February 28, 2005

Hot Off Presses

As they say, there comes a time in every young boy's life when he has to hock—and hock shamelessly—the magazine for which he works. So on with it! Most of the March/April issue of Mother Jones is behind a subscriber firewall, alas, but two quite good articles are available online and play on themes oft-mentioned 'round these parts. The first, by Josh Hammer, looks into the whole "bases in Iraq" issue and dredges up considerable evidence that, um, yes, we're actually building them:
Take, for example, Camp Victory North, a sprawling base near Baghdad International Airport, which the U.S. military seized just before the ouster of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. Over the past year, KBR contractors have built a small American city where about 14,000 troops are living, many hunkered down inside sturdy, wooden, air-conditioned bungalows called SEA (for Southeast Asia) huts, replicas of those used by troops in Vietnam. There's a Burger King, a gym, the country's biggest PX—and, of course, a separate compound for KBR workers, who handle both construction and logistical support. Although Camp Victory North remains a work in progress today, when complete, the complex will be twice the size of Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo—currently one of the largest overseas posts built since the Vietnam War.

Such a heavy footprint seems counterproductive, given the growing antipathy felt by most Iraqis toward the U.S. military occupation. Yet Camp Victory North appears to be a harbinger of America's future in Iraq. Over the past year, the Pentagon has reportedly been building up to 14 "enduring" bases across the country—long-term encampments that could house as many as 100,000 troops indefinitely. John Pike, a military analyst who runs the research group GlobalSecurity.org, has identified a dozen of these bases, including three large facilities in and around Baghdad: the Green Zone, Camp Victory North, and Camp al-Rasheed, the site of Iraq’s former military airport. Also listed are Camp Cook, just north of Baghdad, a former Republican Guard "military city" that has been converted into a giant U.S. camp; Balad Airbase, north of Baghdad; Camp Anaconda, a 15-square-mile facility near Balad that housed 17,000 soldiers as of May 2004 and was being expanded for an additional 3,000; and Camp Marez, next to Mosul Airport, where, in December, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the base's dining tent, killing 13 U.S. troops and four KBR contractors eating lunch alongside the soldiers.

At these bases, KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary that works in cooperation with the Army Corps of Engineers, has been extending runways, improving security perimeters, and installing a variety of structures ranging from rigid-wall huts to aircraft hangars. Although the Pentagon considers most of the construction to be "temporary"—designed to last up to three years—similar facilities have remained in place for much longer at other "enduring" American bases, including Kosovo's Camp Bondsteel, which opened in 1999, and Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia, in place since the mid-1990s.
Needless to say, it's fairly difficult to convince Iraqis that we're leaving someday in the face of all this. Maybe the "reasonable" hawks out there think this is all a bunch of conspiracy-mongering, but conspiracies have a lot of currency around the region in question. Also, on the Social Security front, Barbara Dreyfus' profile of Jose Pinera—the Chilean labor minister who privatized the country's pension system—deserves a quick read. It's pure ad hominem, alas, but still, you have to love this: "He saw as his biggest obstacle the 'tenacious belief that Social Security could and should be an effective vehicle for the redistribution of wealth.'" Ah yes, now we're getting to the heart of the matter.

Anyway, that's as far as I've waded into it, but I'm sure there's other good stuff. Needless to say, Emily Bazelon's feature story on new evidence of torture 'migrating' needs to be read—it's next on the list! Then I'll go read something cheerful for a change.
-- Brad Plumer 8:44 PM || ||