My Kingdom for a Toilet: Summing Up the American Debacle in Iraq
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Sometimes, just when you least expect it, symbolism steps right up and coldcocks you. So how about this headline for -- in the spirit of our last president -- ushering America’s withdrawal from Iraq right over the nearest symbolic cliff: “U.S. empties biggest Iraq base, takes Saddam’s toilet.” They’re talking about Victory Base, formerly -- again in the spirit of thoroughly malevolent symbolism -- Camp Victory, the enormous American military base that sits at the edge of Baghdad International Airport and that we were never going to leave.
If you want to measure the size of American pretensions in Iraq once upon a time, just consider this: that base, once meant -- as its name implied -- to be Washington’s triumphalist and eternal military command post in the oil heartlands of the planet, is encircled by 27 miles of blast walls and razor wire. (By comparison, the island I live on, Manhattan Island to be exact, is just 13.4 miles long.) So that’s big. It was, in fact, the biggest of the 505 bases the U.S. built in Iraq.
By the way, it does seem just a tad ironic that only at the moment of departure are Americans given an accurate count of just how many bases “we” built in that country to the tune of billions of dollars. Previous published figures were in the “more than 300” range. In recent months, Victory Base has been stripped of much and locked down. You can almost hear taps playing for the closing of its Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Cinnabon franchises, its bottled water plant, its electric grid (which delivered power with an effectiveness the occupation was otherwise incapable of providing for the people of Baghdad), its “mother of all PXs,” its hospital, and so many of the other “improvements” now valued at $100 million or more.
Anyway, I was talking about toilets, wasn’t I? Not to belabor the point, but back in 2003 George W. Bush was given Saddam Hussein’s pistol as a trophy after the Iraqi dictator was captured by U.S. forces in his “spider hole.” Now, it seems, Americans get the ultimate trophy: the stainless steel toilet Saddam used during his imprisonment in one of his old palaces at Camp Victory for the three years before he was hanged. On the theory that we installed it, so it’s ours to keep, it was removed in August and shipped back to the United States, destined for the Military Police Museum at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. So, close enough to a trillion dollars later (with so much more to come in, among other things, bills for the care of the American war-wounded and traumatized), don’t let anyone say that the United States got nothing out of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
When our trophy for the eight-year debacle is a commode, you know that we’re in a new era, even if that's news in Washington, as Andrew Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, indicates in his latest piece, “Big Change Whether We Like It or Not.Iraq, toilet”
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.Sign up to receive the latest updates fromTomDispatch.com here.