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May 25, 2007

Permanent Bases: A Recipe for Permanent Terrorism


by Thomas Gale Moore

While the White House has often denied having a Plan B for Iraq, it turns out that the Pentagon has thought about what to do if Plan A, the "surge" doesn’t work. According to Steve Inskeep and Guy Raz of National Public Radio, plan B would involve maintaining a series of military bases around Iraq with some 30,000 to 40,000 U.S. troops. That plan would have them stay for decades, under the excuse that they could train the Iraqi troops and deter neighboring countries, such as Iran and Turkey, from sending their own troops into the country. Already the U.S. has built military compounds that look permanent, supplied with air-conditioning, movie theatres, Starbucks coffee houses, and fast food outlets.

The idea is hardly new. For the last decade, the neocons have advocated that the U.S. establish bases in Iraq to police the Middle East and make the area safe for Israel. Although no one is totally certain why the Bush Administration took us into the quagmire of Iraq, it seems plausible that securing bases in that part of the world was one significant factor. At the time, the U.S. had major military installations in Saudi Arabia; but they had generated considerable opposition among the Saudis and in the rest of the Arab world, with the result that the Royal family was increasingly desirous of getting rid of them.

In 1998, Osama Bin Laden issued a Fatwa Urging Jihad Against Americans, ostensibly because American troops were now stationed on "sacred" soil, the land that contains Mecca and Medina. In the latest Republican debate, Ron Paul raised that issue, only to be widely criticized by the Republican right. Paul, however, was correct: that was a major factor in 9/11. The U.S. strong bias favoring Israel no doubt contributed as well. The twin towers were not brought down, however, because we attempted to provide equal rights for people of all genders or that we wear immodest clothing and live "immoral" lives. They were destroyed because of our foreign policy, in particular, because we had troops in Muslim parts of the world. We now have even more of them and are seen as a new version of the Crusades.

This implies that, if we maintain a strong military presence in Muslim countries, including Iraq, we will continue to generate hatred and terrorism. Osama and his allies will persist in attacking us. Permanent or long term bases in Iraq will only bring more fire and brimstone to the world. The only way to reduce terrorism significantly is to leave the Middle East to the Middle Easterners.

Why are we building the largest embassy in the world in Baghdad? Iraq is a relatively small, unimportant, and backward country sitting on a lot of oil. That the U.S is constructing this mammoth compound tells the world that it is planning to occupy that part of the globe for a long time. Iraq will become an unofficial colony used to police the rest of the Middle East.

In particular, the U.S. will be watching over Persia or, as it is now called, Iran. The Persians have a long and great history and will not relish the idea that a western Christian newcomer will be supervising their behavior. Nor will the Sunni governments in the region look with favor on this "crusading" state’s attempting to dictate their actions.

The only way to prevent another 9/11 is to vacate the Middle East. We have no need to be there. Some would argue that our dependence on foreign oil requires that we control the largest supply of petroleum in the world. This is untrue; there is no necessity for America to rule the oil-rich territories. Countries with large supplies of oil have no use for that fuel except to sell it. All of those oil-based states have become dependent on the revenues that come from selling it. They have no choice. Nothing can be done with that liquid except market it. Even if radical Islamists take control of one of the petro-states, its government will still have to sell the oil to generate the revenue necessary to maintain its power.

Unfortunately, none of the presidential candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, understands this. Even those strongly opposed to the war, such as Congressman John Murtha, advocate "repositioning" our troops, a mantra that keeps being repeated. In some cases the politicians seem to be talking about moving the troops to self-contained bases in Iraq or in Kurdistan. In other cases "reposition" means moving the troops over the horizon to the Persian Gulf. If the idea, however, is to secure peace and stop terrorist attacks on the U.S., keeping our troops in the Middle East will fail. It will only generate more terrorism. We must pull our soldiers back to the United States and stop trying to police the world.

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Thomas Gale Moore is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in economics and has taught at Carnegie Institution of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University), Michigan State University, UCLA, and in the Stanford Business School. He has written numerous peer-reviewed economic articles and several books.

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