When I finished technical school at Keesler AFB I went to my permanent station in Korea. When I landed at Osan AB I was amazed at how big and American the base was. I was expecting a foreign country, but what I experienced looked very much like a slice of the U.S.A. Yes, Osan did have a sort of ‘Korean’ flavor to it to my South Texas accustomed eyes, but if I had grown up in Los Angeles or in San Francisco, I would not have seen that as being ‘different’.
I was also stationed at Kadena AB, Okinawa Japan for several years. Unlike Osan, Kadena housed military with their families in apartments and housing on (and off) base. Because of this, Kadena seemed even more like a slice of America.
These are big bases. Osan is 3 square miles in area, Kadena covers about 8 square miles. (23 if you count the munitions area adjacent to the base.) Approximately six thousand military work on Kadena, with about twice that many American civilian family members. Base amenities at both include restaurants, clubs, fast food favorites like Burger King, a well-stocked Base Exchange with all the latest electronics.
Osan Air Base was established in 1951, Kadena in 1945. Yokota Air Base, on mainland Japan has a similar history, having been occupied by the US military since 1945.
Speaking as a Veteran, I know how comfortable it can be on one of these big ‘super bases’. I’m not knocking the comfort, I do think it is necessary – I’m just pointing out how easy it is for a base to become permanent.
You can judge the current administration through their actions – not their words. They said it wasn’t permanent.
From The Boston Globe: April 22, 2003, via Lexis / Nexis
For a dozen years, US military strategy in the region focused on dealing with Hussein, but with the successful end to his regime, planners have started contemplating the future US military profile in the region. Rumsfeld’s remarks, during one of his regular press briefings, were part of the most extensive public discussion yet on the potentially contentious issue.
“I would, personally, say that a friendly Iraq that is not led by a Saddam Hussein would be a reason we could have fewer forces in the region, rather than more, I mean just logically,” Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said that troops are already being removed from the region, including several aircraft carrier battle groups. And some of the F-117 stealth fighters and B-2 stealth bombers stationed in the region have also been returned to their regular bases. Longer-term changes have also started: The US Air Force units that had enforced the northern no-fly zone over Iraq have been moved from their base at Incirlik, Turkey, ending a 12-year US mission. Turkey’s population was overwhelmingly opposed to the war with Iraq, and its government denied the United States permission to stage a ground invasion of Iraq from its land.
Rumsfeld was responding to an article in The New York Times on Sunday, quoting unnamed administration officials as saying that the United States was planning a permanent military presence in Iraq, a notion he described as “enormously unhelpful.”
“Any impression that is left, which that article left, that the United States plans some sort of permanent presence in that country, I think, is a signal to the people of that country that’s inaccurate and unfortunate, because we don’t plan to function as an occupier,” Rumsfeld said. To emphasize his point, he added, “You can substitute ‘long-term’ for ‘permanent’ and my answer’s the same.”
Americans have occupied Japan for over 60 years, and Korea for over 50. Permanency is indicated by the elaboration of the military installations into ‘mini-Americas’. The more elaborate, the more comfortable the base becomes, the more reluctant the US will be to hand over the keys to the local government.
And the Iraqis know that we’re moving in permanently. They guessed it in 2004 when US contractors started putting these small city-sized bases together while the Iraqi infrastructure crumbled.
The American army is building six permanent bases in Iraq, three surrounding Baghdad, one in the south, on in the east and on in the north. The three surrounding Baghdad are Al-Habbanyya, which is an old Iraq military base and airport near the artificial lake of Habbania, the second is Ar-Rasheed base in the south-east of Baghdad, and the third is At-Taji base in the north of Baghdad, which is the larges base in Iraq, it looks like a small city. The other three bases are Ali base near Nasryya, Al-Walid base northern to Falluja, and another base in Al-Mosul. These six bases are the cancer in the body of the new Iraq.
Building these bases sapped resources from the Iraqis; resources that were not used to ‘rebuild’ Iraq. The billions of dollars that have flowed into Iraq have faded away, into pockets and into the US military complex – very little has gone to the Iraqi citizen.
The analogy between Korea, Japan and Iraq isn’t perfect. Japan and Korea have mixed feelings about America’s occupation, but neither can deny that America’s presence has given potential invaders pause. Korea had been invaded countless times, and American occupation prevented its takeover by communist North Korea backed by China and the Soviet Union. As for Japan, the atrocities that they committed against their neighboring countries would have guaranteed revenge against them – invasion, and possibly genocide. America stood between them and the rest of the world.
The world has changed since then, but the GOP and the Pentagon are still thinking in a 1950’s mindset. Establish a permanent base in the area, and keep an eye on the Middle East. Of course, the 21st century twist to this is oil – lots of cheap oil.
The Iraqis remember being independent, being strong enough to defend themselves against their enemies. They don’t take kindly to our moving in.
The price of building materials has gone up unbelievably, in spite of the fact that major reconstruction has not yet begun. I assumed it was because so much of the concrete and other building materials was going to reinforce the restricted areas. A friend who recently got involved working with an Iraqi subcontractor who takes projects inside of the Green Zone explained that it was more than that. The Green Zone, he told us, is a city in itself. He came back awed, and more than a little bit upset. He talked of designs and plans being made for everything from the future US Embassy and the housing complex that will surround it, to restaurants, shops, fitness centers, gasoline stations, constant electricity and water- a virtual country inside of a country with its own rules, regulations and government. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Republic of the Green Zone, also known as the Green Republic.
“The Americans won’t be out in less than ten years.” Is how the argument often begins with the friend who has entered the Green Republic. “How can you say that?” Is usually my answer- and I begin to throw around numbers- 2007, 2008 maximum… Could they possibly want to be here longer? Can they afford to be here longer? At this, T. shakes his head- if you could see the bases they are planning to build- if you could see what already has been built- you’d know that they are going to be here for quite a while.
The Green Zone is a source of consternation and aggravation for the typical Iraqi. It makes us anxious because it symbolises the heart of the occupation and if fortifications and barricades are any indicator- the occupation is going to be here for a long time. It is a provocation because no matter how anyone tries to explain or justify it, it is like a slap in the face. It tells us that while we are citizens in our own country, our comings and goings are restricted because portions of the country no longer belong to its people. They belong to the people living in the Green Republic.
The Bush administration has the nerve to say that America isn’t going to have a ‘permanent’ or ‘long term’ occupation of Iraq?
A permanent base has facilities, clubs, restaurants, fast food, and stores. A permanent base allows soldiers and airmen a place to relax and unwind, and feel safe; a place like Balad AB. Balad AB is 9.6 square miles in size, three times larger than Osan AB, larger than Kadena AB proper. It is protected by a 12-mile buffer zone.
It is so big that you could spend your whole tour of duty in Iraq without ever leaving the base.
Of the 20,000 troops at Balad, only several hundred have jobs that take them off base. Most Americans posted here never interact with an Iraqi, and some never see one, said Army Lt. Col. Larry Dotson, who is effectively the city manager. The closest some troops here come to experiencing the Iraq seen on the evening news is the miniature golf course, which mimics a battlefield with its baby sandbags, little Jersey barriers, strands of concertina wire and, down at the end of the course, what appears to be a tiny detainee cage.
For those bored with the mess halls, there are a Subway, a Pizza Hut, a Popeye’s, an ersatz Starbucks called “Green Beans” that serves up triple lattes, and a 24-hour Burger King.
Staff Sgt. Chad Twigg is on a one-year tour of duty in the middle of the Sunni Triangle. But on a recent winter morning, he wasn’t digging a foxhole or tracking an enemy sniper or trying to grab some sleep between firefights.
Instead, the Army mechanic was checking out iPod accessories in one of the two post exchanges here at the biggest American base in Iraq. He worries about the lure of the PX, with its walls of shiny electronic devices and racks of new CDs. “I try to stay away from it to save money,” Twigg said. But on average, 15 soldiers a day succumb and buy a television, said John Burk, the PX manager.
There are at least four such “super-bases” in Iraq, none of which have anything to do with “withdrawal” from that country. Quite the contrary, these bases are being constructed as little American islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top administration officials and military commanders say — and they always deny that we seek “permanent” bases in Iraq -– facts-on-the-ground speak with another voice entirely. These bases practically scream “permanency.”
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) is run jointly by the Army and Air Force to supply goods and services to military members on base, whether that base is located in the US or overseas. In 2004 AAFES made 8.3 billion dollars in revenues, and over 300 million in earnings. In 2005, AAFES operated 2,008 fast food restaurants including Burger King, Taco Bell, Popeyes, Baskin Robbins and others. They operate the on-base movie theatres, and fund Morale, Welfare and Recreation activities with their profits. (Link to AAFES Fact Sheet – PDF format)
AAFES is a great organization – I used them a lot when I was in the military. Even those soldiers stationed far from a base could count on small amenities being provided through AAFES, such as a movie, toiletries, or a good book to pass the time.
But in Iraq, AAFES is moving in and establishing a major support infrastructure for the troops.
AAFES opened new name brand fast food restaurants in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan with more to come in those and other Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom locations.
AAFES opened a Burger King and Subway in Kandahar, Afghanistan; Subway restaurants at Ganci, Kyrgyzstan and Camp Danger, Iraq; and Burger King and Pizza Hut restaurants at Balad Air Base, Iraq.
The opening of these Burger King and Pizza Hut restaurants brings the total number of AAFES name brand fast food operations in Iraq to eleven with five Burger Kings, four Pizza Huts and two Subways.
The GOP’s message has changed. Bush said that we’re not leaving anytime soon. Timetables are no longer mentioned. 2007 and 2008 given as possible deadlines two years ago are laughable now. We could easily be in Iraq for the next 3 to 5 decades, based on our past history of occupation of countries that are strategic to us.
America is in this mess because of our current greedy, shortsighted leaders. They started it by invading a country that we already had under firm control; they made it worse by alienating the local population due to lack of planning; and it will get worse because there is no exit strategy that will allow Iraq to become independent enough for America to safely leave it.
My guess is this is due to complete incompetence of our leaders. The only other possibility that presents itself to me is that this was planned from the beginning.
I hope not.