Base Desires in Afghanistan

As we know from a single April 19, 2003 New York Times piece, the Pentagon arrived in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq preparing for a long stay. They already had at least four mega-military bases on the drawing boards as they entered the country (all subsequently built). “Enduring camps” they decided to call them, rather than the dicier “permanent bases.” In the end, hundreds of bases were constructed in Iraq, from the tiniest combat outposts to monster installations, to the tune of untold billions of dollars. In the end, hundreds are now being left behind to be stripped, looted, or occupied by the Iraqi military.

From Baghdad, the British Guardian’s correspondent Martin Chulov recently reported that part of the price Nouri al-Maliki seems to have negotiated (in Tehran, not Washington) to retain his prime ministership may involve not letting the Pentagon keep even a single monster base in Iraq after 2011. This was evidently demanded by former US nemesis, rebel cleric, and now “kingmaker” Muqtada al-Sadr, whose movement controls more than 10% of the votes in Iraq’s new parliament. That can’t make the Pentagon, or the US high command, happy—and the Obama administration is already kicking.

However this ends for Washington, barely based or baseless in Iraq, surely this was not the way it was supposed to happen, not when it was still “mission accomplished” time and it seemed so self-evident that American military power, obviously unchallengeable, would be deeply entrenched on either side of Iran until “regime change” occurred there.

If you want a measure of how far the US has “fallen” in Iraq, it now has only 21 “burn pits” there—places at US bases where waste of all sorts is incinerated, regularly spewing smoke filled with toxic emissions into the air to the detriment of American soldiers (and undoubtedly local Iraqis as well). On the other hand, according to a Government Accountability Office report, there are now 221 such pits in Afghanistan and “more coming.” Put another way, even as America’s baseworld in Iraq dwindles, there seems to be no learning curve in Washington. As Nick Turse suggests in his most recent TomDispatch report, in Afghanistan we seem to be heading down the Iraq path on bases with a special ardor. More than nine years after our “successful” invasion, billions of US taxpayer dollars are still flowing into constructing and upgrading the massive base structure in that country—and yet, there are never enough of them.

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece on an unexpected surge of Taliban successes in northern Afghanistan, Army Colonel Bill Burleson, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, among the relatively modest US forces in the northern part of that country, is quoted as saying somewhat desperately of Taliban gains in the region: “In order to deny that terrain to the enemy you’d have to have people all over Afghanistan in combat outposts.” Good point, Colonel. Why stop now?

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.