On Sunday, in a long editorial, the New York Times called for the U.S. to "leave Iraq."[1]  --  "Continuing to sacrifice the lives and limbs of American soldiers is wrong.  The war is sapping the strength of the nation’s alliances and its military forces.  It is a dangerous diversion from the life-and-death struggle against terrorists.  It is an increasing burden on American taxpayers, and it is a betrayal of a world that needs the wise application of American power and principles."  --  Calling for a carefully organized withdrawal over a period of up to six months, the Times said:  "The political decision should be made, and the target date set, now."  --  Sounds good, right?  --  But you'd better read the fine print.  --  When the Times says "leave," it turns out that it doesn't really mean it.  --  And it doesn't want the war in Iraq to end, either.  --  "To put it baldly, terrorism and oil make [Iraq] impossible to ignore."  --  What the Times proposes is that the U.S. use "staging points" as it continues to wage war in Iraq — or, as its editorial board fastidiously puts it, to "battle terrorist forces and enlist local allies who reject the idea of an Iraq hijacked by international terrorists."  --  The Times plan is to reculer pour mieux sauter.  --  "The bottom line:  the Pentagon needs enough force to stage effective raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq, but not enough to resume large-scale combat."  --  As a milestone in the development of public opinion on the war, the Times "leave Iraq" moment is important, of course.  --  But there is more than a little disingenuousness to this editorial.  --  For instance, the Times pretends not to know that, as Joseph Gerson pointed out in March in a review of the question of bases, "the Pentagon is continuing to spend nearly $1 billion a year to build and expand military bases in Iraq."[2]  --  Gerson thinks (and surely he's right) that the U.S. national security state went into Iraq with a geopolitical purpose in mind:  "to transform the oil-rich nation into an unsinkable U.S. aircraft carrier from which U.S. attacks and military interventions could be launched to 'discipline' oil-rich Iran, Syria, and others who might challenge U.S. regional hegemony, terrorizing potential rivals — including indigenous insurgents — with high-tech and potentially nuclear 'shock and awe' destruction."  --  The fantastical character of Sunday's editorial is clearest in this sentence:  "The United States could strike an agreement with the Kurds to create those bases in northeastern Iraq."  --  In fact this agreement was struck long ago, and the U.S. has long been at work building “Post Freedom,” Camp Marez, the Mosul Airfield, and “Camp Renegade,” four of the fourteen "enduring bases" that U.S. military planners have settled upon....





New York Times
July 8, 2007


It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.

Like many Americans, we have put off that conclusion, waiting for a sign that President Bush was seriously trying to dig the United States out of the disaster he created by invading Iraq without sufficient cause, in the face of global opposition, and without a plan to stabilize the country afterward.

At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq’s government, army, police, and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow.

While Mr. Bush scorns deadlines, he kept promising breakthroughs -- after elections, after a constitution, after sending in thousands more troops. But those milestones came and went without any progress toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal. It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.

The political leaders Washington has backed are incapable of putting national interests ahead of sectarian score settling. The security forces Washington has trained behave more like partisan militias. Additional military forces poured into the Baghdad region have failed to change anything.

Continuing to sacrifice the lives and limbs of American soldiers is wrong. The war is sapping the strength of the nation’s alliances and its military forces. It is a dangerous diversion from the life-and-death struggle against terrorists. It is an increasing burden on American taxpayers, and it is a betrayal of a world that needs the wise application of American power and principles.

A majority of Americans reached these conclusions months ago. Even in politically polarized Washington, positions on the war no longer divide entirely on party lines. When Congress returns this week, extricating American troops from the war should be at the top of its agenda.

That conversation must be candid and focused. Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.

The administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress, the United Nations and America’s allies must try to mitigate those outcomes -- and they may fail. But Americans must be equally honest about the fact that keeping troops in Iraq will only make things worse. The nation needs a serious discussion, now, about how to accomplish a withdrawal and meet some of the big challenges that will arise.


The United States has about 160,000 troops and millions of tons of military gear inside Iraq. Getting that force out safely will be a formidable challenge. The main road south to Kuwait is notoriously vulnerable to roadside bomb attacks. Soldiers, weapons and vehicles will need to be deployed to secure bases while airlift and sealift operations are organized. Withdrawal routes will have to be guarded. The exit must be everything the invasion was not: based on reality and backed by adequate resources.

The United States should explore using Kurdish territory in the north of Iraq as a secure staging area. Being able to use bases and ports in Turkey would also make withdrawal faster and safer. Turkey has been an inconsistent ally in this war, but like other nations, it should realize that shouldering part of the burden of the aftermath is in its own interest.

Accomplishing all of this in less than six months is probably unrealistic. The political decision should be made, and the target date set, now.


Despite President Bush’s repeated claims, Al Qaeda had no significant foothold in Iraq before the invasion, which gave it new base camps, new recruits, and new prestige.

This war diverted Pentagon resources from Afghanistan, where the military had a real chance to hunt down Al Qaeda’s leaders. It alienated essential allies in the war against terrorism. It drained the strength and readiness of American troops.

And it created a new front where the United States will have to continue to battle terrorist forces and enlist local allies who reject the idea of an Iraq hijacked by international terrorists. The military will need resources and bases to stanch this self- inflicted wound for the foreseeable future.


The United States could strike an agreement with the Kurds to create those bases in northeastern Iraq. Or, the Pentagon could use its bases in countries like Kuwait and Qatar, and its large naval presence in the Persian Gulf, as staging points.

There are arguments for, and against, both options. Leaving troops in Iraq might make it too easy -- and too tempting -- to get drawn back into the civil war and confirm suspicions that Washington’s real goal was to secure permanent bases in Iraq. Mounting attacks from other countries could endanger those nations’ governments.

The White House should make this choice after consultation with Congress and the other countries in the region, whose opinions the Bush administration has essentially ignored. The bottom line: the Pentagon needs enough force to stage effective raids and airstrikes against terrorist forces in Iraq, but not enough to resume large-scale combat.


One of Mr. Bush’s arguments against withdrawal is that it would lead to civil war. That war is raging, right now, and it may take years to burn out. Iraq may fragment into separate Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite republics, and American troops are not going to stop that from happening.

It is possible, we suppose, that announcing a firm withdrawal date might finally focus Iraq’s political leaders and neighboring governments on reality. Ideally, it could spur Iraqi politicians to take the steps toward national reconciliation that they have endlessly discussed but refused to act on.

But it is foolish to count on that, as some Democratic proponents of withdrawal have done. The administration should use whatever leverage it gains from withdrawing to press its allies and Iraq’s neighbors to help achieve a negotiated solution.

Iraq’s leaders -- knowing that they can no longer rely on the Americans to guarantee their survival -- might be more open to compromise, perhaps to a Bosnian-style partition, with economic resources fairly shared but with millions of Iraqis forced to relocate. That would be better than the slow-motion ethnic and religious cleansing that has contributed to driving one in seven Iraqis from their homes.

The United States military cannot solve the problem. Congress and the White House must lead an international attempt at a negotiated outcome. To start, Washington must turn to the United Nations, which Mr. Bush spurned and ridiculed as a preface to war.


There are already nearly two million Iraqi refugees, mostly in Syria and Jordan, and nearly two million more Iraqis who have been displaced within their country. Without the active cooperation of all six countries bordering Iraq -- Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria -- and the help of other nations, this disaster could get worse. Beyond the suffering, massive flows of refugees -- some with ethnic and political resentments -- could spread Iraq’s conflict far beyond Iraq’s borders.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia must share the burden of hosting refugees. Jordan and Syria, now nearly overwhelmed with refugees, need more international help. That, of course, means money. The nations of Europe and Asia have a stake and should contribute. The United States will have to pay a large share of the costs, but should also lead international efforts, perhaps a donors’ conference, to raise money for the refugee crisis.

Washington also has to mend fences with allies. There are new governments in Britain, France, and Germany that did not participate in the fight over starting this war and are eager to get beyond it. But that will still require a measure of humility and a commitment to multilateral action that this administration has never shown. And, however angry they were with President Bush for creating this mess, those nations should see that they cannot walk away from the consequences. To put it baldly, terrorism and oil make it impossible to ignore.

The United States has the greatest responsibilities, including the admission of many more refugees for permanent resettlement. The most compelling obligation is to the tens of thousands of Iraqis of courage and good will -- translators, embassy employees, reconstruction workers -- whose lives will be in danger because they believed the promises and cooperated with the Americans.


One of the trickiest tasks will be avoiding excessive meddling in Iraq by its neighbors -- America’s friends as well as its adversaries.

Just as Iran should come under international pressure to allow Shiites in southern Iraq to develop their own independent future, Washington must help persuade Sunni powers like Syria not to intervene on behalf of Sunni Iraqis. Turkey must be kept from sending troops into Kurdish territories.

For this effort to have any remote chance, Mr. Bush must drop his resistance to talking with both Iran and Syria. Britain, France, Russia, China, and other nations with influence have a responsibility to help. Civil war in Iraq is a threat to everyone, especially if it spills across Iraq’s borders.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have used demagoguery and fear to quell Americans’ demands for an end to this war. They say withdrawing will create bloodshed and chaos and encourage terrorists. Actually, all of that has already happened -- the result of this unnecessary invasion and the incompetent management of this war.

This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage -- with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.


By Joseph Gerson

** Monopolizing the Middle East Prize **

Common Dreams
March 19, 2007


"[T]here are people in Washington . . . who never intend to withdraw military forces from Iraq and they’re looking for ten, 20, 50 years in the future . . . the reason that we went into Iraq was to establish a permanent military base in the Gulf region, and I have never heard any of our leaders say that they would commit themselves to the Iraqi people that ten years from now there will be no military bases of the United States in Iraq." —Former President Jimmy Carter (Feb. 3, 2006).

It is difficult to believe that with the U.S. establishment having all but conceded defeat in Iraq, and with the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group having signaled that the United States needs the help of its rivals Iran and Syria -- as well as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other influential Middle Eastern nations -- to contain the Iraqi civil war, the U.S. is still pursuing the war and building permanent military bases in the disintegrating nation. Yet, this is precisely what the Pentagon is doing.

Their reasoning is simple: the geostrategic stakes are high. Given history and the importance of Middle East oil, Iraq has become what Eqbal Ahmad used to call “the geopolitical center of the struggle for world power.”

A century ago, as petroleum-fueled internal combustion machines revolutionized the global economy and military, Middle East oil reserves became what Winston Churchill described as “The Prize” of World War I. With a secret agreement (the Sykes-Picot Treaty), the British and French governments divided the region between their empires. World War II accelerated the decline and collapse of European colonialism, and by 1944 the State Department was reporting that the United States had won “one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”

Seen as the equivalent of “New World” gold and silver, which had financed Europe’s global conquests and the Industrial Revolution, Middle East oil would serve as a pillar of U.S. post-war global hegemony. This remains the case today as the world approaches peak oil production, and with the voracious appetites of China’s and India’s surging economies, the U.S. is increasingly on the defensive in its efforts to continue dominating control of energy sources.

Washington’s current pursuit of permanent military bases in Iraq is not an aberration. During the past six decades, the U.S. has constructed a network of military bases and access agreements that extends across North Africa, to Persian Gulf nations and Turkey, and onward to the atoll of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, whose Chagos people have been driven from paradise to make way for U.S. bombers and pre-positioned munitions. U.S. troops and bases in Europe, ostensibly assigned to NATO, have also helped to enforce U.S. Middle East hegemony, as have U.S. subversion, coups d’état, and threats to initiate nuclear war.

President Bush, the elder, wasn’t kidding when he said that the Desert Storm war was fought to create “a new world order” in which “what we say goes.” It permitted the U.S. to reconsolidate its control over Middle East oil reserves. Bombing Iraq into the “pre-industrial age” served as a warning to all who might challenge U.S. dominance. It also provided the U.S. the necessary rationales to expand and to revitalize its infrastructure of military bases across the Middle East. Thousands of U.S. warriors and their fearsome weapons were dispatched to Saudi Arabia. Kuwait was occupied with air fields, munitions depots, and training grounds. U.S. bases and other elements of U.S. military infrastructure in Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates were post-modernized.


In much the same way that the “abuses and usurpations” committed by King George III’s “standing armies” in England’s North American colonies were denounced in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Osama bin Laden and others experienced the presence of U.S. troops and bases near Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest cities, and elsewhere in Saudi Arabia as demeaning. These were unacceptable sacrileges. Bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa calling for their withdrawal put Washington and the Saudi monarchy on notice. Al Qaida’s murderous assaults against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon finally led the Bush administration to take bin Laden seriously.

As Brigadier General Robert Pollman has since explained, “It ma[de] a lot of logical sense” to “swap” U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia for new bases in Iraq. Using preparations for the 2003 invasion of Iraq as political cover, nearly all U.S. troops and most of the Pentagon’s military infrastructure were pulled out of Saudi Arabia. Qatar now hosts the Combined Air Command Center. Thousands of U.S. troops are based in Kuwait, where they are trained, have easy access to the model supply base at Doha, and can support military operations in Iraq. But the greatest part of the infrastructure has been redeployed to Iraq.

The Baker-Hamilton Study Group functionally endorses the Pentagon’s “Go Long” strategy, which envisions 50,000 to 60,000 troops -- including one-tenth of the U.S. Army -- remaining in Iraq “for years to come.” This helps to explain why the Pentagon is continuing to spend nearly $1 billion a year to build and expand military bases in Iraq. As Major General Allen G. Peck, deputy air commander of the U.S. Central Command, put it in May 2006, “We’ll be in the region for the foreseeable future . . . Our intention would be to stay as long as the host nations will have us.”

The invasion of Iraq was thus rooted in more than neoconservative fantasies of imposing liberal democracy and a neoliberal economic system on Iraq. It was designed to transform the oil-rich nation into an unsinkable U.S. aircraft carrier from which U.S. attacks and military interventions could be launched to “discipline” oil-rich Iran, Syria, and others who might challenge U.S. regional hegemony, terrorizing potential rivals -- including indigenous insurgents -- with high-tech and potentially nuclear “shock and awe” destruction.


Post-invasion, the U.S. military established 110 bases in Iraq. By spring 2006 the Pentagon had “reduced the size of its footprint” by consolidating them into approximately 75 bases across the country. As authority is turned over to the central government in Baghdad or seized by competing Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurdish mini-states, the Pentagon is working feverishly to further consolidate the U.S. military presence to 14 “enduring bases” in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan), Baghdad, Anbar province (home to Sunni Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit), and Shi’a-dominated southern approaches to Baghdad.

Organized around airfields “to facilitate resupply operations and troop mobility,” the major bases in Baghdad include: Camp Victory at the airport, which hosts as many as 14,000 U.S. troops; Anaconda Air Base, just north of Baghdad, which spreads across 15 square miles and is being built for 20,000 U.S. troops; Camp Falcon / Al Sarq, which will accommodate 5,000 U.S. soldiers; and the so-called U.S. “embassy complex” in the Green Zone. There, $1 billion is being spent on a 100-acre installation, comparable to the size of Vatican City, with a Marine barracks, 300 homes, 21 other buildings, and its own electrical, water, and sewage systems.

“Post Freedom,” Camp Marez, and the Mosul Airfield serve the 101st Airborne Division and defend U.S. allies and interests in oil-rich Kurdistan. “Camp Renegade” is an air base “strategically located near the Kirkuk oil fields and the Kirkuk refinery and petrochemical plant.” Tajji, just north of Fallujah, is built on the site of a former Republican Guard “military city” and is replete with the comforts of Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Subway restaurants to make U.S. warriors feel right at home. Camps Speicher and Fallujah are located near Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit and the center of Sunni resistance in Fallujah. Little is known about the other planned “enduring bases.”

How much of this imperial infrastructure will survive the United States’ inevitable defeat in Iraq and the attendant negotiations is anyone’s guess. The peace movement is not alone in calling on the U.S. government to renounce any intention of maintaining bases in Iraq. Both houses of Congress voted last year to declare that the U.S. will not maintain permanent military bases, but this language disappeared from the final legislation. Former President Jimmy Carter and editorial writers across the country have appealed to the Bush-Cheney government to rule out permanent military bases. And, in their *Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now* former presidential candidate George McGovern and former national crisis manager William Polk warn that “absent an American withdrawal and deactivation of the military bases, the insurgency will almost certainly continue.”

Conversely, calls by former Ambassador Peter Galbraith and Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations to recognize *The End of Iraq* and to facilitate its formal division into Kurdish, Shi’a, and Sunni mini-states are not being made simply to limit the devastation of Iraq’s civil war but to preserve as much U.S. power and influence as possible. We also see this motive in the call by Sen. Joseph Biden (chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Democratic presidential candidate) for a federated Iraqi state. His plans envision 20,000 U.S. troops remaining in Kurdistan, with more elsewhere in “Iraq.”

Whether the U.S. retains five or 15 “enduring bases,” its goal is clear: to keep its military hand on the “jugular vein” of global capitalism -- as former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Maxwell Taylor described Middle East oil. This requires an intimidating infrastructure of deadly high-tech fortresses and the warriors that go with them.

All U.S. troops must be brought home if there is to be a chance for peace in Iraq. If the region’s nations are to have any hope of finally exercising self-determination, and if the United States wants to regain the trust and support of the international community, its military bases must be closed quickly and permanently.

--Dr. Joseph Gerson is director of programs for the New England office of the American Friends Service Committee. His books include The Sun Never Sets . . . Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases (1991) and Empire and the Bomb: How the United States Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World (to be released May 2007).