Fact Checking the Washington Post
by Laurence M. Vance: Suppose
don’t need to pay all this money to keep troops all over the country,
130 countries, 900 bases. But also, just think, bringing all the
troops home rather rapidly, they would be spending their money here
at home and not in Germany and Japan and South Korea, tremendous
boost to the economy." ~ Ron Paul, February 7, 2012
In a post on
February 9th at the Washington Post’s The
Fact Checker blog, which claims to give "the truth behind
the rhetoric," Glenn Kessler writes about "Ron
Paul’s Strange Claim about Bases and Troops Overseas":
by GOP presidential aspirant Ron Paul after Tuesday night’s caucuses
caught the ear of our editor. Paul’s phrasing could have left
the impression that he thinks there are 900 bases in 130 countries,
but normally he makes it clear he is talking about two different
in the GOP debate Sept. 12, Paul said: "We’re under great
threat, because we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries.
We have 900 bases around the world."
We will lay
aside Paul’s loose definition of "occupy" – which denotes
taking away a country’s sovereignty. You could also quibble with
the concept of a "base," but we’ll accept that he’s
talking about any military facility.
any facts to back up these eye-popping figures?
I never read
anything by Kessler until this piece on Ron Paul. The Fact Checker
blog says that he "has covered foreign policy, economic policy,
the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street."
In giving us
the facts to evaluate the truth of Dr. Paul’s assertions, Kessler
refers, but not by name, to two Department of Defense documents:
the annual "Base
Structure Report" dated September 30, 2011, and the quarterly
Duty Military Personnel Strengths by Regional Area and by Country,"
most recently issued on September 30, 2011.
number of foreign bases, Kessler correctly notes that "the
DOD list shows a list of 611 military facilities around the world
(not counting war zones)." However, he discounts that figure
because "only 20 are listed as ‘large sites,’ which means a
replacement value of more than $1.74 billion." He also notes
that most (549) of the DOD foreign sites are listed as being small
numbers and locations of U.S. troops in foreign countries, Kessler
correctly notes that the "Personal Strengths" document
lists "53,766 military personnel in Germany, 39,222 in Japan,
10,801 in Italy and 9,382 in the United Kingdom. That makes sense."
"But wait," he says, "most of the countries on the
list, in fact, have puny military representation." He points
out that the U.S. has only nine troops in Mali, eight in Barbados,
seven in Laos, six in Lithuania, five in Lebanon, four in Moldova,
three in Mongolia, two in Suriname and one in Gabon." Then
he says that he counts "153 countries with U.S. military personnel,
actually higher than the 130 cited by Paul." But he dismisses
both numbers by saying that "the list essentially tracks with
places where the United States has a substantial diplomatic presence.
(The United States has diplomatic relations with about 190 countries.)."
He charges Paul with "counting Marine guards and military attaches
as part of a vast expanse of U.S. military power around the globe."
And after all, "this document indicates that only 11 countries
actually house more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel."
that "Paul’s statistics barely pass the laugh test. He has
managed to turn small contingents of Marine guards into occupying
armies and waste dumps into military bases. A more accurate way
to treat this data would be to say that the United States has 20
major bases around the world, not counting the war in Afghanistan,
with major concentrations of troops in 11 countries."
As one who
is very familiar with both of the aforementioned DOD documents and
has written about these things long before Ron Paul even ran for
the Republican presidential nomination the first time, I can say
with confidence that it is Glenn Kessler and the Washington Post
that need some fact checking.
First of all,
according to the Base Structure Report, the Defense Department "manages
a global real property portfolio consisting of more than 542,000
facilities (buildings, structures, and linear structures) located
on nearly 5,000 sites worldwide covering more than 28 million
acres." Officially, as Kessler reports, there are 611 of these
facilities in 39 foreign countries (excluding war zones). But why
dismiss sites that are not "large sites"? Even small sites
can have a replacement value of up to $929 million. True, some of
the sites are not technically bases, but what about all the foreign
bases that are not on the official list?
wrote in "The
Real Reason Guantánamo Should Be Closed":
Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback,
Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis,
and one of the foremost authorities on the subject, always maintained
that the official Defense Department figures regarding overseas
military bases were too low because they "omit espionage
bases, those located in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan,
and miscellaneous facilities in places considered too sensitive
to discuss or which the Pentagon for its own reasons chooses to
exclude – e.g., Israel, Kosovo, or Jordan." Johnson estimated
the number to be closer to 1,000. We know now that he was right
about the Defense Department’s figures, for Nick Turse, author
Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives,
has recently confirmed that Johnson’s figure of 1,000 foreign
bases is actually too low. The number is really closer to 1,100.
work painstaking work on the number of foreign U.S. military bases
can be seen here,
Although Kessler acknowledges the existence of "106 U.S. military
facilities in Afghanistan," Turse has reason to believe that
the number is much greater and concludes that the military doesn’t
even know the true number:
Colonel Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for the U.S.-led International
Security Assistance Force (ISAF), told me that there were nearly
400 U.S. and coalition bases in Afghanistan, including camps,
forward operating bases, and combat outposts. He expected that
number to increase by 12 or more, he added, over the course of
I contacted ISAF’s Joint Command Public Affairs Office to follow
up. To my surprise, I was told that "there are approximately
350 forward operating bases with two major military installations,
Bagram and Kandahar airfields." Perplexed by the loss of
50 bases instead of a gain of 12, I contacted Gary Younger, a
Public Affairs Officer with the International Security Assistance
Force. "There are less than 10 NATO bases in Afghanistan,"
he wrote in an October 2010 email. "There are over 250 U.S.
bases in Afghanistan."
it seemed, the U.S. had lost up to 150 bases and I was thoroughly
confused. When I contacted the military to sort out the discrepancies
and listed the numbers I had been given – from Shanks’ 400 base
tally to the count of around 250 by Younger – I was handed off
again and again until I landed with Sergeant First Class Eric
Brown at ISAF Joint Command’s Public Affairs. "The number
of bases in Afghanistan is roughly 411," Brown wrote in a
November email, "which is a figure comprised of large base[s],
all the way down to the Combat Out Post-level." Even this,
he cautioned, wasn’t actually a full list, because "temporary
positions occupied by platoon-sized elements or less" were
way to this "final" tally, I was offered a number of
explanations – from different methods of accounting to the failure
of units in the field to provide accurate information – for the
conflicting numbers I had been given. After months of exchanging
emails and seeing the numbers swing wildly, ending up with roughly
the same count in November as I began with in January suggests
that the U.S. command isn’t keeping careful track of the number
of bases in Afghanistan. Apparently, the military simply does
not know how many bases it has in its primary theater of operations.
mentions the countries of Qatar, Pakistan, and Kuwait. Qatar is
not listed on the Base Structure Report, but contains Al-Udeid Air
Base, a billion-dollar facility where the U.S. Air Force secretly
oversees its on-going unmanned drone wars. Pakistan is also not
listed on the Base Structure Report, but U.S. drone aircraft, operating
under the auspices of both the CIA and the Air Force take off from
one or more bases in that country. And then there are the other
sites like the "covert forward operating base run by the U.S.
Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city
of Karachi," and "one or more airfields run by employees
of the private security contractor Blackwater (now renamed Xe Services)."
And Kuwait, which has one nameless site on the Base Structure Report,
has a number of U.S. military facilities.
each of the 39 "official" countries with U.S. military
bases decided to build the same number of military bases in the
United States that the United States maintained in its country?
The DOD claims 194 "sites" in Germany. Would the United
States government object if Germany insisted on occupying 194 "sites"
in the United States? How about just 94? Would the U.S. military
not object because they were just "sites" and not technically
is wrong about U.S. troops being in 153 countries. The United States
actually has troops in 148 countries and 11 territories. The last
time I gave a complete list of all the countries and territories
where the United States had troops was in my article of February
11, 2010, titled "Same
Empire, Different Emperor." If you add to the list there
the countries of Antigua, Congo (Brazzaville), and Suriname, and
subtract from the list the countries of Eritrea, Iran, and Somalia,
you will have an updated list. The current eleven territories where
U.S. are stationed are: American Samoa, Diego Garcia, Gibralter,
Greenland, Guam, Hong Kong, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico,
St. Helena, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wake Island.
But why does
Kessler use the arbitrary number of 1,000 in saying: "This
document indicates that only 11 countries actually house more than
1,000 U.S. military personnel." Does this mean that it is okay
if the United States has military personnel in a country that number
1,000 or less? And why, after giving the figures of "53,766
military personnel in Germany, 39,222 in Japan, 10,801 in Italy
and 9,382 in the United Kingdom," does Kessler remark: "That
makes sense"? What makes any sense about the United States
stationing all of these troops in Germany, Japan, Italy, and the
UK when World War II ended in 1945? What makes any sense about the
United States stationing 723 troops in Portugal, 1,205 in Belgium,
163 in Singapore, and 335 in Djibouti? How many Americans have ever
even heard of Djibouti? What makes any sense about the United States
stationing troops in 75 percent of the world’s countries? Kessler
makes much of the low figures of "nine troops in Mali, eight
in Barbados, seven in Laos, six in Lithuania, five in Lebanon, four
in Moldova, three in Mongolia, two in Suriname and one in Gabon."
But what makes any sense about any U.S. troops being in those countries?
And what makes any sense about the United States sending twenty-two
of its military personnel to Ecuador, fourteen to Guatemala, seven
to Mozambique, and six to Togo? What makes any sense about U.S.
troops being stationed anywhere overseas?
each of the 148 countries with a contingent of U.S. military personnel
decided to send an equal number of their troops to the United States?
Would the United States government and its military tolerate 1,491
troops from Turkey, 2,142 from Bahrain, and 354 from Honduras since
those are the numbers of troops the United States has in those countries?
Kessler is just plain wrong in dismissing the U.S. troop presence
in foreign countries as "places where the United States has
a substantial diplomatic presence" or "Marine guards and
military attaches." I did a major study of this back in October
2004 called "Guarding
the Empire." It has been online ever since, but rather
than doing a little research, Kessler was content to just accuse
Dr. Paul of turning "small contingents of Marine guards into
In my article
I showed beyond any doubt that the U.S. troop presence in foreign
countries cannot be blamed on Marines guarding embassies. Read the
I can’t tell you how many people have written me after I wrote something
negative about the U.S. empire of troops and bases that encircles
the globe and dismissed my research as a waste of time since, so
they said, most of the U.S. troops stationed abroad were just Marine
embassy guards. That is simply not true. I did the research and
provided a link to the research, but they were just too lazy to
click on the link. Don’t be lazy; read "Guarding
the Empire." Yes, I know it was written in 2004. Yes, I
know that some of the figures have now changed. Yes, I know that
some of the links no longer work. But my conclusions still stand:
- The United
States has an embassy in some countries, but does not have any
- The United
States has an embassy in some countries along with Army, Navy,
and/or Air Force troops, but there are no Marines listed as being
in the country.
- The United
States has an embassy in some countries with troops including
Marines, but not the minimum number of six Marines necessary for
embassy security guard duty.
- The United
States has Marines in some countries, but no embassy to guard.
And if the
United States has "diplomatic relations with about 190 countries,"
then how can Kessler say that the list of 148 countries with U.S.
troops "essentially tracks with places where the United States
has a substantial diplomatic presence"? That is a difference
of 42 countries.
gets to the real issue. The real issue has nothing to do with the
exact number of foreign bases the United States has or the exact
number of countries the United States has troops in or the exact
number of troops the United States has stationed abroad or the exact
number of foreign sites that are really bases.
The real issue
is why the United States has troops and military bases in foreign
countries in the first place. Especially since the United States
doesn’t afford other countries the same privilege.
When I first
wrote about U.S. troop presence around the globe in March 2004 in
U.S. Global Empire," I documented that the U.S. had troops
in 135 countries and 14 territories. Both numbers have only changed
slightly since then. There was no change in U.S. foreign policy
from Bush to Clinton to Bush to Obama. Just like there would have
been no change in U.S. foreign policy if John Kerry or John McCain
had been elected. Both parties are committed to a foreign policy
of aggression, intervention, and meddling. Both parties are committed
to a foreign policy of policing the world. Both parties are committed
to a foreign policy of bombing and war. Both parties are committed
to a foreign policy of empire.
Post ought to be writing about Ron Paul’s sane claim
about bases and troops overseas.
M. Vance [send him mail]
writes from central Florida. He is the author of Christianity
and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State, The
Revolution that Wasn't, and Rethinking
the Good War. His latest book is The
Quatercentenary of the King James Bible. Visit his
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