Isolationism vs. Militarism

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I recently
sent a note to my email list in support of Ron Paul. One of the
more thoughtful replies from a friend questioned the advisability
of withdrawing our military from bases around the world. Here's
his concern:

"I typically
don’t get involved in political discussions, but your email got
me thinking (as it intended).  I like Ron Paul, and I agree
that he seems like a nice down-to-earth kind of guy.

However, I’m
very surprised that you think that pulling out of all 700+ US bases
around the world is a good idea.  Retracting all of our forces
seems like a very isolationist policy, and I can’t see that intentionally
significantly weakening our worldwide military capability is wise. 
Further, a great deal of our intelligence is gained from operations
that are only logistically possible with those bases in place. 
Is the hope that other countries would like us more if we just went
home and left them alone?  Or is the move solely based on economic
reasons?

There are other
issues that I would also question, but this one stands out the most."

Here is a more
in-depth analysis of what a policy of withdrawal would do in actual
fact.

The Fairness
Factor

I can tell
you first-hand that the only people in other countries that like
our US military presence on their soil are the pimps, madams, and
liquor store owners near the bases. Imagine the impact a Chinese
military base a block down the street from your house would have.
Armed young foreign men, even if they were angels, are not what
we’d like in the US. Every few years the US military kills a few
foreign civilians in training accidents alone. Think of the USS
Vincennes killing over 200 Iranian civilians
, the USS Greenville
accidentally sinking
the Ehime Maru
and US Airmen recklessly
killing 20 skiers in the Italian Alps
. Imagine the outrage if
the Mexican Military killed 30 Texans in a border training exercise.
Still, the jingoist may retort "So what! We're Americans, and
I don't give a darn about fairness. The US is unique, and our government
should try to maximize our every advantage." Since this seems
to be the opinion of many Americans, let’s look at this from a US-centric
viewpoint.

Intelligence
Gathering

The vast majority
of our foreign intelligence has nothing to do with guys in uniform
stationed at bases. Information is gathered as Human Intelligence
and Signals Intelligence (HUMINT and SIGINT as the spooks call it).
HUMINT comes from “diplomats” in our embassies who are CIA operatives,
information exchange between friendly government intelligence agencies
(Mossad in Israel MI-6 in the UK, etc.), double agents, and all
the other tricks of the CIA. SIGINT, run mostly by the NSA, comes
from our spy satellites, and communications interception, warrantless
tapping of International phone calls, etc. Thinking through all
the various ways our government gathers intelligence, guys in uniform
on bases barely contribute.

Bases and people
in uniform are easily spotted, and are no deterrent to terrorist
plots. The 9/11 plot was practiced and carried out in the US, with
the FBI missing
warnings of the attack
on several occasions. Military bases
around the world did not stop that attack, or contribute in any
meaningful way to intelligence gathering to stop the attack. In
fact, military bases around the world are one of the reasons for
the attack.

Isolationism

A call for
military withdrawal is commonly and incorrectly called isolationism.
Think through what would actually happen if our troops and equipment
were packed up in 2009, and brought home. It’s just the troops and
gear coming home. Among the Americans who would remain engaged and
on the ground in foreign countries are: diplomats, ambassadors,
aid workers, volunteers, ex-pat residents, dual citizens, businessmen,
missionaries, and tourists to name just a few. In short, it’s the
Americans who are most welcome that would remain, not the ones with
tanks and M-16′s. In the absence of a military presence on their
soil, foreigners would be more welcoming of Americans.

Some will claim
“how can we ensure Americans in foreign countries would be safe
without a military presence?” First, the US military is not a police
force, nor does it have police power, or routinely carry out police
duties. The lone exception of Iraq shows why this is a bad idea.
The military is designed to destroy other military forces, not rescue
kittens, arrest drunken brawlers, or keep the peace. Second, foreign
countries have their own police that are just as functionally dysfunctional
as our own gendarmes. Third, it’s the responsibility of an individual
to make informed decisions about the relative risks of traveling
abroad, and to take precautions while traveling. It's not the responsibility
of the US government to try and protect every US citizen everywhere,
at all times.

The Real
Purpose of Military Power

No state military
in the world is poised to invade or bomb the United States. The
myth of "Forward Deployment" is a fig leaf for the true
purposes of the military overseas: protect US business interests,
the foremost being oil; coerce countries like Libya and Syria to
get with the US program, run by the neocons; distract from domestic
issues by having news-ready wars of choice, such as Yugoslavia,
Gulf War I & II, and Afghanistan.

While bases
around the world do not protect the territory or citizens of the
United States, they provide three important negative consequences.
First, they are an irritant or outright provocation to those living
in that country. The 9/11 Commission points out that our bases in
Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Holy Land, provided the ideological justification,
however misguided, for the 9/11 attacks. Second, bases abroad are
a convenient target for militants and terrorists in foreign countries.
The suicide attack on the Marines in Lebanon in 1983, the near sinking
of the USS Cole, and the Kobar
Towers
attacks were all possible because bases are conveniently
located in these countries. We were not at war with any of those
countries at the time of the attacks.

Third, our
military presence around the world negatively influences our own
foreign policy. By making a near immediate military response possible,
our politicians resort to it first, rather than as a last, defensive
resort. When the only tool you have is a hammer…. Consider that
Clinton ordered missile strikes on what turned out to be an aspirin
factory in Sudan
during the Monica Lewinsky testimony and bombed
Serbia
right after the failed impeachment trial.

Politicians
use the military to police the world, protect US business interests,
and distract from domestic issues, rather than engage in diplomacy.

The Effectiveness
of the Modern Military

Our military
is correctly assessed as being ready to fight the last war. In this
case, our military is ready to fight and win a World War II or Gulf
War I style of conflict against another state military. The military
is pretty good at blowing up tanks, planes, buildings, soldiers
in uniform, and unfortunately civilians in foreign countries. That
style of warfare is over. All the attacks I cited in the fairness
factor section were terrorist attacks. No state military would dare
challenge the United States. Instead we have entered what military
thinkers call “4th-Generation War." This is warfare by non-state
actors such as terrorists, secessionists, or ideologues against
a state. The war in Iraq continues not because the Iraqi army is
making a last stand against the United States military. Rather,
some Iraqi’s are furious over a foreign invasion, some are terrorists
who have come to harass and kill our conventional forces, and some
are fighting for control of the nascent government, eliminating
militia-style competition. In this context we not only see the failure
of war as an instrument of US policy, but the change in the terms
of victory. Perhaps the United States military hasn’t won a war
since World War II because the nature of war itself, as understood
by the people in it has changed. Read everything by the excellent
William
Lind
for more insight on this topic.

The Final
Analysis

The United
States would not be undefended if our military was withdrawn from
around the world. Exactly the opposite would happen. By having our
military here in the United States, military forces could be used
to patrol and enforce our borders, and regain their proper place
defending the United States rather than policing the world. Our
intelligence gathering capability would not suffer. Overall, the
United States would be safer, US citizens would be more welcome
abroad, and military personnel would not be needlessly placed in
harm’s way. This is hardly an isolationist policy.

The warfare
Republicans in control of the executive branch are fighting this
tooth and nail, because it would mean an end to their ability to
wage wars of choice, and carry out the Likudnick policies of the
neocons. The feckless Democrats, swept into legislative power on
the high tide of anti-war sentiment, are also fighting it. One need
only examine the cruise missile diplomacy of Bill Clinton to see
that the supposed anti-war party is just as ready to kill foreigners
and sacrifice US troops to advance their pro-big government agenda.
In the final, grand analysis, that's what all those foreign bases
amount to: the tangible reminder to the world of the United States
Government's ability to enforce its will through bombs and bullets.

As we head
into a recession that Washington is loathe to admit exists, the
Federal budget must be cut. Reductions in expensive foreign military
bases are a vital first step. Ron Paul is right, bringing the troops
home will usher in peace, liberty and prosperity.

December
22, 2007

John
Keller [send
him mail]
writes
from Atlanta, GA where he lives and works.

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