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LQD: the elephant upon which the sun never sets

by DeAnander Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 07:32:21 PM EST

Still, it's obvious that our imperial busy beavers remain tirelessly at work -- and you could be one of them. A few other countries have the odd base or two abroad, but here's a stat to be proud of: It's estimated that 95% of all foreign bases on this planet are ours! That's no small boast. Just consider Okinawa, a Japanese island smaller than the Hawaian island of Kauai. The United States has 38 bases there that cover 19% of the island's prime real estate. That has to be a record.

If this is news to you, I'm not surprised. Here's the strange thing: We Americans garrison the globe in a way no people has ever done -- not the ancient Romans with their garrisons stretched from North Africa to distant Britain; not even the nineteenth century British with their far-flung naval coaling stations. Our garrisons around the world are our versions of "gunboat diplomacy" and colonialism all wrapped in one. They are functionally our modus operandi on the planet. Everyone out there knows about them, but few Americans are particularly aware of them.

Staggering billions, for instance, have gone into those state-of-the-art mega-bases in Iraq, and scores of smaller ones, since Baghdad fell in April 2003. They are presences, facts on the ground of the first order. No matter what anyone was saying in Washington at any moment, they spoke of permanence, of a desire to be in Iraq forever and a day; and yet the Iraq debate in the mainstream these last years has taken place almost without serious mention of them. You can turn on your TV and watch American journalists, standing somewhere in Camp Victory, report on other subjects. But when has one ever taken you on a simple tour of that mega-base?

The fact is: In Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, our garrisons regularly slip beneath the American radar. Think of it, perhaps, as a way to have our cake and eat it too. We manage to be an imperial presence on the planet without ever quite having to be reminded that we are part of an empire, an identification which rubs against the American grain.

The indefatigable Tom Engelhardt:  Advice To a Young Builder

Longish, but well worth the read.

The extraordinary thing, as he points out here, is how this enormous projection of power is invisible to the average American.  So much money is syphoned out of the US economy to pay (at nepotistic cost-plus rates) for this extravagant occupational presence, yet it remains invisible, the elephant in the livingroom apparently having somehow slipped Sauron's ring over its trunk.

"Why do they haaaate us?"  Call a friend or buy a clue...

Just out of curiosity, what fraction of the US bases are made up of the post-WWII/Cold War bases in Western Europe? Those bases are actually more or less welcome - they certainly provide a couple of million-odd jobs to Europe, and mean that much of our territorial defense can be relegated to our Imperial Overlords in Washington.

Now, from my perspective it seems only fair that if they're going to be our Imperial Overlords anyway (and given the current political situation in Europe, they are), they might as well foot the bill for defending our territory. But I sometimes wonder why Washington accepts it. It's not like our current crop of politicians would go native on them if they pulled out, after all...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 07:42:46 PM EST

Those bases are actually more or less welcome - they certainly provide a couple of million-odd jobs to Europe, and mean that much of our territorial defense can be relegated to our Imperial Overlords in Washington.

Several items there:

  • they are not welcome everywhere (see Italy, for instance. See debates on the missile defense);

  • they are often paid, to a large extent, by the local host (cf Germany);

  • I'm not sure they provide that many jobs: everything on these bases is imported from the US (as a French officer in Germany, it was eerie to see the difference between French and US bases: the French lived in the nearby towns or villages, shopped locally, employed locals in the base; the Americans lived on base, bought everything from the internal PX stores which carried only US-imported products); it's not millions in any case - maybe a few hundred locally supported by some of the spending power of the Americans.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 6th, 2007 at 04:49:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What are US forces defending us against, exactly?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Nov 6th, 2007 at 04:51:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The forces of anti-Capitalism, of course....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Nov 6th, 2007 at 06:30:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They aren't defending us from anything. It's just marking territory, like a dog pissing on a lampost. "You may think you're a sovereign nation, but actually...you're not. You exist to serve us, and if you don't, well this base could get bigger. A lot bigger. And there's nothing you can do about it {smirk} Have a nice day, y'all.

After all, what was NATO for ? To keep America in, the Russians out and Germany down.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Nov 6th, 2007 at 10:32:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The US has military bases so it can project force to spread Democracy© and Freedom©.  When you Europeans finally get Democracy© and Freedom© the job Will Be Done™ and all the forces will return home.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Nov 7th, 2007 at 12:52:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A very good friend of mine is a freelance photographer. he always used to say that dealing with US bases was bizare (pre 9/11 though so may not be the same now). If you went to UK forces bases, you were met with instant suspicion, and "No you can't photograph that, of course it's secret" and "Stand on that spot till we can get an escort to take you to someone who will interview you to see if theres a good enough reason to take the required pictures" on just about everything. However with US bases it would always be, "Yes of course you can look, we'll give you a guided tour, would you like to see our latest expensive toy? is the pilot/soldier/sailor photogenic enough to illustrate your story"?

His opinion was that sooner or later  thed US was going to get into a situation like Iraq, and then they just weren't going to understand why noone loved them. His precise quote was that they were "almost the kind of army designed to be too nice and so ends up getting the shit kicked out of them in a bar fight".

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Nov 5th, 2007 at 08:20:02 PM EST
Chalmers Johnson has made a career out of documenting the base issue. He recently published his third book on the topic: "Nemesis".

According to his count there were 737 such in 2005. I don't think this includes the ones being constructed in Iraq (estimated at four big ones and perhaps 100 smaller ones).

The base issue is complicated. In some places (like Japan) the local government has to pay the US for the base - this is the ultimate "protection" racket. In other cases the US pays. There are also the indirect transactions which include weapons purchases and grants to these countries. I'm willing to bet that when all the transfers are taken into account the US pays.

The justifications for the bases are economic (bribe local economies), to project force, to influence local politics, to provide support for military actions and institutional inertia.

There is no sign that any real reform is on the horizon. Even Rumsfeld failed at trying to change the set up. His motivation was economic, he wanted to get more bang for the buck. He was defeated by the vested interests.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Nov 6th, 2007 at 10:40:50 AM EST
I'm willing to bet that when all the transfers are taken into account the US pays.

I´m sure you´re right about the usual economic figures, but the USG can never pay for the infinite externalities:  we all pay for that.  If the USG pays money it must be because ´it´s good business´ for the milind complex, or it wouldn´t be here.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Thu Nov 8th, 2007 at 05:25:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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