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What Basis for 'Permanent' Bases?

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The Bush administration has assured Congress that it does not seek to establish "permanent" U.S. military bases in Iraq. But an exchange yesterday among Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), State Department Iraq coordinator David Satterfield and Assistant Defense Secretary Mary Beth Long at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing suggests that permanence lies in the mind of the beholder:

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Webb: What is a permanent base?

Satterfield: Senator, the administration has made quite clear that we are not seeking permanent bases in Iraq. . . .

Webb: Right. But what is a permanent base? Are our bases in Japan permanent bases?

Long: I have looked into this. As far as the department is concerned, we don't have a worldwide or even a department-wide definition of permanent bases. I believe those are, by and large, determined on a case-by-case basis. . . .

Webb: Well, I understand that. But basically my point is it's sort of a dead word. It doesn't really mean anything.

Long: Yes, Senator, you're completely right. It doesn't. . . .

Webb: We've had bases in Korea since 1953, anyway, and I would be hard-pressed to say they're permanent. How long is permanent? We have bases in Japan under a security agreement, but we are relocating a lot of those to Guam, so I wouldn't say that they are permanent. So to say that these won't be permanent bases really doesn't go to the question of what they will be. It goes to the question of what they won't be. And what we're saying they won't be is a dead word.

Long: Senator, you're exactly right. I think most lawyers . . . would say that the word "permanent" probably refers more to the state of mind contemplated by the use of the term.


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