Why All the Foreign Bases?

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On May 14,
2005 the Associated Press reported Bulgaria’s announcement that
it would provide three new military bases to the US. General James
Jones, the top commander of US and NATO troops in Europe, said that
he would propose to the US Congress “four or five Bulgarian military
facilities for use by US forces.” More recently, the US announced
plans for new bases in Romania.

Why
does the US need new military bases in Bulgaria and Romania? According
to Chalmers Johnson, in his book “The Sorrows of Empire,” America
already possesses more than 725 overseas bases. This incredible
estimate comes from two official sources: The Department of Defense’s
“Base Structure Report,” and “Worldwide Manpower Distribution by
Geographical Area.” Johnson claims that the figure is actually an
underestimate, because many bases are “secret” or otherwise not
listed on official books. As an example, Johnson quotes several
sources who cite at least six US installations in Israel which are
either operating or are under construction.

During
the Cold War, it was argued that the US needed forward basing in
strategic areas of the world to counter the Soviet position, and
contain Soviet expansion. But the US continues to aggressively pursue
more bases in far-flung areas of the globe, despite the fact that
the Cold War has been over for more than a decade. American officials
have explained that the new bases in Bulgaria and Romania are part
of a broader US strategy of shifting troops based in Western Europe
further east. In other words, now that the Soviet Union has collapsed,
America is aggressively expanding into its former sphere of influence
by recruiting former Soviet satellites into NATO, and garrisoning
them with bases and troops. In fact, since 9/11 alone the US has
acquired at least 14 new bases in Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan,
the Persian Gulf, and Pakistan, and was evicted from a recently
procured base in Uzbekistan. This figure does not include the newly-announced
Bulgarian and Romanian bases. Are we to believe that the US needs
more military bases worldwide — not less — now that the Cold War
is over?

Apparently
so. Thomas Donnelly, an archetype neoconservative militarist, recently
published a pamphlet entitled “The Military We Need,” available
at http://www.aei.org/books/. Among other things, he argues for
the creation of “new networks of overseas bases,” and a “semipermanent
ring of ‘frontier forts’ along the American security perimeter from
West Africa to East Asia.” In Counterpunch, Winslow T. Wheeler quoted
Donnelly at a speech before the neoconservative American Enterprise
Institute as saying the US “homeland” includes the area defined
in the Monroe Doctrine. In Donnelly’s mind, the US has apparently
already annexed the Caribbean and Central America.

Since
the end of the Cold War, the US has acquired a plethora of new bases
throughout the Persian Gulf. Some observers believe that these bases
were obtained to “secure” a strategic commodity — oil. While oil
security was certainly a main concern of the first Gulf War, US
bases in the Middle East are actually generating the very insecurity
— in the forms of terrorism and insurgency — that they supposedly
exist to combat. Certainly, there were no terrorist or insurgent
attacks on Iraqi oil facilities before that country was invaded,
occupied, and garrisoned with US bases and troops. Furthermore,
Bin Laden cited US military occupation of Saudi Arabia as a key
reason for Al-Qaida attacks against US interests. Another problem
with the “oil security” thesis is that America only had two permanent
bases (both naval) operating in the entire region during the Cold
War, when the Middle East faced the threat of invasion by the Soviet
Union — one in Bahrain, and the other on the Indian Ocean island
of Diego Garcia, 3340 miles from Baghdad.

The
invasion and occupation of Iraq is, of course, another explanation
offered for the buildup of US bases in the region. The question
then becomes why the war was necessary in the first place. One answer
is that the US seeks dominance over the few “rogue states” in the
area who refuse to follow dictates from Washington. Before the second
Gulf War began, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman
wrote “Why does the administration seem unconcerned about an exit
strategy from Iraq once Saddam is toppled? Because we won’t be leaving.
Having conquered Iraq, the United States will create permanent military
bases in that country from which to dominate the Middle East, including
neighboring Iran.” The bases Bookman portended have already been
built, and Iran now faces a likely referral to the UN Security Council.

The
invasion of Iraq wasn’t the first occasion for US imperialism in
the region. In 1963, the CIA backed a Ba’athist coup in Iraq which
resulted in the assassination of then Prime Minister Abdel-Karim
Kassem and many others on a CIA-supplied hit list. These actions
paved the way for Ba’ath loyalist Saddam Hussein to assume direct
dictatorship of the country by 1979. By the early 1980′s, the US
had restored full diplomatic relations with Iraq, and was providing
assistance to Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran. This assistance
included, but was not limited to, intelligence information, monetary
loans, weapons and munitions grants and sales (including helicopters
which were used to launch gas attacks on Kurds), and weapons-grade
Anthrax bacterial cultures. Current and former Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein personally
on at least two occasions during this period.

In
1953, the CIA under Eisenhower backed a successful coup in Iran
which overthrew the constitutionally and democratically elected
Mohammad Mossadeq — who had nationalized British oil interests —
and installed an American puppet, shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, or
the “Shah of Iran.” Upon taking power, the Shah awarded American
and British oil companies a 40% stake each in a new oil consortium
with the rights to pump Iranian oil. To protect their puppet, and
repress all dissent, the CIA assisted the shah in the creation of
the brutal SAVAK — a secret police force with unlimited censorship,
surveillance, arrest, and detention powers. Under the shah’s reign,
SAVAK operated secret prisons, institutionalized torture, and murdered
thousands of political prisoners. Iran remained a US-sponsored totalitarian
terror-state ruled by an American puppet until the overthrow of
the shah in 1979 and the ushering in of an Islamic fundamentalist
regime under the Ayatollah Khomeini.

But
US interests in the region are not limited to oil dominance or political
control. It is no secret that a cabal of prominent neoconservatives
operating at very high levels within the George W. Bush regime,
but also within the Pentagon, various quasi-governmental boards,
think tanks, special interest groups, and political magazines, long
lobbied for the US to invade Iraq and remake the entire Middle East
over to suit Israel. These neoconservatives share a passionate attachment
to the Jewish state, and some have close connections to the Likud
party and Israeli leaders such as Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.
The neoconservative agenda for Iraq was made abundantly clear in
various letters to the president and congressional leaders, as well
as books, articles, position papers, reports, and other publications
written years before 9/11. For instance, in July 1996, neoconservatives
Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, and others wrote a
position paper for Benjamin Netanyahu entitled “A Clean Break: A
New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” Among other things, the paper
advocated regime change in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. And in
a September 2000 report entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses:
Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century,” the neoconservative
Project for the New American Century wrote that they were waiting
for a “catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”
to provide an excuse to execute their agenda. The two disasters
which afforded them their opportunity were the election of George
W. Bush and the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

But
the involvement of neoconservatives in the decision to invade Iraq
is already well-known and well-documented, and a comprehensive analysis
is far beyond the scope of this article. The point is simply to
illustrate that, whatever the motives for the second Gulf War and
virulent spread of US bases in the region — domination of oil, subjugation
and control of “rogue states,” furthering Israeli interests, or
“spreading democracy” for that matter — these are imperial motives
for imperial actions.

In
addition to building new bases, the US also continues to maintain
old bases and security guarantees throughout the world. Bases in
South Korea, half a world away, were built during the Cold War ostensibly
to defend that nation against attack by North Korea. This was part
of a broader effort to “contain communism” and stop the fulfillment
of the “domino theory.” But the bases and troops remain despite
the fact that the Cold War is over and communism is a dying ideology.
In fact, the US has recently taken a more aggressive posture towards
North Korea, indicting it as a member of an “axis of evil."

Interestingly,
while the US is building new bases overseas, it is closing bases
domestically. No overseas bases are slated for closure by the 2005
Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Because private defense
contractors like Halliburton source foreign labor when performing
overseas base support, the US is now, in effect, outsourcing defense-related
jobs.

There
is no great mystery regarding the US garrisoning of east and central
Asia, Japan, Eastern and Western Europe, Cuba, the Persian Gulf,
and many other areas of the globe with hundreds of military bases.
The truth of the matter is that America, “the world’s only remaining
superpower,” is actually the world’s only remaining global empire.
And as all empires do, it will continue to expand until it is deterred
by a rival power, or until it bankrupts the “homeland” with imperial
overstretch and wars. Indeed, the very term “homeland” itself implies
that there must be an associated “away land” component. This “away
land” is the US empire abroad.

Is
America really an empire? Empires have taken many forms throughout
history. Empires based on one extreme — the Roman model for instance
— built their empires through outright annexation of conquered territories.
The English, French, Dutch, and Spanish based their empires upon
the institution of colonization. Dr. Ivan Eland, in his book “The
Empire has no Clothes: US Foreign Policy Exposed,” has concluded
that, structurally, the American empire is modeled on another extreme
— that of the ancient Greek city-state Sparta. Sparta did not conquer
and annex other peoples, with the exception of the Helots. Rather,
it used its superior military prowess to dominate allied oligarchic
factions through its military alliance, the Peloponnesian League.
Sparta’s de facto control over the foreign policy of the Peloponnesian
League gave it effective control over the foreign policies of the
city-states comprising the alliance. Sparta demanded that the city-states
within its orbit maintain their oligarchic form of government, and
it reserved the right to impose this restriction by force. But Sparta
did not micromanage the domestic affairs of its alliance members
on a day-to-day basis. In this regard, the Spartan model of empire
is one of “looser control” over states comprising an empire.

Like
Sparta, the US has de facto control over the foreign policy of its
military alliance, NATO. And presumably, the US would not allow
an objectionable form of government to take power in a key strategic
ally. In fact, the US has sought to instigate or prevent regime
change in many states it has wanted to control, whether strategic
or non-strategic, allied or non-allied. Examples include Afghanistan,
Cambodia, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Greece, Grenada,
Guam, Guatemala, Haiti, Hawaii, Honduras, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq,
Korea, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Philippines, Samoa, Serbia, Spain,
Taiwan, Venezuela, and Vietnam, among others.

But
while the US empire resembles Sparta structurally, Eland points
out that in its offensive orientation it more closely resembles
Athens. Sparta was a defensive, status-quo power that did not seek
to enlarge, control non-strategic non-allied states, or remake the
world in its image. Athens did. Coincidentally, Athenians believed
their divine calling in life was to “spread democracy.”

The
US has also employed other models in building empire. After the
Spanish-American war, Hawaii, the Panama Canal Zone, Puerto Rico,
and Guam were annexed outright, and the Philippines were subjected
to an American form of colonial rule not unlike that employed by
European colonial powers at the time. The advent of the Cold War
hailed the superpower practice of spawning satellites and client
states. The American empire really represents a conglomeration of
different approaches to empire building.

In
a sense, the American empire is worldwide. The US dollar, as the
world’s reserve currency, allows the US to tax other countries by
issuing depreciating pieces of paper in exchange for real goods
and services. Rome imposed a comparable form of taxation by debasing
its gold and silver coinage.

There
are two imperial schools of thought operating within the American
empire. The old globalist, Woodrow Wilson, New World Order Establishment,
consisting of both Democrats and Republicans, prefers to disguise
the iron fist of empire beneath a soft velvet glove of multilateralism,
alliances, the UN, and humanitarianism. The new neoconservative
imperialists — comprised of Republicans — care little for disguises,
subtleties, pretenses, and diplomatic niceties. While not direct
descendants, they are more similar in style to the unabashed Theodore
Roosevelt school of imperialism. They prefer a more unilateral approach
to empire, brandishing a naked iron fist devoid of any velvet glove.
Because they are unapologetic hawks — chicken hawks in fact, as
they use other people to fight their wars for them while they stack
up deferments — neoconservative imperialists seem to relish the
thought of using imperial power with a little more glee than their
Wilsonian counterparts. Within the Republican party at least, and
for the time being, the neoconservatives are waxing and ascendant,
and the old Wilsonian Establishment is waning. But it is important
to recognize that the differences between the two factions are differences
of order, rather than kind. There is no anti-imperial constituency
of any remote political significance operating within the American
empire.

But
the mystery of American empire is a lesser conundrum to contemplate.
The greater mystery is why Americans have never questioned the fact
that their republic has become an empire. Americans, as a people,
seem to be quite uniquely ignorant in this regard, as every other
empire in the annals of recorded human history was known to be an
empire by its own citizens. Thus it would seem that Americans have
earned quite a historical distinction for themselves, happily munching
away on fast food while watching the latest reality TV shows, completely
oblivious to the world around them and to their complicity in their
own destruction.

March
17, 2006

Samuel
L. Baker [send him mail]
is a Computer Engineering graduate of Auburn University. He currently
works as a freelance political analyst and commentator.

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