Friday, May 05, 2006

A Rose by Any Other Name

I recall a marketing consultant for a telecommunications company making the following statement during the wireless build-out in the nineties: "Customers don't like roaming charges - so we don't call it that." This quote came to mind as I was reading Michael Hirsh's article in the May 1st Newsweek, "Stuck In the Hot Zone," about the construction of the Balad Air Base.
...this 15-square-mile mini-city of thousands of trailers and vehicle depots is one of four"superbases" where the Pentagon plans to consolidate U.S. forces, taking them gradually from the front lines of the Iraq war. (Two other bases are slated for the British and Iraqi military.) The shift is part of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's plan to draw down U.S. ground forces in Iraq significantly by the end of 2006....

U.S. officials routinely deny that America intends to put down permanent bases. "A key planning factor in our basing strategy is that there will be no bases in Iraq following Operation Iraqi Freedom," says Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for CENTCOM in Baghdad. "What we have in Iraq are 'contingency bases,' intended to support our operations in Iraq on a temporary basis until OIF is complete." But according to the Congressional Research Service, the Bush administration has asked for more than $1.1 billion for new military construction in Iraq, roughly double what it plans to spend in Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates combined. Of that, the single biggest share is intended for Balad ($231 million).

We're not planning to stay in Iraq past the completion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We'll stand down as Iraqis stand up. There are no plans for permanent bases in Iraq. Yes, framing is really nothing more than the marketing of political ideas. In truth, we are mired in a military operation without clear objectives and no definable endpoint. Yes, we're going to hear a lot of noise about "troop drawdowns" this year, but they are merely window dressing designed to get the GOP through the 2006 elections without having to actually address the issue of withdrawal. By President Bush's own admission, finishing this business will fall to his predecessor.

Which brings us to a quote President Bush made Wednesday on the emergency supplemental spending bill:
"This bill is for emergency spending and it should be limited to emergency measures."
The President is out to prove his fiscal chops by threatening his first veto if the supplemental bill that includes funding for the Iraq war exceeds a $92 billion cap. The concept of funding the war through supplemental bills is just one of the financial shenanigans this administration has perpetrated to avoid criticism for the true costs of the war. From the beginning, Rumsfeld refused to project a budget, citing the "known unknowns" and the "unknown unknowns." But how is it that after more than three years, we are still treating the war budget as an unexpected cost? As the Newsweek article points out,

But the vast base being built up at Balad is also hard evidence that, despite all the political debate in Washington about a quick U.S. pullout, the Pentagon is planning to stay in Iraq for a long time -- at least a decade or so, according to military strategists.....

Officials in both the executive branch and Congress say they are unaware of any serious planning, or even talk inside the national-security bureaucracy, about a full withdrawal.

If we are planning to be in Iraq for the next decade, why can't we prepare a budget that reflects these goals? By limiting our access to information, this administration seeks to limit the public debate regarding our military policy, hoping that most Americans will be too busy to notice that contingency bases are permanent, or that troop drawdowns mask plans for a long-term occupation.

If the vast majority of Americans think this war is a mistake, what are we going to do about it? The President insists we can win this war. Do we agree? Are the costs of empire justified, when continuing this campaign shortchanges programs that invest in our future -- education, health care, energy independence, for starters? Do we seriously want to repeat this policy debacle in Iran? If not, then it's time to stand up and make a little noise.

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