Here's what the just released Iraq Study Group report has to say about permanent bases. Starts off good, then in classic bipartisan centrist fashion, falls apart.
The United States should also signal that it is seeking broad international support for Iraq on behalf of achieving these milestones. The United States can begin to shape a positive climate for its diplomatic efforts, internationally and within Iraq, through public statements by President Bush that reject the notion that the United States seeks to control Iraq's oil, or seeks permanent military bases within Iraq. However, the United States could consider a request from Iraq for temporary bases.
RECOMMENDATION 22: The President should state that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Iraq. If the Iraqi government were to request a temporary base or bases, then the U.S. government could consider that request as it would in the case of any other government.
In the context of a report that does not envision any sort of timetable for withdrawal, and does envision the "imbedding of substantially more U.S. military personnel in all Iraqi Army battalions and brigades, as well as within Iraqi companies," for "some time," "temporary" can easily be perceived by the Iraqi people as a cloak for "permanent."
LiberalOasis warned back in May, that if Democrats succeeded in banning funding for permanent bases, the Bushies could just get cute about what they called those bases.
Which is exactly why last month, LiberalOasis said about the ISG members: "watch to see if they renounce and begin to dismantle the permanent bases." (emphasis added)
Remember, these bases already exist. as the AP reported back in March:
The concrete goes on forever [at Balid air base], vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a "heli-park" as good as any back in the States.
At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq's western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.
And much like the way the Iraq Study Group said we should only have "temporary bases" if Iraq made a "request" for them, that's how the Bush Administration has talked about them. From the same AP story:
...U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked about "permanent duty stations" by a Marine during an Iraq visit in December, allowed that it was "an interesting question." He said it would have to be raised by the incoming Baghdad government, if "they have an interest in our assisting them for some period over time."
In Washington, Iraq scholar Phebe Marr finds the language intriguing. "If they aren't planning for bases, they ought to say so," she said. "I would expect to hear 'No bases.'"
Right now what is heard is the pouring of concrete.
And that's how Dubya himself deals with such questions, this from a press conference two months ago:
JIM RUTENBERG, NY TIMES: Does the United States want to maintain permanent bases in Iraq? And I would follow that by asking, are you willing to renounce a claim on permanent bases in Iraq?
DUBYA: Jim, any decisions about permanency in Iraq will be made by the Iraqi government.
And, frankly, it's not in much of a position to be thinking about what the world is going to look like five or 10 years from now. They are working to make sure that we succeed in the short-term. And they need our help. And that's where our focus is.
But remember, when you're talking about bases and troops, we're dealing with a sovereign government. Now, we entered into an agreement with the Karzai government. They weren't called permanent bases, but they were called arrangements that will help this government understand that there will be a U.S. presence so long as they want them there.
And at the appropriate time, I'm confident we'll be willing to sit down and discuss the long-term security of Iraq.
It's not hard for the Iraqi people to see any future "request" from the their government being bogus and illegitimate, made under duress from our own occupying force.
The one upside from the ISG report is that they clearly stated that permanent bases are a major obstacle to achieving a diplomatic solution.
That gives us some additional rhetorical ammo with which to push the issue.
But to actually change the political dynamic in the region, and restore American political credibility and moral authority, there needs to be tangible evidence these bases are not staying.
Word games won't cut it.