Empire of a thousand basesSubmitted by LatinsforPaul on Wed, 03/18/2009 - 13:25
Before reading this article, try to answer this question: How many military bases does the United States have in other countries: a) 100; b) 300; c) 700; or d) 1,000.
According to the Pentagon's own list PDF, the answer is around 865, but if you include the new bases in Iraq and Afghanistan it is over a thousand. These thousand bases constitute 95 percent of all the military bases any country in the world maintains on any other country's territory. In other words, the United States is to military bases as Heinz is to ketchup.
The old way of doing colonialism, practiced by the Europeans, was to take over entire countries and administer them. But this was clumsy. The United States has pioneered a leaner approach to global empire. As historian Chalmers Johnson says, "America's version of the colony is the military base." The United States, says Johnson, has an "empire of bases."
Its 'empire of bases' gives the United States global reach, but the shape of this empire, insofar as it tilts toward Europe, is a bloated and anachronistic holdover from the Cold War."
These bases do not come cheap. Excluding U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States spends about $102 billion a year to run its overseas bases, according to Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies. And in many cases you have to ask what purpose they serve. For example, the United States has 227 bases in Germany. Maybe this made sense during the Cold War, when Germany was split in two by the iron curtain and U.S. policy makers sought to persuade the Soviets that the American people would see an attack on Europe as an attack on itself. But in a new era when Germany is reunited and the United States is concerned about flashpoints of conflict in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, it makes as much sense for the Pentagon to hold onto 227 military bases in Germany as it would for the post office to maintain a fleet of horses and buggies.
The 9/11 attacks are arguably the most spectacular example of the kind of blowback that can be generated from local resentment against U.S. bases. In the 1990s, the presence of U.S. military bases near the holiest sites of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia angered Osama bin Laden and provided Al Qaeda with a potent recruitment tool. The United States wisely closed its largest bases in Saudi Arabia, but it opened additional bases in Iraq and Afghanistan that are rapidly becoming new sources of friction in the relationship between the United States and the peoples of the Middle East.
Its "empire of bases" gives the United States global reach, but the shape of this empire, insofar as it tilts toward Europe, is a bloated and anachronistic holdover from the Cold War. Many of these bases are a luxury the United States can no longer afford at a time of record budget deficits. Moreover, U.S. foreign bases have a double edge: they project American power across the globe, but they also inflame U.S. foreign relations, generating resentment against the prostitution, environmental damage, petty crime, and everyday ethnocentrism that are their inevitable corollaries. Such resentments have recently forced the closure of U.S. bases in Ecuador, Puerto Rico, and Kyrgyzstan, and if past is prologue, more movements against U.S. bases can be expected in the future. Over the next 50 years, I believe we will witness the emergence of a new international norm according to which foreign military bases will be as indefensible as the colonial occupation of another country has become during the last 50 years.
The Declaration of Independence criticizes the British "for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us" and "for protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these States." Fine words! The United States should start taking them to heart.
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