This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
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Sometimes, just when you least expect it, symbolism steps right up and coldcocks you. So how about this headline for -- in the spirit of our last president -- ushering America's withdrawal from Iraq right over the nearest symbolic cliff: "U.S. empties biggest Iraq base, takes Saddam's toilet." They're talking about Victory Base, formerly -- again in the spirit of thoroughly malevolent symbolism -- Camp Victory, the enormous American military base that sits at the edge of Baghdad International Airport and that we were never going to leave.
If you want to measure the size of American pretensions in Iraq once upon a time, just consider this: that base, once meant -- as its name implied -- to be Washington's triumphalist and eternal military command post in the oil heartlands of the planet, is encircled by 27 miles of blast walls and razor wire. (By comparison, the island I live on, Manhattan Island to be exact, is just 13.4 miles long.) So that's big. It was, in fact, the biggest of the 505 bases the U.S. built in Iraq.
By the way, it does seem just a tad ironic that only at the moment of departure are Americans given an accurate count of just how many bases "we" built in that country to the tune of billions of dollars. Previous published figures were in the "more than 300" range. In recent months, Victory Base has been stripped of much and locked down. You can almost hear taps playing for the closing of its Burger King, Subway, Taco Bell, and Cinnabon franchises, its bottled water plant, its electric grid (which delivered power with an effectiveness the occupation was otherwise incapable of providing for the people of Baghdad), its "mother of all PXs," its hospital, and so many of the other "improvements" now valued at $100 million or more.
Anyway, I was talking about toilets, wasn't I? Not to belabor the point, but back in 2003 George W. Bush was given Saddam Hussein's pistol as a trophy after the Iraqi dictator was captured by U.S. forces in his "spider hole." Now, it seems, Americans get the ultimate trophy: the stainless steel toilet Saddam used during his imprisonment in one of his old palaces at Camp Victory for the three years before he was hanged. On the theory that we installed it, so it's ours to keep, it was removed in August and shipped back to the United States, destined for the Military Police Museum at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. So, close enough to a trillion dollars later (with so much more to come in, among other things, bills for the care of the American war-wounded and traumatized), don't let anyone say that the United States got nothing out of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
When our trophy for the eight-year debacle is a commode, you know that we're in a new era, even if that's news in Washington, as TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, indicates. (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Bacevich discusses how his students have come to accept perpetual American war as normalcy click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom
Big Change Whether We Like It or Not
Only Washington Is Clueless
By Andrew Bacevich
In every aspect of human existence, change is a constant. Yet change that actually matters occurs only rarely. Even then, except in retrospect, genuinely transformative change is difficult to identify. By attributing cosmic significance to every novelty and declaring every unexpected event a revolution, self-assigned interpreters of the contemporary scene -- politicians and pundits above all -- exacerbate the problem of distinguishing between the trivial and the non-trivial.
Did 9/11 "change everything"? For a brief period after September 2001, the answer to that question seemed self-evident: of course it did, with massive and irrevocable implications. A mere decade later, the verdict appears less clear. Today, the vast majority of Americans live their lives as if the events of 9/11 had never occurred. When it comes to leaving a mark on the American way of life, the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have long since eclipsed Osama bin Laden. (Whether the legacies of Jobs and Zuckerberg will prove other than transitory also remains to be seen.)
Anyone claiming to divine the existence of genuinely Big Change Happening Now should, therefore, do so with a sense of modesty and circumspection, recognizing the possibility that unfolding events may reveal a different story.
All that said, the present moment is arguably one in which the international order is, in fact, undergoing a fundamental transformation. The "postwar world" brought into existence as a consequence of World War II is coming to an end. A major redistribution of global power is underway. Arrangements that once conferred immense prerogatives upon the United States, hugely benefiting the American people, are coming undone.
In Washington, meanwhile, a hidebound governing class pretends that none of this is happening, stubbornly insisting that it's still 1945 with the so-called American Century destined to continue for several centuries more (reflecting, of course, God's express intentions).
Here lies the most disturbing aspect of contemporary American politics, worse even than rampant dysfunction borne of petty partisanship or corruption expressed in the buying and selling of influence. Confronted with evidence of a radically changing environment, those holding (or aspiring to) positions of influence simply turn a blind eye, refusing even to begin to adjust to a new reality.
Big Change Happening Now
The Big Change happening before our very eyes is political, economic, and military. At least four converging vectors are involved.