How the Bush Administration "Endures"
By Tom Engelhardt

The title of the agreement, signed by President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in a "video conference" last week, and carefully labeled as a "non-binding" set of principles for further negotiations, was a mouthful: a "Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America." Whew!

Words matter, of course. They seldom turn up by accident in official documents or statements. Last week, in the first reports on this "declaration," one of those words that matter caught my attention. Actually, it wasn’t in the declaration itself, where the key phrase was "long-term relationship" (something in the lives of private individuals that falls just short of a marriage), but in a "fact-sheet" issued by the White House. Here’s the relevant line: "Iraq’s leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America, and we seek an enduring relationship with a democratic Iraq." Of course, "enduring" there bears the same relationship to permanency as "long-term relationship" does to marriage.

In a number of the early news reports, that word "enduring," part of the "enduring relationship" that the Iraqi leadership supposedly "asked for," was put into (or near) the mouths of "Iraqi leaders" or of the Iraqi prime minister himself. It also achieved a certain prominence in the post-declaration "press gaggle" conducted by the man coordinating this process out of the Oval Office, the President’s so-called War Tsar, Gen. Douglas Lute. He said of the document: "It signals a commitment of both their government and the United States to an enduring relationship based on mutual interests."

In trying to imagine any Iraqi leader actually requesting that "enduring" relationship, something kept nagging at me. After all, those mutual vows of longevity were to be taken in a well publicized civil ceremony in a world in which, when it comes to the American presidential embrace, don’t-ask/don’t-tell is usually the preferred course of action for foreign leaders. Finally, I remembered where I had seen that word "enduring" before in a situation that also involved a "long-term relationship." It had been four-and-a-half years earlier and not coming out of the mouths of Iraqi officials either.

Back in April 2003, just after Baghdad fell to American troops, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt reported on the front page of the New York Times that the Pentagon had launched its invasion the previous month with plans for four "permanent bases" in out of the way parts of Iraq already on the drawing board. Since then, the Pentagon has indeed sunk billions of dollars into building those mega-bases (with a couple of extra ones thrown in) at or near the places mentioned by Shanker and Schmitt.

When questioned by reporters at the time about whether such "permanent bases" were in the works, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the U.S. was "unlikely to seek any permanent or ‘long-term’ bases in Iraq" — and that was that. The Times’ piece essentially went down the mainstream-media memory hole. On this subject, the official position of the Bush administration has never changed. Just last week, for instance, General Lute slipped up, in response to a question at his press gaggle. The exchange went like this:

"Q: And permanent bases?

"GENERAL LUTE: Likewise. That’s another dimension of continuing U.S. support to the government of Iraq, and will certainly be a key item for negotiation next year."

White House spokesperson Dana Perino quickly issued a denial, saying: "We do not seek permanent bases in Iraq."

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