January 24, 2007

Dominion Over the World (V): A Global Empire of Bases

Part I: Iraq Is the Democrats' War, Too

Part II: Why the Stories We Tell Matter So Much

Part III: The Open Door to Worldwide Hegemony

Part IV: A "Splendid People" Set Out for Empire

As I write this the day after Bush's latest State of the Union address, I want to jump ahead for a moment to discuss the primary means by which the United States seeks to maintain and consolidate its position of global supremacy. I will return shortly to the development of corporate statism domestically, and to the numerous ways in which that corporatism has influenced foreign policy.

If you are familiar with even a portion of the relevant facts, one passage in Bush's speech last night should have stunned you with its utter absurdity. As you read certain of Bush's remarks, keep in mind these observations from Christopher Layne:
It is often said, with respect to U.S. grand strategy, that the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., "changed everything." But they didn't. After 9/11--as before--geopolitical dominance has been the ambition of the United States. If anything, 9/11 gave the Bush II administration's "hegemonists" a convenient -- indeed, almost providential -- rationale for implementing policies they would have wanted to pursue in any event, including "regime change" in Iraq (and possibly Iran); the projection of U.S. power into the Middle East and Central Asia; a massive five-year defense buildup, which, when completed, will result in U.S. military outlays exceeding the combined defense budgets of the rest of the world's states; and a nuclear strategy that aims at attaining meaningful nuclear superiority over peer competitors and simultaneously ensuring that regional powers cannot develop the capacity to deter U.S. military intervention abroad. In short, the Bush II administration has sought security by expanding U.S. power and pursuing hegemony. In this respect it has stayed on--not left--the grand strategic path followed by the United States since the early 1940s.
I emphasize that this "massive five-year defense buildup...will result in U.S. military outlays exceeding the combined defense budgets of the rest of the world's states."

Then recall what Bush said last evening:
One of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military so that the American armed forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time. [Background: Mr. Bush proposed expanding the size of the United States military in December.]
(Bush's proposal for a Civilian Reserve Corps carries profound dangers; I view those dangers as particularly insidious. Because the proposal connects to several other issues of significance, I will deal with that topic separately in the near future.)

It is a foregone conclusion that the new Democratic Congress will enthusiastically enact Bush's proposals, or something very close to them. Shortly after the November elections, Harry Reid announced that one of the new Congress's highest priorities would be "a $75 billion boost to the military budget."

And if you were to look to the liberal-progressive blogs in hopes of finding a different perspective on this question, you would be sorely disappointed. As just one example out of many, Atrios announced in December:
One thing this latest conversation has done is acknowledge that there aren't enough troops. So why aren't all of these patriotic Americans enlisting or calling on their fellow travelers to do so?
Lest you think this was a momentary blip on Atrios's ideological radar, here is Atrios just the day before:
If Bush had, you know, listened to Kerry we'd already have a bigger military.
According to Atrios, this is yet another indication of the Democrats' superiority to the feckless Republicans: if only Democrats were in charge, we'd have a bigger, better military sooner.

All of this is utterly fantastic. It is absurd and appalling. It is also one of the clearest proofs of one of my general themes: in terms of fundamentals, there is no difference at all between Republicans and Democrats in the realm of foreign policy. Both parties, our governing elites, and most bloggers all hold the same unchallengeable axiom: that the United States is and should be the unequaled, supreme power in the world, with the capability of directing events across the globe and intervening wherever and whenever we deem it necessary for our "national interests." As Layne notes, all our prominent national voices are united in their conviction that no other state "entertain the 'hope of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.'" Military power on a scale never before seen in world history is the most certain means of ensuring that goal.

Chalmers Johnson is the author of two books that are indispensable to anyone at all interested in American foreign policy. The first was originally published before 9/11, and was startlingly and tragically prescient: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire; the second is, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.

Here are some excerpts from a Johnson article from three years ago: "America's Empire of Bases." In this instance, the passage of time means only that, if there is an error in Johnson's analysis, it is to understate the significance of the problem. Johnson writes:
As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize -- or do not want to recognize -- that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire -- an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can't begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.

Our military deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations. To dominate the oceans and seas of the world, we are creating some thirteen naval task forces built around aircraft carriers whose names sum up our martial heritage . ... We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another.

Our installations abroad bring profits to civilian industries, which design and manufacture weapons for the armed forces or, like the now well-publicized Kellogg, Brown & Root company, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation of Houston, undertake contract services to build and maintain our far-flung outposts. One task of such contractors is to keep uniformed members of the imperium housed in comfortable quarters, well fed, amused, and supplied with enjoyable, affordable vacation facilities. Whole sectors of the American economy have come to rely on the military for sales.


It's not easy to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. Pentagon bureaucrats calculate that it would require at least $113.2 billion to replace just the foreign bases -- surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic product of most countries -- and an estimated $591.5 billion to replace all of them. The military high command deploys to our overseas bases some 253,288 uniformed personnel, plus an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employs an additional 44,446 locally hired foreigners. The Pentagon claims that these bases contain 44,870 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and that it leases 4,844 more.

These numbers, although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2003 Base Status Report fails to mention, for instance, any garrisons in Kosovo -- even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel, built in 1999 and maintained ever since by Kellogg, Brown & Root. The Report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, although the U.S. military has established colossal base structures throughout the so-called arc of instability in the two-and-a-half years since 9/11.


If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases in other people's countries, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure, although it has been distinctly on the rise in recent years.


Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies. America's version of the colony is the military base. By following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever larger imperial stance and the militarism that grows with it. Militarism and imperialism are Siamese twins joined at the hip. Each thrives off the other. Already highly advanced in our country, they are both on the verge of a quantum leap that will almost surely stretch our military beyond its capabilities, bringing about fiscal insolvency and very possibly doing mortal damage to our republican institutions. The only way this is discussed in our press is via reportage on highly arcane plans for changes in basing policy and the positioning of troops abroad -- and these plans, as reported in the media, cannot be taken at face value.


In order to put our forces close to every hot spot or danger area in this newly discovered arc of instability, the Pentagon has been proposing -- this is usually called "repositioning" -- many new bases, including at least four and perhaps as many as six permanent ones in Iraq. A number of these are already under construction -- at Baghdad International Airport, Tallil air base near Nasariyah, in the western desert near the Syrian border, and at Bashur air field in the Kurdish region of the north. (This does not count the previously mentioned Anaconda, which is currently being called an "operating base," though it may very well become permanent over time.) In addition, we plan to keep under our control the whole northern quarter of Kuwait -- 1,600 square miles out of Kuwait's 6,900 square miles -- that we now use to resupply our Iraq legions and as a place for Green Zone bureaucrats to relax.

Other countries mentioned as sites for what Colin Powell calls our new "family of bases" include: In the impoverished areas of the "new" Europe -- Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria; in Asia -- Pakistan (where we already have four bases), India, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and even, unbelievably, Vietnam; in North Africa -- Morocco, Tunisia, and especially Algeria (scene of the slaughter of some 100,00 civilians since 1992, when, to quash an election, the military took over, backed by our country and France); and in West Africa -- Senegal, Ghana, Mali, and Sierra Leone (even though it has been torn by civil war since 1991). The models for all these new installations, according to Pentagon sources, are the string of bases we have built around the Persian Gulf in the last two decades in such anti-democratic autocracies as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.


By far the greatest defect in the "global cavalry" strategy, however, is that it accentuates Washington's impulse to apply irrelevant military remedies to terrorism. As the prominent British military historian, Correlli Barnett, has observed, the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq only increased the threat of al-Qaeda. From 1993 through the 9/11 assaults of 2001, there were five major al-Qaeda attacks worldwide; in the two years since then there have been seventeen such bombings, including the Istanbul suicide assaults on the British consulate and an HSBC Bank. Military operations against terrorists are not the solution. As Barnett puts it, "Rather than kicking down front doors and barging into ancient and complex societies with simple nostrums of 'freedom and democracy,' we need tactics of cunning and subtlety, based on a profound understanding of the people and cultures we are dealing with -- an understanding up till now entirely lacking in the top-level policy-makers in Washington, especially in the Pentagon."

In his notorious "long, hard slog" memo on Iraq of October 16, 2003, Defense secretary Rumsfeld wrote, "Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror." Correlli-Barnett's "metrics" indicate otherwise. But the "war on terrorism" is at best only a small part of the reason for all our military strategizing. The real reason for constructing this new ring of American bases along the equator is to expand our empire and reinforce our military domination of the world.
Johnson's article offers many more details. I recommend it to you, and I will be commenting on other aspects of Johnson's observations in the future.

I will be blunt: I submit that, considering these facts and the staggering reach of our global military power, any relatively sane person ought to be aghast that our governing class, together with almost every pundit and blogger, will look at these same facts and say only: "More, please!" But this is the inevitable result for a people who are entirely comfortable with the fact that their nation dominates the world, and of their belief that it does so by right.

And let me emphasize a point I have made before. If we had toppled Saddam and installed a compliant, basically well-functioning colonial government within a year or two, almost none of those who have been complaining so vehemently about Bush's "incompetence" and "mismanagement" of this immense catastrophe would have had any objection at all. It is not as if they have moral qualms about our wars of aggression and conquest -- so long as they are carried out "efficiently." The fact that Iraq had not attacked us and the additional fact that Iraq did not constitute a serious threat to our country would have been entirely forgotten. Even in the current debate, those facts are rarely mentioned. This is what I have referred to as "The Missing Moral Center."

We are guilty of war crimes on a huge scale, and of the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people who never harmed us. Insofar as our national debate is concerned, these overwhelmingly significant facts are unworthy of mention. The full truth is still worse: that there might be a moral objection to what we have done never occurs to most people, including most of those who criticize this administration's performance. The administration has executed the war and occupation remarkably poorly -- but that they had no right to execute it at all is the forbidden thought.

According to this worldview, we are the world's sole superpower, and we should be. We are morally entitled to dictate events around the world, and we are right to have our way. And that is the actual root of almost all the current complaints about the parlous state of Iraq: we have not successfully had our way. This failure, made before the entire world, damages our "credibility," and it lessens our influence. Such an outcome is impermissible for our governing class, and for those who support it. Moral considerations find no place in these calculations.

We have power undreamt of in world history -- but our governing elites can never have enough. Our strategy of global dominance causes untold human suffering, it severely (and probably permanently) undermines our economic well-being and causes profound economic dislocation, it increases the threats we face -- and they still can never have enough. After the Iraq catastrophe, one would think that a reassessment of this strategy would be a minimal requirement. But our elites do not agree: we must increase our military budget, and increase the size of our military -- and everyone applauds the further increase of our already immense power.

Occasionally, I have referred to the phenomenon of pathology as foreign policy. When one contemplates these facts, it is very hard to conclude that anything other than pathology is involved. Our strategy is indefensible, irrational and immensely destructive, and yet almost no one questions it. But this particular pathology is so inextricably woven into our myths about the United States and about ourselves as Americans, that we believe this is simply "the way things are," and the way things ought to be.

In the next part, I will return to some of the historic roots of our current predicament, and how we arrived at this very dangerous moment.