million main helicopter ramp, the length of 13 football fields, filled with attack, transport and reconnaissance helicopters.Sounds permanent to me.
The chief Air Force engineer here, Lt. Col. Scott Hoover, is also overseeing two crucial projects to add to Balad's longevity: equipping the two runways with new permanent lighting, and replacing a weak 3,500-foot section of one runway.But, if permanent means only ten years, the government will argue that not even permanent is permanent.
Once that's fixed, "we're good for as long as we need to run it," Hoover said. Ten years? he was asked. "I'd say so."
Could it host a long-term U.S. presence?Tax payers are pouring a lot of dollars and concrete into a place that we're 'not committed to.'
"Eventually it could," said Gorenc, commander of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. "But there's no commitment to any of the bases we operate, until somebody tells me that."
A U.S. congressional study cited another, less discussed use for possible Iraq bases: to install anti-ballistic defenses in case Iran fires missiles.But, Washington takes a different position . . .
American bases next door could either deter or provoke [or attack] Iran, noted Paul D. Hughes, a key planner in the early U.S. occupation of Iraq.
With long-term bases in Iraq, "We'd be inviting trouble," Hughes said.
"It's a stupid idea and clearly politically unacceptable," [Zinni said]. "It would damage our image in the region, where people would decide that this" - seizing bases - "was our original intent."
Among Iraqis, the subject is almost too sensitive to discuss.
"People don't like bases," . . . a member of the new [Iraqi] Parliament [said]. "If bases are absolutely necessary, if there's a perceived threat ... but I don't think even Iran will be a threat."
If long-term basing is, indeed, on the horizon, "the politics back here and the politics in the region say, 'Don't announce it,'" Adams said in Washington.This has been a long time in the making. Lying US into war with Iraq was just the beginning.
That's what's done elsewhere, as with the quiet U.S. basing of spy planes and other aircraft in the United Arab Emirates.
Army and Air Force engineers, with little notice, have worked to give U.S. commanders solid installations in Iraq, and to give policymakers options.
From the start, in 2003, the first Army engineers rolling into Balad took the long view, laying out a 10-year plan envisioning a move from tents to today's living quarters in air-conditioned trailers, to concrete-and-brick barracks by 2008.
In early 2006, no one's confirming such next steps, but a Balad "master plan," details undisclosed, is nearing completion, a possible model for al-Asad, Tallil and a fourth major base, al-Qayyarah in Iraq's north.
If all these lies don't convince you that our government doesn't work for US, then maybe only this will.