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Twenty-First Century Blowback?

As prospects dim in Iraq, the Pentagon digs in deeper around the Middle East.

| Tue Nov. 16, 2010 7:18 PM EST

Jordan's Bunker Mentality

The Pentagon has also invested heavily in Jordanian military infrastructure. One major beneficiary of these projects has been the international construction firm Archirodon which, between 2006-2008, worked on the construction of the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC). It is a state-of-the-art military and counterterrorism training facility owned and operated by the Jordanian government, but built in part under a $70 million US Army Corps of Engineers contract.

In 2009, when that 1,235-acre $200 million Jordanian training center was unveiled, King Abdullah II gave the inaugural address, praising the facility as a world-class hub for special forces training. General David Petraeus, then-head of the US Central Command overseeing the Greater Middle East, was also on hand to laud the facility as "a center of excellence not only for doctrinal development and refinement of TTPs [technology, tactics and procedures], but for strengthening the regional security network emerging in this area."

Between 2001 and 2009, the Army awarded $89 million in contracts for Jordanian construction projects. This year, it inked deals for another $3.3 million (much of it for improvements to KASOTC). Recently, the Army also issued a call for bids for the construction of subterranean complexes at three locations in Jordan, the largest of them approximately 13,000 square feet. Each of these underground bunkers will reportedly boast a command-and-control operations center, offices, sleeping quarters, cafeterias, and storage facilities. The project is set to cost up to $25 million.

1,001 Arabian Contracts

According to a 2009 Congressional Research Service report, from 1950 to 2006 Saudi Arabia purchased almost $63 billion in weapons, military equipment, and related services through the Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Just last month, the US announced that it would conclude new arms deals with the Saudis which would equal that sum—not in another half century but in the next 15 to 20 years. Labeled a move to counter Iranian power in the region, the deal for advanced tactical fighter aircraft and state-of-the-art helicopters garnered headlines. What didn't were the longstanding, ongoing US military construction efforts in that country.

Between 1950 and 2006, Saudi Arabia experienced $17.1 billion in construction activity courtesy of the Pentagon. In the years since, according to government data, the Department of Defense has issued more than $400 million in construction contracts for the kingdom, including $33 million in 2010 for projects ranging from a dining hall ($6 million) to weapons storage warehouses and ammunition supply facilities (nearly $1 million).

Bases and "the Base"

In his 1996 "Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques," Osama bin Laden wrote:

The presence of the USA Crusader military forces on land, sea and air of the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger threatening the largest oil reserve in the world. The existence of these forces in the area will provoke the people of the country and induces aggression on their religion, feelings, and prides and pushes them to take up armed struggle against the invaders occupying the land.

Since then, the US and bin Laden's rag-tag guerrilla force, al Qaeda ("the Base"), have been locked in a struggle that has led to further massive US base expansions in the greater Middle East and South Asia. At the height of its occupation, the US had hundreds of bases throughout Iraq. Today, hundreds more have been built in Afghanistan where, in the 1980s, bin Laden and other jihadists, backed and financed by the CIA, the Saudis, and the Pakistanis, fought to expel the Soviet occupiers of that country.

As early as 2005, the US military was floating the possibility of retaining some of its Afghan bases permanently. In Iraq, plans for similar permanent garrisons have recently been thrown into doubt by the very government the US helped install in power. Whatever happens in either war zone, however, one thing is clear: the US military will still be deeply dug into the Middle East.

While American infrastructure crumbles at home, new construction continues in oil-rich kingdoms, sultanates, and emirates there, courtesy of the Pentagon. It's a building program guaranteed to further inflame anti-American sentiment in the region. History may not repeat itself, but ominously—just as in 1996 when bin Laden issued his declaration—most Americans have not the slightest idea what their military is doing with their tax dollars in the Persian Gulf and beyond, or what twenty-first century blowback might result from such activities.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. His latest book, The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books), which brings together leading analysts from across the political spectrum, has just gone into its second printing. Turse is currently a fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook. His website is NickTurse.com.

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