New White House plan: Keep US troops in Iraq permanently.

Opinion: Permanent bases will damage America's image in the Middle East.

President Bush used to be fond of saying that American troops would stay in Iraq as long as needed and not a day longer. He isn't saying that anymore.

The new word from the White House is that American troops would be stationed in Iraq permanently on the "Korean model." The analogy is a little strained. The United States has helped to mend the rift between North and South Korea since 1953. But South Korea has had no internal insurgency to worry about.

The plan for permanent bases in Iraq must have been long in the making. The president ignored a recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton Commission that he state that America seeks no permanent bases in Iraq. At one point last year, the Senate and House passed an amendment to the military-spending bill banning the establishment of permanent bases in Iraq. The bill went to conference and then the ban on bases, adopted by both chambers, mysteriously disappeared.

The building of four bases along with a gigantic new American embassy in the Green Zone on the Tigris River has been moving along rapidly. The bases will have runways two miles long to accommodate the largest American planes. The Balad base north of Baghdad covers 14 square miles. Another base is planned for the area that was ancient Babylon.

The new embassy, which will be the largest American mission in the world, will be complete with swimming pool and commissary. Retired General Anthony Zinni has said that permanent bases are "a stupid idea." He said that they will damage America's image in the whole region.

These huge installations must be intended for more than Iraqi stabilization. Former President Jimmy Carter said in a speech in February of last year that "the reason we went into Iraq was to establish a permanent military base in the Gulf region." And few are missing the point that bases in Iraq will keep American might on Iran's doorstep.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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