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Nick Turse: The Secret Building Boom of the Obama Years

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What, Me Pivot?

During the Obama years, the Corps of Engineers' Middle East District has also awarded contracts for work in Pakistan ($1.1 million), Jordan ($4.7 million), Saudi Arabia ($5.3 million), the United Arab Emirates ($6.6 million), Kuwait ($33.7 million) and Kyrgyzstan ($58.2 million).  In addition, it anticipates awarding at least another $5.9 million in construction contracts in Kuwait in 2013, while contracting documents indicate that the Air Force plans to install two 20,000-gallon water storage tanks at that country's Ali Al Salem Air Base in the near future.  The Corps reported no anticipated contracts in the United Arab Emirates for 2013, but documents examined by TomDispatch suggest that the Army is currently planning to build new armory facilities at that country's Al Minhad Base.

When asked why funding is on the rise for work in Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain -- total expenditures between 2011 and 2012 rose from $2.4 million to $91 million, $41.7 million to $203.4 million, and zero to $232.4 million, respectively -- CENTCOM played down its significance.  This massive jump in construction dollars, the command's spokesman Oscar Seára claimed, represented nothing more than past funding requests winding their way through the Pentagon's bureaucracy.  "It doesn't signal a pivot or strategic shift."

The former Central Asian Soviet "socialist republics" of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan ("partly free," "not free," and "not free," respectively, according to Freedom House) are prime sites for new construction as well.  Ten contracts were awarded as fiscal 2012 ended for projects there. Carried out under the auspices of CENTCOM and USACE, they include a string of border checkpoints, customs facilities, and training complexes, in addition to multiple canine training centers and "drug control" offices, for those countries' security forces.  "Everything that we're doing there is aimed at helping these countries monitor their borders and helping keep the flow of anything illegal from going in or out of their countries," says Kibler.

While the flow of construction money into Central Asia may look like part of the Obama administration's announced "pivot to Asia," a "rebalancing" of Pentagon resources eastward, CENTCOM dismisses the notion.  "What you are seeing is the natural progression of assisting with border-security development where the funding has finally caught up to previous proposals and requests for support," Seára told TomDispatch. "It takes time for funding to flow, and what you're seeing is indicative of nothing beyond that."

Pivot or not, the Obama administration shows little sign of slowing its Middle Eastern building boom, despite the recent rhetoric about a similar pivot from military interventions abroad to nation-building at home.  For the last four years, even while drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has pumped more than a billion dollars into entrenching and expanding its presence in the Greater Middle East.

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In 2012, with American cities in desperate need of reconstruction dollars, the U.S. military out of Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan winding down, Mideast construction contracts ballooned to new Obama-era heights.  Even as the president talks about lessening America's footprint abroad, the Pentagon is quietly digging in and expanding out.  While countless municipalities affected by superstorm Sandy ask for reconstruction funds, taxpayer dollars dedicated to building transportation infrastructure and water treatment plants are headed halfway around the world. 

Just as the Pentagon's refusal to offer an accurate count of regional bases built with taxpayer dollars doesn't mean they don't exist, so, too, the White House's no-comment on Washington's stimulus package in the Greater Middle East can't erase reality.  Despite the rhetoric about domestic nation-building, there's a more conflicted narrative playing out in the region, and it won't remain hidden forever.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the just published The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyber Warfare   (Haymarket Books). His website is  You can follow him on Tumblr.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Nick Turse
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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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