What are fobbits for?

May 5, 2006

This is only a point of idle curiosity, I admit. Probably the answer is straightforward. But I can’t help but wonder what all the fobbits are doing over there.

Fobbits is the gently disparaging term our grunts apply to the soldiers who rarely if ever venture “outside the wire”, spending all their time holed up in FOBs, forward operating bases. The quintessential FOB, of course, is the Green Zone. But KBR won the bid to build won the contract to build fourteen “enduring bases” back in ’04. (The contract was reported by the Chicago Tribune on March 23, in what is now unfortunately a pay-to-read article.)

The term “enduring bases” sort of suggested that the USA intended to squat in Iraq forever, which may be why the Ministry of Peace, ever attentive to the needs of the Ministry of Truth, now refers to them instead as “contingency operating bases”. Their number has shrunk, but their size has expanded. There are four of them now, under more or less permanent construction. The largest, for instance, Balad Air Base, sprawls to the north of Baghdad, and boasts a population of 20,000 American servicefolk, the vast majority of whom, according to an embedded reporter with the Washington Post, are fobbits.

The number of American soldiers in Iraq, about 150,000, is now exceeded by the number of private contractors, about 160,000. So what’s the need for all the military support personnel? We wonders, yes, we wonders.

One possible answer is that, as Seymour Hersh reported last December, the political consultants have decided that the electorate will put up with the war indefinitely, so long as casualties are kept under two a day. And therefore, the foot patrols are being systematically replaced with bombing runs – which obviously raises your basic fobbit to expeditionary ratio.

Here’s a second possible answer: Bush needs a buffer of twenty to forty thousand bodies not strictly required for the current combat missions. He needs that buffer because he intends to pull twenty to forty thousand bodies out of Iraq (which would be considerably fewer than the number of people he’s turned into bodies in Iraq, but that’s a different post) just before the elections. Because, you understand, Iraq will have turned a critical corner just about then, things will suddenly be going just swimmingly there by then, and the withdrawals will prove it.


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