283 Bases, 170,000 Pieces of Equipment, 140,000 Troops, and an Army of Mercenaries: The Logistical Nightmare in Iraq
With last week's announced escalation of the war in Afghanistan, including an Iraq-like "surge" replete with 4,000 more U.S. troops and a sizable increase in private contractors, President Barack Obama blew the lid off of any lingering perceptions that he somehow represents a significant change in how the U.S. conducts its foreign policy.
In the meantime, more reports have emerged that bolster suspicions that Obama's Iraq policy is but a downsized version of Bush's and that a total withdrawal of U.S. forces is not on the horizon.
In the latest episode of Occupation Rebranded, it was revealed that the administration intends to reclassify some combat forces as "advisory and assistance brigades." While Obama's administration is officially shunning the use of the term "global war on terror," the labels du jour, unfortunately, seem to be the biggest changes we will see for some time.
Underscoring this point is a report just released by the War Resisters League, which for decades has closely monitored the military budget, revealing how many tax dollars are actually going to the war machine. The WRL puts out its famous pie chart annually just before tax time as a reminder of what we are doing exactly when we file our returns. Noting that 51 percent of the federal budget goes to military spending, the WRL said it does "not expect the military percentage to change much" under Obama.
While Obama -- and public attention -- shifted foreign policy focus last week to Afghanistan, lost in the media blitz was another important report that examines how taxpayers will continue to pay for the Iraq occupation for years to come, withdrawal or not. This report, released in March by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, provides a sobering look at Obama's "massive and expensive" Iraq plan, identifying several crucial questions that have yet to be addressed.
Whether or not the Obama administration actually intends to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq in numbers large enough to claim to be "ending the war" as many believe, this kind of official review of the U.S. reality in Iraq -- and the congressional oversight to which Obama will (or will not) be subjected in the coming months -- bears intense scrutiny.
First, there's the money. "Although reducing troops would appear to lower costs, GAO has seen from previous operations … that costs could rise in the near term," according to the 56-page report, which is titled "Iraq: Key Issues for Congressional Oversight."
In addition to the massive funds required to move tens of thousands of troops, the GAO points out that the Army estimates "it would cost $12 billion to $13 billion a year for at least two years after the operation ends to repair, replace and rebuild the equipment used in Iraq."
The cost of closing U.S. bases will also "likely be significant;" even after military units leave Iraq, the Pentagon will need to invest in training and equipment to return these units to levels capable of performing "full spectrum operations." (The GAO report does not even mention the costs of providing much-needed medical and mental health services to veterans.)
The Obama administration is likely to portray the costs of "withdrawing" from Iraq as a painful necessity made inevitable by the Bush administration. But there are already calls for Obama to not allocate any new funds for such an operation. Retired Army Col. Ann Wright, a veteran diplomat who reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul after Sept. 11 (and, while in the military, worked on plans for an Iraq invasion), says, "Everyone in the Department of Defense -- military and civilian -- knows well the expense of going to war and the expense of bringing troops back to the United States.