Last February, former President Jimmy Carter said on the Larry King show, “Some of our top leaders never intend to withdraw military forces from Iraq and they are looking for [staying] ten, 20, 50 years.” He continued, “I have never heard our leaders say that …ten years from now there will be no military bases of the United States in Iraq.”

President Carter’s understanding is true. President George W. Bush announced at a recent press conference that he fully expects U.S. troops to be in Iraq for the duration of his presidency while leaving the issue of a permanent presence to a future president.

In the meantime, the United States is preparing for the long haul. The Pentagon has already spent $1 billion or more on the nearly 100 bases strewn across Iraq and the president’s latest funding request for the Iraq War included $348 million for further base construction.

Some of the bases resemble mini-cities. For example, Camp Anaconda occupies 15 square miles and has amenities such as swimming pools, a gym, a miniature-golf course, and a movie theater.

Given the daily turmoil in Iraq, the American people should question both the morality and the policy implications of what this sort of U.S. military presence brings.

The current objective, as pronounced by the president in a public relations blitz over the past three months, is to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. The president argues that this in turn will bring prosperity to the people as well as peace toward its neighbors and toward the West and to the United States in particular.

Most people would agree on the morality of these goals. No one can be against the removal of a tyrant like Saddam Hussein. And clearly our nation should promote policies that will bring: Iraqis safety and security; freedom of expression and choice; freedom of education; mastery of their natural resources; independence of their courts; selection of their leaders, and conducting of their own foreign policy.

Similarly, Americans support the growth of democracy in Iraq. Thomas Jefferson’s concept of the consent of the governed is an idea with global support. Carried out to its fullest, it would allow the Iraqi people to exercise their dignity and independence.

But these twin goals can not be achieved with a permanent American military presence. The people have no true freedom of choice because of the veto powers of the United States They have no mastery over their economy due to U.S.-imposed laws. And U.S. involvement in Iraqi politics has disrupted the formation of a government. Paradoxically, a permanent presence hinders the development of the very institutions needed to make Iraq a stable country.

Three years of occupation violate the very principles the U.S. espouses by preventing the natural evolution of democracy. The recent visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British foreign minister Jack Straw, during which they openly supported one of the candidates for prime minister, is perfect example of interference.

More importantly, the people of Iraq want us to leave. Many members of the newly elected parliament advocate the removal of occupation forces as soon as possible. Given that, keeping a permanent presence is immoral and indefensible. It further unites the various factions of the Iraqi people fighting against us. Failing to declare our intent not to maintain a permanent presence will bring havoc to Iraq, plays into the hands of terrorists by feeding resentment and despair while helping to recruit more members for the insurgency.

Lawmakers in this country are beginning to get the picture. Weeks ago, an amendment declaring the United States has “no plan to establish a permanent … military presence in Iraq” passed the House without objection. While clearly this won’t solve all of the problems, it’s a good step and one that can be built upon over the next several months to help change the deadly course of violence.

After three years of occupation, over 2,300 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed in this conflict, our moral obligation is to uphold the spirit of democracy that our nation was built upon. Closing the permanent bases honors that proud tradition and extends it to the open hand of Iraqis.

Adil E. Shamoo, born and raised in Baghdad, is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. He writes on ethics and public policy. He can be reached at:

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