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No Austerity for the American Empire: Obama Providing Massive Stimulus for His Base-Building Spree

A billion dollars from the federal government--that kind of money could go a long way toward our own infrastructure.

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Instead, that money is flowing into the oil-rich Middle East.  Unknown to most Americans, thousands of State Department personnel, military advisors, and hired contractors remain at several large civilian bases in Iraq where nation-building projects are ongoing; hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been flowing into military construction projects in repressive Persian Gulf states like Bahrain and Qatar; and the Pentagon is expanding its construction program in Central Asia.  All of this adds up to a multifaceted project that seems at odds with the president’s rhetoric.  (The White House did not respond to TomDispatch’s repeated requests for comment.)

Increasing the Power of Airpower in Qatar

The tiny oil-rich emirate of Qatar has been the preeminent site of the Pentagon’s Middle Eastern building boom in the Obama years.  A significant percentage of its population is made up of migrant workers who,  according to Human Rights Watch, are “vulnerable to exploitation and abuse,” while “forced labor and human trafficking remain serious problems.” The country even  received a failing grade (“not free”) from the  U.S. State Department-funded human rights organization Freedom House.  Still, between 2009 and 2012, the U.S. pumped nearly $400 million into Pentagon projects in the country, including troop barracks, munitions storage areas, a communications center, a training range, an aircraft operations center, an aircraft maintenance hangar, an aviation maintenance shop, a warehouse facility, and a vehicle maintenance shop, according to a list provided by the Corps of Engineers.

The Obama administration has continued a build-up in the country that accelerated after 9/11.  In September 2001, U.S. aircraft began to  operate out of Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base. By 2002, the U.S. had tanks, armored vehicles, dozens of warehouses, communications and computing equipment, and thousands of troops at and around the base.  The next year, the U.S. moved its major regional combat air operations center out of Saudi Arabia and into Al Udeid.  Since then, it has served as a major command and logistics hub for U.S. regional operations, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

According to figures provided to TomDispatch by USACE, at least 10 contracts for construction at Al Udeid, worth nearly $87 million, are anticipated in 2013.  A review of official U.S. government documents reveals a host of upcoming projects there, including a fuels laboratory, a cryogenics facility, a new center for the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, an air defense maintenance facility, more parking space for fuel trucks, new roadways, and a precision measurement equipment laboratory where technicians will calibrate the sophisticated gear used in vehicle and weapons maintenance.

Waterfront Development in Bahrain

Despite a  brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2011, which continues  to this day, the oil-rich kingdom of Bahrain (also “not free” according to Freedom House) is a top U.S. ally.  In fact, over the last year, the Corps of Engineers awarded contracts for construction in the country worth more than $232 million, the most for any nation in any year of the Obama presidency so far.  Since 2009, Bahrain has seen almost $326 million in USACE contract awards.

In 2010, the U.S. Navy broke ground on a mega-construction project to develop 70 acres of waterfront at the port at Mina Salman.  Scheduled for completion in 2015, the complex is slated to include new port facilities, barracks for troops, administrative buildings, a dining facility, and a recreation center, among other amenities.  Total price tag: $580 million.

In September, USACE awarded a $15 million contract for the expansion of a wastewater treatment plant and the construction of a climate-controlled warehouse, as well as an irrigation pump building, among other facilities at Mina Salman.  That same month,  the Corps of Engineers also awarded a $42 million contract for a multistory “bachelor enlisted quarters” in the capital, Manama.  It will contain at least 241 two-bedroom apartments for Navy personnel, as well as administrative offices, laundry facilities, multipurpose rooms, and lounges. 

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