Point/Counterpoint: Should the United States keep permanent military bases in Iraq?

By Eric Naing and Jake Vial


Eric Naing: Military should get all the

way out

Al-Qaeda’s declaration of jihad in 1998 states that “the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.” As a liberal, I firmly support caving in to the demands of these terrorists by making sure no permanent bases are established in Iraq.

All kidding aside, my hope that the U.S. military cease of all plans to build permanent bases in Iraq is not born out of some ideological distrust of military power, nor out of some perverse wish to see our military humiliated. Forget the empty rhetoric about cutting and running. It is simply not in the best interest of the United States to build permanent bases in Iraq.

This debate may be moot already. The construction of four heavily fortified “super bases” around Iraq and a massive U.S. embassy the size of the Vatican or the Mall of America makes it look as though this administration has already decided to have permanent bases against the wishes of Congress, foreign policy experts, the international community and the American people.

The presence of a U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia has been one of the most effective recruiting tools for al-Qaeda, and the same will be true for bases in Iraq. These bases create the perception held by many in the Middle East that the U.S. wants to control the region. As the United States establishes a stronger and more permanent military presence in Iraq, the warnings of Osama bin Laden of U.S. imperialism become more valid and the cause of al-Qaeda becomes more legitimate in the eyes of the Arab world.

Furthermore, these bases intimidate neighboring nations making it extremely difficult for them to help stabilize Iraq. The United States, as a foreign power, can not create stability in the Middle East alone. Nations such as Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran must also play a role, and for all of whom, a stable Iraq would be in their common interest.

But it’s not just crazy leftist hippies like me who advocate against permanent bases in Iraq. Brent Scowcroft, the former National Security Advisor under Presidents Ford and Bush Sr., and Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, both oppose permanent bases in Iraq. Even the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission recommends that “the president should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq.”

Couple that with a Congress which as already voted against permanent bases, 80 percent of the Iraqi people who want the United States to leave their country and 68 percent of the American people who oppose permanent bases and you have a pretty strong consensus.

The situation in Iraq can not be solved militarily. Creating permanent bases in Iraq would not only entrench us further into a regional conflict that grows worse by the day but also prevents effective diplomacy and emboldens the terrorists by creating greater animosity toward us.


Jake Vial: Limited presence in Iraq makes sense

Regardless of the United States’ decision to maintain troop levels or cut and run in Iraq, we should establish permanent military bases in the country upon completion of large-scale operations. These bases would be in the best interest of the citizens of war torn Iraq and could provide a strategic location for further peacekeeping operations in the Middle East.

Historically, the United States has been successful in helping to rebuild war-torn countries. Permanent presence (often through complete control) has led to the creation of some of the most successful countries in the world under United States occupation. Germany, Japan and South Korea have all hosted permanent U.S. military bases for decades. Limited U.S. military presence could be instrumental in ensuring peace, rebuilding infrastructure and offering last-resort protection in the case of terrorist activity or violent uprisings.

A complete cut and run policy in Iraq without some level of military presence would leave Iraqi citizens with the idea that the United States has abandoned them. However, moderate presence in the form of one or two permanent bases does not spell control. Iraqis need only look to neighboring Saudi Arabia to understand this concept. In 2003, U.S. forces left Saudi Arabia after over 10 years of presence following the Gulf War. During the presence, Saudi Arabia was not subjected to U.S. military violence, forced democratization (minimal steps in this direction didn’t come until after U.S. troops left) or U.S. control of resources.

Keeping trained military personnel in Iraq would prove helpful in rebuilding the country. Opponents of the war often criticize the number of foreign contracts issued for reconstruction and cite a high unemployment rate among Iraqis. The people of Iraq should have the opportunity to rebuild their own cities and infrastructure. A moderate military presence after U.S. troop withdrawal would help Iraqi citizens rebuild. Keeping skilled individuals in Iraq will show that the U.S. cares about rebuilding towns, cities and the infrastructure, which are important to Iraq’s future economic and political success.

The United States can also learn from historical instances of premature abandonment. Complete removal of troops from Iraq will open the gate for bad actors to assume power. Similar situations have already occurred in Iraq when troop numbers have been reduced in areas assumed to be secure. If bad actors do assume power upon U.S. withdrawal, future return of peacekeeping troops or further military action may be necessary to ensure peace in the region. However, a permanent presence of skilled, visible troops will assure that these actors never assume power.

Finally, a permanent base in Iraq provides yet another strategic location for the U.S. to watch Middle Eastern policy. With U.S. troops gone from Saudi Arabia and heightened tensions with Iran, it is not bad policy to keep additional troops in the region to supplement our presence in Qatar.

Our presence in Iraq could give us advanced warning and response to hostile situations in the Middle East and will provide the Iraqi people with the help and protection they deserve as they rebuild their nation.