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The “Bin Laden Option” – US Wants Bases in Afghanistan

The White House may not want to admit that all their nation-building projects in Afghanistan are destined to crumble, but common sense dictates that as the expected outcome. It’s another reason why, after 10 years of war, and the sinking of thousands of lives and billions of dollars into the region, most Americans just want to get the hell out. 64% of respondents in a CBS poll want the troop presence in Afghanistan reduced. And Congress has begun to align themselves with the public on this point. The current strategy is simply not sustainable and destined to fail, from a political, military and financial standpoint.

But while officially, the Administration maintains that a precipitous drawdown would lead to greater violence and a breakdown of peace talks, I think WaPo hit on the real reason for the reticence:

The United States should maintain a long-term military presence in Afghanistan as a “tenant” on bases jointly occupied with Afghan forces, rather than on permanent U.S. bases, after its combat mission ends, according to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

“Bases that belong to one country in another country are always a magnet for trouble,” he said in an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News that was released Wednesday. “Joint bases,” from which U.S. troops could provide ongoing training and other assistance, would be “more tolerable to the Afghan people,” he said.

As President Obama determines how many U.S. troops will come home in initial withdrawals next month — with all combat forces to be gone from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 — the administration is negotiating a “strategic partnership” agreement with the Kabul government for the longer term.

Obama has said he expects the U.S. presence to gradually transition over the next several years to more of a traditional diplomatic and foreign assistance role, although an unspecified number of U.S. troops are expected to remain.

They want a base in the region from which to launch attacks. Call it the “bin Laden option.”

You can call these “joint bases,” but that’s a semantic distinction at best. You’re talking about permanent bases with a long-term presence in the region. In Iraq, the US could not get this in their status of forces agreement, but they may have more leverage in Afghanistan, with a more compliant puppet government. A quick drawdown would ruin the plans for permanent bases.

This move for bases comes as a bipartisan group of House lawmakers is circulating a letter that asks for a reduction in military spending specifically through scaling back worldwide military commitments. The six lawmakers pushing this are Barney Frank (D-MA), John Campbell (R-CA), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Walter Jones (R-NC), Gwen Moore (D-WI) and Ron Paul (R-TX). The letter says that “more than 21 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and 18 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, our military planning and appropriations process go on largely as it has since the 1950s.”

Actually, it has expanded. With practically every new war, we leave droppings of new bases and new military responsibilities all over the world. And where the military doesn’t have a presence, JSOC or some other covert force does. There needs to be a massive rethink of this unsustainable commitment.

But instead, the foreign policy establishment is seeking new permanent bases in more and more countries.

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David Dayen

David Dayen