A lot of the post-election discussion about Iraq has centered on when (not if) we should start pulling out our troops. John McCain serves as the lonely holdout for sending in more troops, while Congressman Charles Rangel suggests it’s time to reinstitute the draft—and spread around the misery.The withdrawal issue seems nearly resolved; the only lingering disagreements are when we blow the whistle on the occupation and what we agree to call it (“cut and run” is definitely out, but “strategic redeployment” or “phased transfer of control” are two labels still under consideration, though neither are lighting up the focus groups with excitement).The end is in sight. But buried in a CNN report a couple of nights before the November election in a profile on one of those increasingly hard-to-find Republican moderates was a serious note of caution. The young, handsome and articulate representative, clearly in a fight for his political life, was trying to emphasize just how independent he is from President Bush, thereby seeking to evade the electoral decay that clings sourly to the national administration, whose unpopularity grows hourly.He told the reporter something I can’t get out of my head. “I voted against the president’s plan to build permanent military bases in Iraq,” he said, “even though it went through.” There was no followup question, no shocked response from the reporter along the lines of “What the hell are you talking about?” or even, “Permanent military bases? Since when?” I guess I must be the last person in the country to stumble onto the fact that an essential part of our occupation strategy from day one has been to build a network of 10 or 12 air and army bases deep in the interior of Iraq, bases that we do not plan on ever leaving—at least for the foreseeable future.The bases and the troops that will be garrisoned there are designed to be an integral element in the war on terror, a forward beachhead from which to monitor the activities of Islamic fundamentalists all across the Middle East and Central Asia. When I mention this little discovery to friends, I get one of two reactions. One group looks at me with gentle condescension: “You poor innocent; where have you stashed your brain for the past four years? Of course we built those bases; everyone knows about them.”The second group, more numerous, reacts with deep skepticism. “No way! We wouldn’t do something that stupid.” I tend to sympathize with the latter band of horrified naifs . I can’t imagine a strategy more likely to prolong the agony that is our Iraqi involvement than to establish a permanent military presence.But either way, the issue wasn’t openly discussed.Then I read a commentary by Keith Olbermann, my new favorite political pundit. He discussed the president’s recent comment that his planning for Iraq will be informed by the notion that “one thing we learned from Vietnam was that we’ll succeed unless we quit.”Olbermann, on MSNBC, went on at length to stiletto that hapless misreading of history, a piece I recommend you read. He concluded his editorial with a line we should remember as we rush to finish constructing those bases even as we pretend we are disengaging from our invasion:“The lesson Lyndon Johnson learned about Vietnam is one for you, too. If you lie us into a war, Mr. President, you and your administration will be consigned to the trash heap of history.”We know we were lied to outrageously in order to secure public support for invading Iraq in the first place.And we know we were lied to repeatedly since that invasion turned into an occupation and the whole adventure turned into a violent morass with no honorable end in sight. Daily defections from the administration’s house of cards (when Henry Kissinger bails, for crying out loud, you know the end isn’t far behind) led me to conclude that it was just a matter of months until we would at last be able to bring our troops home and try to get on with the difficult task of healing.But even that illusion turns out to be a fabrication … if the real plan, the one scarcely mentioned in the press or by our leaders, is to hunker down in our remote fortresses indefinitely. We are, apparently, still being lied to.Evidently, the real point of this war was to create a New American Empire, something our founding fathers warned us against repeatedly but that we are intent on constructing anyhow, without benefit of public debate or vote.A friend told me at lunch the other day that he read something striking. “Since the start of the 1900s, the consistent pattern in world events has been that no nation that has invaded another one has done so successfully. One hundred percent of the invaders have ultimately been repelled for the last 106 years.”I wonder if the geniuses that are behind the permanent Iraqi base fiasco considered that pattern when they launched their invasion in 2003.
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