Looked at in a clear-eyed way, almost all the strategies floating around Washington at this moment for “redeployment” or “phased withdrawal” are not actual withdrawal plans. They are complex schemes for hanging on to some truncated imperial presence at the heart of the oil lands of the planet — and as such are doomed to fail. Like Richard Nixon’s Vietnamization program (which withdrew American ground forces while ratcheting up the use of American air power), these are Iraqification policies. But to grasp what they might actually mean, you need to be able to assess two key aspects of our Iraqi venture that mainstream newspapers essentially have not cared to cover–first and foremost, the permanent facts-on-the-ground the Bush administration has been so intent on building there since 2003.
As the New York Times revealed in a front-page piece by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt on April 19, 2003, just after Baghdad fell, the Pentagon arrived in the Iraqi capital with plans already on the drawing board to build four massive military bases (that no official, then or now, will ever call “permanent”). Today, according to our former Secretary of Defense, we have 55 bases of every size in Iraq (down from over 100); five or six of these, including Balad Airbase, north of Baghdad, the huge base first named Camp Victory adjacent to Baghdad International Airport, and al-Asad Airbase in western Anbar province, are enormous — big enough to be reasonable-sized American towns with multiple bus routes, neighborhoods, a range of fast-food restaurants, multiple PX’s, pools, mini-golf courses and the like.
Though among the safest places in Iraq for American reporters, these bases have, with rare exceptions, gone completely undescribed and undiscussed in our press (or on the television news). From an engineering journal, we know that before the end of 2003, several billion dollars had already been sunk into them. We know that in early 2006, the major ones, already mega-structures, were still being built up into a state of advanced permanency. Balad, for instance, already handled the levels of daily air traffic you would normally see at Chicago’s ultra-busy O’Hare and in February its facilities were still being ramped up. We know, from the reliable Ed Harriman, in the latest of his devastating accounts of corruption in Iraq in the London Review of Books, that, as you read, the four mega-bases always imagined as our permanent jumping-off spots in what Bush administration officials once liked to call “the arc of instability” were still undergoing improvement.