Late in February, U.S. Army generals in Iraq started asking military historians and archivists to dig up official records from the 1970s involving the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. The generals were especially interested in the nitty-gritty of pulling out—procedures for disposing and transferring military property, for example, and the precise sequence of demobilization. The message was explicit: we’re going to be staging another withdrawal soon, from Iraq; once it begins, it could spin easily out of control; so we need a plan for an orderly exit now.
And yet, in three years of occupation, the U.S. military has taken steps that suggest a total pullout is unlikely for years to come. The most tangible sign of these measures is the far-flung network of Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs. There are more than seventy FOBs scattered across Iraq, many of them elaborate renovations of Saddam Hussein’s former network of military bases and presidential palaces. Some FOBs consist of just a handful of barracks, but more than a dozen of them are vast complexes reminiscent of the West German garrisons from Cold War days.
The larger bases are fortified chunks of Middle America, surreally plunked down in the desert, replete with Burger Kings, Pizza Huts, Internet cafés, first-run movie theaters, gyms, and swimming pools. Camp Anaconda, built around two 11,000-foot runways and spread out over fifteen square miles, is home and workplace to 20,000 U.S. troops and 2,500 private contractors. Camp Cooke, which boasts 29,000 square feet of retail shopping, is so huge that a shuttle bus runs back and forth from one end to the other. At Camp Falcon, Army engineers had to bring in 100,000 tons of gravel just to build the reinforced roads.