Why ending the occupation of Iraq will take more than Obama's Promises

By Jonathan Katz, a member of MPJC

Barack Obama has promised a full withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces in Iraq by 2011. It’s a lovely idea, but the thing about the U.S. military is that once we involve ourselves in one occupation or another, we never leave. The foreign military base is the colony of the 20th and 21st centuries. By this I mean that the U.S. does not establish “colonies” anymore, now it does the “foreign base” thing to exert military and economic control across the globe; once we get a base set up somewhere, we stay there. Guantanamo Bay is a hold-over from the Spanish-American war in 1898. We’ve kept bases in the Philippines since our invasion in 1899. Similarly, in the 20th century we’ve built bases in most of Europe, Japan, Korea, Serbia, Kuwait and Kosovo, to name a few.

When we set up our military base on Diego Garcia, an island in the Pacific Ocean, we forcibly deported the remaining indigenous population and then bulldozed the island to make really, really big landing strips; most of the indigenous population never received any kind of compensation.

Officially, the Department of Defense reports something like 700 bases, but most experts guess the number is closer to 1,000, because the DOD likes to underreport these things (and now, with the war on terror’s “black sites,” just doesn’t report them at all). What they have disclosed is that we have military bases in over 130 countries. That’s over half the countries in the world (195).

Our military’s “global footprint” is huge. The given explanation for our base/colony habit is that the U.S. wants to be able to exercise control over what we’ve vaporously labeled “the arc of instability,” but some of us just call it the global south. The bases we leave behind in the wake of our military and economic invasions and withdrawals are called “lily-pads.” This gamey metaphor, some have observed, suggests that the bases are jump-off points on which our troops can leap to and fro like a plague of well-armed frogs.

I don’t believe Obama when he says we’ll be done occupying Iraq and killing and being killed there by 2011 because that’s not what we do. He’ll withdraw some of the “combat troops” and “re-mission” the rest as “non-combat troops” (these operations include the physical protection “Americans and U.S. assets in Iraq” and “counterterrorism operations in which Iraqi forces would take the lead.” That’s all to say, they will still be killing and being killed.) We’ll get a “lease” from the Iraqi government on some nice plots of land situated between some oil fields, kick up our feet, and have our “non-combat” frogs, our Blackwater toads, and our intelligence snakes go right on violently occupying foreign populations.

Jonathan Katz can be reached at [email protected]