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Michael O'Hanlon Headshot

IRAQ: Permanent Bases a Mistake?

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Gary Hart's provocative question is right on the money. This issue has received remarkably little sustained attention to date but demands it.

On the one hand, part of the answer has to be that we can't know. The nature of US-Iraqi security relations five and ten and twenty years from now depends on far too many future developments that we cannot now foresee. One hopes that we will be friends and partners, but even that is obviously not yet clear; to think about alliances and bases is to get way ahead of ourselves.

Moreover, forcing the issue publicly could be a mistake. We should not want the Iraqi government to have to declare its position on the matter right now. To indicate support for the notion of permanent American military bases on Iraqi soil would make the transitional government look like a U.S. puppet--and overstep its mandate, since it will only be in power about a year. But to rule out the idea definitively would prejudice the options of future Iraqi governments and American administrations. So in Iraq at least, the question is best handled delicately for the moment.

Back here at home, the Bush administration should at a minimum clarify one point. Is it already quietly building "concrete and steel" bases? Some concrete and steel may be appropriate now, to make our troops reasonably comfortable and safe, but there must be careful explanations to justify such efforts on a case by case basis. And supplemental defense appropriations bills that enjoy strong bipartisan support in a time of war should not be used to provide money, and political cover, for projects that it is too soon to undertake.

U.S. overseas bases are inherently bad. But to push for them now in Iraq would politically hurt those we should want to strengthen, and reinforce the image of America as occupier that has already cost us so dearly in the Iraq operation.