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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fort Apache, Iraq 

The new American frontier is in Iraq.
And we all thought Bush was just pretending to be a cowboy! Instead, it sounds like he is conquering the "new East" just like the bluecoats and the mountain men and the cowboys two centuries ago conquered the Old West. And, just like two centuries ago, the brown occupiers of these lands are just another inconvenience. "Why have you got our oil underneath your sand?" may not actually be a joke, because Bush is making it all into American sand as quickly as he can.
Scarecrow at Firedoglake describes his recent conversation with a National Guard airbase engineer:
My Airman friend has done three tours in Iraq so far, and he wants to go back. He’s proud of what he’s done. He’s an engineer, and engineers build things. They make things work. And they take pride in making them work and building things to last. They would understand the Bridge on the River Kwai.
. . . we are building a huge, permanent infrastructure in Iraq. We are putting in the latest equipment, and it is not there to support some temporary military presence. What’s going up is not something to be taken down and removed when our troops withdraw or respond to some uncertain Congressional appropriation . . . We’re spending billions upon billions on this, and it’s not slowing down. My friend has been there three times, and each time he goes back, he marvels at the tremendous change — in how much more there is now than there was last time. Much more sophisticated; more permanent.
We did not talk much about the violence; where he worked, and what he did, did not require him to face that. He knew Iraqis but these were Iraqis who had essentially “joined us,” in the sense that once they were inside the US infrastructure, they stayed there. They were helping to building this American infrastructure in their country. Their families were there, “inside,” and no one talked about going “outside” because it was too dangerous. There are two different worlds: the Iraq we see on our televisions each night, with scores of people being blown to bits and pools of blood under devastated cars and buildings - and the American one “inside” the US infrastructure. A country within a country. America inside Iraq.
I could tell that my friend did not want to talk about the politics here, or the violence there. He gave no indication that it might all have been a waste of time, lives and money. There was no moral judgment. There was only the pride in what he had built, and the desire to go back and keep building it.
The photo Scarecrow ran with his piece is this one, of the new US embassy in Iraq:

The Huffington Post story accompanying this picture describes it thusly:
The $592 million embassy occupies a chunk of prime real estate two-thirds the size of Washington's National Mall, with desk space for about 1,000 people behind high, blast-resistant walls . . . The embassy is one of the few major projects the administration has undertaken in Iraq that is on schedule and within budget . . . The 21-building complex on the Tigris River was envisioned three years ago partly as a headquarters for the democratic expansion in the Middle East that President Bush identified as the organizing principle for foreign policy in his second term. . . The compound will have secure apartments for about 615 people.
And how about Balad airbase, north of Baghdad:

Back in December, I talked about Bush's permanent military bases in Iraq, and posted this photo of the pool at the Balad air base north of Baghdad.
Doesn't look temporary, does it?
Here is the other photo from that article:

Just a little slice of Americana in the desert. The March, 2006 AP story which ran these photos says:
The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that’s now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a “heli-park” as good as any back in the States.
At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq’s western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.
At a third hub down south, Tallil, they’re planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.
Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.
“I think we’ll be here forever,” the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base.
. . . Officers at Al-Asad Air Base, 10 desert miles from the nearest town, say it hasn’t been hit by insurgent mortar or rocket fire since October.
Al-Asad will become even more isolated. The proposed 2006 supplemental budget for Iraq operations would provide $7.4 million to extend the no-man’s-land and build new security fencing around the base, which at 19 square miles is so large that many assigned there take the Yellow or Blue bus routes to get around the base, or buy bicycles at a PX jammed with customers.
The latest budget also allots $39 million for new airfield lighting, air traffic control systems and upgrades allowing al-Asad to plug into the Iraqi electricity grid — a typical sign of a long-term base.
At Tallil, besides the new $14 million dining facility, Ali Air Base is to get, for $22 million, a double perimeter security fence with high-tech gate controls, guard towers and a moat — in military parlance, a “vehicle entrapment ditch with berm.”
Here at Balad, the former Iraqi air force academy 40 miles north of Baghdad, the two 12,000-foot runways have become the logistics hub for all U.S. military operations in Iraq, and major upgrades began last year.
Army engineers say 31,000 truckloads of sand and gravel fed nine concrete-mixing plants on Balad, as contractors laid a $16 million ramp to park the Air Force’s huge C-5 cargo planes; an $18 million ramp for workhorse C-130 transports; and the vast, $28 million main helicopter ramp, the length of 13 football fields, filled with attack, transport and reconnaissance helicopters.
Turkish builders are pouring tons more concrete for a fourth ramp beside the runways, for medical-evacuation and other aircraft on alert. And $25 million was approved for other “pavement projects,” from a special road for munitions trucks to a compound for special forces.
The chief Air Force engineer here, Lt. Col. Scott Hoover, is also overseeing two crucial projects to add to Balad’s longevity: equipping the two runways with new permanent lighting, and replacing a weak 3,500-foot section of one runway.
Once that’s fixed, “we’re good for as long as we need to run it,” Hoover said. Ten years? he was asked. “I’d say so.”
Away from the flight lines, among traffic jams and freshly planted palms, life improves on 14-square-mile Balad for its estimated 25,000 personnel, including several thousand American and other civilians.
They’ve inherited an Olympic-sized pool and a chandeliered cinema from the Iraqis. They can order their favorite Baskin-Robbins flavor at ice cream counters in five dining halls, and cut-rate Fords, Chevys or Harley-Davidsons, for delivery at home, at a PX-run “dealership.” On one recent evening, not far from a big 24-hour gym, airmen hustled up and down two full-length, lighted outdoor basketball courts as F-16 fighters thundered home overhead.
Here are the maps from that article. This one shows the bases in Iraq:

This one shows the bases throughout the region:

And this is just in the Middle East.
A former CIA consultant and Berkley professor named Chambers Johnson has been writing about this stuff for the last several years. One of his readers posted a review on Amazon which summarizes his point:
Forget conspiracy theories and ideological agendas, just contemplate one fact: The USA spends more on military and intelligence funding in 2004 than it has spent at any one time in history. Fourteen carrier groups to defeat the two remaining countries of the axis of evil, N. Korea and Iran? 750 and counting military bases outside the USA? However, the government tells us it is powerless to defend the country against an attack from a terrorist group with WMD??? So, the next time you watch television and the commentator tells you why we need another aircraft carrier, more tanks, more F-16's, etc., ask yourself: Who are we defending ourselves against?
750 military bases worldwide and they STILL don't feel safe? What is the matter with these people? Johnson suggests an enraged public should throw out the neocons and the empire buildiers, with step one to leave Iraq:
When Ronald Reagan coined the phrase "evil empire," he was referring to the Soviet Union, and I basically agreed with him that the USSR needed to be contained and checkmated. But today it is the U.S. that is widely perceived as an evil empire and world forces are gathering to stop us. The Bush administration insists that if we leave Iraq our enemies will "win" or -- even more improbably -- "follow us home." I believe that, if we leave Iraq and our other imperial enclaves, we can regain the moral high ground and disavow the need for a foreign policy based on preventive war. I also believe that unless we follow this path, we will lose our democracy and then it will not matter much what else we lose. In the immortal words of Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

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