Pause in Iraq? Try Permanent Bases
in the Region
by William M. Arkin
February 20, 2008
The "pause" is now official,
replacing the surge. Once the summer's withdrawal of five-plus
brigades from Iraq is completed, a broad consensus of defense
leaders appears to believe, a period of consolidation and reorganization
will follow with the remaining U.S. forces. This period will take
us into the general elections, during which time the likelihood
of any significant change in Iraq is slim.
The pause makes sense, if for no other
reason than a new president should be allowed to make his or her
own policies for the future, regardless of what he or she is promising
now on the stump.
Beware, though: This road to the pause
has been in play for some time, and those in the military and
defense establishment who believe that the United States requires
a long-term presence in Iraq are quietly putting in place the
pieces that will indeed tie the next president's hands. This isn't
some conspiracy to install "permanent bases" in Iraq.
What is unfolding is much more insidious.
Gen. David Petraeus now says that it would
be "sensible and prudent" to pause with the drawdown
of forces once the surge troops return this summer. "The
consensus is that when you have withdrawn over one quarter of
your combat forces -- it's literally a quarter of our brigade
combat teams plus two Marine battalions and the Marine expeditionary
unit - that it would be sensible and prudent to have a period
of consolidation, perhaps some force adjustments and evaluation
before continuing with further reductions," Petraeus told
With all eyes on the number of troops
physically stationed in Iraq, one of the ways in which further
reductions will be allowed is by shifting missions to other Persian
Gulf countries, a process that is already underway. In Kuwait,
for instance, the Army is completing the finishing touches on
a permanent ground forces command for Iraq and the region, one
that it describes as being capable of being a platform for "full
spectrum operations" in 27 countries around southwest Asia
and the Middle East.
Permanently deployed with the new regional
headquarters in Kuwait will be a theater-level logistical command,
a communications command, a military intelligence brigade, a "civil
affairs" group and a medical command. "These commands
now have a permanent responsibility to this theater," Lt.
Gen. James J. Lovelace told the Mideast edition of Stars and Stripes.
"They'll have a permanent presence here."
The Air Force and Navy, meanwhile, have
set up additional permanent bases in Bahrain, the United Arab
Emirates, Qatar and Oman. By permanent I mean large and continuing
American headquarters and presences, most of which are maintained
through a combination of coalition activities, long-standing bilateral
agreements and official secrecy. Tens of billions have been plowed
into the American infrastructure. Admiral William J. Fallon, the
overall commander of the region, was just in Oman this week after
a trip to Iraq to secure continuing American military bases in
When a war with Iran loomed and World
War III seemed to be gaining traction in the Bush administration,
this entire base structure was seen as the "build-up"
for the next war. The build-up of course began decades ago, but
since 9/11, the focus has been almost exclusively "supporting"
U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran is there, but to interpret
the planting of the American flags and the moving of chess pieces
as being focused on Tehran is to miss what is really going on.
Regardless of who is elected, in the coming
year U.S. combat forces in Iraq will undoubtedly continue to contract
to a fewer number of combat brigades and special operations forces
focused on counter-terrorism and the mission of continuing to
train and mentor the Iraqi Army and police forces. Much of the
"war" that is already being fought is being supported
from Kuwait and other locations, and the ongoing shifts seem to
point to an intent to increasingly pull additional functions and
people out of harm's way.
Of course they will not be out of harm's
way at all, because a permanent American military presence in
the region brings with it its own dangers and provocations. But
most important what it brings for the next president is a fait
accompli: a pause that facilitates a drawdown that begins to look
a lot like a continuation of the same military and strategic policy,
even at a time when there is broad questioning as to whether this
is the most effective way to fight "terrorism."
Middle East watch