I support Senator Biden’s Amendment to bar any funds from being used to establish permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq or to control Iraq’s oil. I disagree with Biden’s stated opinion on the following points: I don’t think it’s at all “obvious to most Americans” that we have no designs or Iraq’s oil or strategic control of bases, nor do I believe that such topics can so easily be pushed off into the realm of “conspiracy theory” tinfoil-hatland anymore. I don’t even believe that for many Americans the idea of our being there to get “our oil out from under their sand” is a significant ethical issue. Sometimes it seems that even “freedom and democracy” is just insider code for “steal our natural resources.” Maybe it’s just me… In any case, it’s significant that the provision that both the Senate and the House had separately approved was stripped from the bill. It’s significant that this administration will not say that we aren’t building permanent bases. By some accounts, they are already nearing completion.
No Permanent Bases in Iraq.
Sign Senator Joe Biden’s petition.
Last week, the Senate and House voted on a joint emergency spending bill to support our troops in Iraq. That’s the good news. The bad news is that Republicans stripped out a key provision proposed by me and Representative Barbara Lee – and that the Senate and House had each separately approved — that would bar any funds from being used to establish permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq or to control Iraq’s oil.
That will make life even more difficult for our men and women in uniform and undercut our nation’s broader effort against terrorism.
While it may be obvious to most Americans that we don’t intend to stay in Iraq indefinitely and that we have no designs on its oil, such conspiracy theories are accepted as fact by many Iraqis. In an opinion poll conducted by the University of Maryland in January 2006, 80 percent of Iraqis – and 92 percent of the Sunni Arabs — believe we have plans to establish permanent military bases.
These views extend well beyond Iraq. In a 2004 Pew Charitable Trust survey, majorities in all four Muslim states surveyed — Turkey, Pakistan, Jordan, and Morocco — believed that control of Mideast oil was an important factor in our invasion of Iraq.
Why do Iraqis and the rest of the region believe we want permanent bases? Why do they think we would subject ourselves to the enormous ongoing costs in Iraq? Do they think we want their sand? No, they think we want their oil.
Osama bin Laden and like-minded jihadists use the U.S. “occupation” and their assertion that we aim to steal the region’s oil as rallying cries in their regular calls to arms.
Before we dismiss the resonance of their propaganda, we must remember what Iraqis have been through in the past three decades: three wars and a tyrannical regime that turned paranoia into a way of life. And there’s a longer history, too: 400 years of British and Ottoman occupation have led to a deeply ingrained suspicion of foreign military presence.
Our military leadership understands the importance of this issue. Last September, General John Abizaid, the commander of all US troops in the Middle East, told Congress: “We must make clear to the people of the region we have no designs on their territory or resources.”
Against this backdrop, I had hoped the Congress would speak clearly because the Bush Administration has not.
To my knowledge, President Bush has never explicitly stated that we will not establish permanent bases in Iraq. And both the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State have left the door open to do just that.
In February, Secretary Rumsfeld told the Senate Committee on Armed Services: “We have no intention, at the present time, of putting permanent bases in Iraq.”
That same month, in response to a question about our policy on bases from my colleague Senator John Kerry, Secretary Rice told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “I don’t want to in this forum try to prejudice everything that might happen way into the future.”
Just last Thursday, columnist Helen Thomas asked the White House press secretary to unambiguously declare that the United States will not seek permanent bases in Iraq. Again, the press secretary could not unequivocally declare this to be the case.
The failure to speak clearly on this issue feeds the conspiracy theories and vindicates those who ascribe the worst intentions to the United States. They also make it that much more difficult to win the battle for the hearts and minds of 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. Our success in that battle will determine our success in the struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism.
I’ve introduced the amendment again, to the Defense (Authorization) bill that is now being debated by the Senate. It may not immediately change a lot of minds on the ground or in the region. But it can mark the beginning of a sustained effort to demonstrate through words and deeds that we have no intention of controlling Iraq’s oil or staying there forever.
It’s beyond time for the American people to have spoken clearly on this important issue. The Bush Administration has not.
But we can.
Please sign the petition to support our efforts to convince the world that we have no desire for permanent bases in Iraq or to control that country’s oil.