Gary Hart poses a critical question: Does the Bush Administration intend to establish permanent U.S. bases in Iraq? The truth is, of course, what Rumsfeld might call a “knowable unknown”. The effort and expenditure to construct concrete and steel military facilities may be one indication of such intent, but an even better indication would be a simple, unequivocal, public answer by Rumsfeld on the record to Congress. It is against the law knowingly to lie to Congress, which may yet be of some significance to the Bush Administration. Thus, it is astonishing that the Administration has not been held accountable by Congress (or the press) to provide a black and white response to this enormously important question.
Were the Administration to rule out categorically any long term presence in Iraq and refrain from construction of military facilities that a rational observer would deem permanent, it would have several benefits. First, foreswearing permanent U.S. bases in Iraq would strengthen the nascent Iraqi government by underscoring its autonomy and U.S. confidence in its long-term ability to achieve effective self-governance. Second, it would take a little wind out of the sails of the insurgents, some of whom have rallied adherents by alleging the U.S. plans to occupy Iraq permanently and exploit its oil resources. Moreover, Al Qaeda would be denied further grist for its global recruiting mill, which relies in part on touting the goal of ridding the Arab world of western presence. Third, renunciation of any future U.S. military bases in Iraq would lend badly-needed credence to Bush's post-facto rationale for invading Iraq –- to establish a beacon of democracy to light the path to freedom in the Middle East -- as opposed to establishing a latter-day imperial outpost for the U.S.
Finally, if and when we succeed in our mission to establish a stable, secure and democratic Iraq, U.S. national security will be enhanced by our complete withdrawal. Why would we want to leave U.S. troops in the cross-hairs in a country that has become, by the Administration’s own admission, a terrorist magnet – a new Afghanistan in the heart of the Middle East? Why not base our troops in more safe, friendly environs where they can be deployed rapidly to go after Al Qaeda elements and provide a credible deterrent against truly dangerous and hostile regimes, such as those in Iran and North Korea?