Permanent Occupation

Rep. Barbara Lee

If you are inclined to believe the president, we will be in Iraq, in his words as long as necessary, and not a day longer.” Members of the Bush administration, including the president, have been at pains to dispel any notion that they have plans for a permanent military presence in Iraq.

No one disputes that the military bases are of a physically permanent character. The only question is whether Iraq will be under permanent U.S. military occupation.

On April 13, 2004, President Bush said, As a proud and independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation and neither does America.”

On February 17, 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, testifying before the Committee on Armed Services of the Senate, said, We have no intention, at the present time, of putting permanent bases in Iraq.”

The circumstances on the ground, however, tell another story. On March 23, 2004, the Chicago Tribune reported on the construction of 14 enduring bases” in Iraq. The May 22, 2005, Washington Post described the military’s plan to consolidate military personnel in Iraq into four massive contingency operating bases.” According to the Congressional Research Service, Emergency Supplemental funds appropriated for military construction in Iraq for fiscal years 2001 – 2005 total more than $805 million, with the vast majority, more than $597 million, coming in the 2005 fiscal year.

Anyone familiar with the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) should be skeptical about the administration’s claims that it does not have plans for a permanent military presence in Iraq. PNAC, many of whose founders, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, went on to serve in the Bush administration, published a document in 2000 titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses.” It plainly cites the objective of an increased U.S. military presence in the region as a rationale for invading Iraq: While the unresolved conflict in Iraq provides the immediate justification [for U.S. military presence], the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

In discussing the 14 enduring bases” then under construction, Army Brig. Gen. Robert Pollman, chief engineer for base construction in Iraq, raised the question, Is this a swap for the Saudi bases? I don’t know,” he told the Chicago Tribune. When we talk about enduring bases here, we’re talking about the present operation, not in terms of America’s global strategic base. But this makes sense. It makes a lot of logical sense.”

No one disputes that many of the installations under construction are of a physically permanent character. The issue revolves around the policy question of whether Iraq will be under permanent U.S. military occupation.

That is why I introduced H. Con. Res. 197, which would make it the policy of the United States not to enter into any base agreement with the Government of Iraq that would lead to a permanent United States military presence in Iraq.”

This commonsense measure does two very important things. First, it explicitly states that the United States has no plans for a permanent military presence in Iraq and thus help to defuse the insurgency and improve the security situation on the ground.

Larry Diamond, former advisor to Paul Bremer, then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, is a Hoover fellow and author of Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq. He writes:

We know from a variety of sources, private as well as public, that intense opposition to U.S. plans to establish long-term military bases in Iraq is one of the most passionate motivations behind the insurgency. There are many different strands to the violent resistance that plagues Iraq: Islamist and secular, Sunni and Shiite, Baathist and non-Baathist, Iraqi and foreign. The one thing that unites these disparate elements is Iraqi (or broader pan-Arab) nationalism – resistance to what they see as a long-term project for imperial domination by the United States. Neutralizing this anti-imperial passion – by clearly stating that we do not intend to remain in Iraq indefinitely – is essential to winding down the insurgency.

Second, this bill allows those who have opposed this war from the outset to define one of the most critical components of an exit strategy – namely, that our troops actually exit. The Bush administration’s unwillingness to acknowledge their intentions in Iraq, coupled with the growing disapproval of their handling of the war and the increasing public support for withdrawing our troops, offer an immediate opportunity to define this debate. 

Members of Congress disagree about when, and under what circumstances, our troops should be brought home, but you are not likely to find any member of Congress who would dare to publicly come out in support of staying in Iraq permanently.

It is a question that supporters of the president should be forced to answer. If they don’t support being in Iraq permanently, they should co-sponsor my bill, and put themselves on record. It is that simple.

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Rep. Barbara Lee is a member of the Progressive Caucus and represents California’s 9th District.
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