We Simply Never Talk About It
The US Has 761 Military Bases Across the Planet
When you let others spend your money, instead of you spend it yourself, you get what they pay for, in this case, a military empire. If we were to quit policing the world and let the UN do it, we’d still have our cultural dominance, if you need to feel on top about something. Go Coke, blue jeans, and rock-n-roll! We trim this long 2008 article posted at AlterNet September 8. The writer is editor of Tomdispatch.com, co-founder of the American Empire Project, and author of The End of Victory Culture.
by Tom EngelhardtThe US garrisoning of the world is so taken for granted that few Americans blink when billions go into a new base in some exotic, embattled, war-torn land. There's no discussion, no debate. Only when the Pentagon attempts to close some of the vast numbers of them scattered across this country, then the fear of lost jobs and lost income in local communities leads to headlines and hubbub. But foreign bases are a different story.
Millions of Americans know about our bases abroad firsthand. US troops, private contractors, and Defense Department civilian employees all have spent extended periods of time on at least one US base abroad. And yet our global bases stay out of the news.
According to Pentagon records there are 761 active military "sites" abroad. We still have 124 bases in Japan, up to 38 on the small island of Okinawa, and 87 in South Korea. (Of course, there were setbacks. The giant bases we built in South Vietnam were lost in 1975, and we were peaceably ejected from our major bases in the Philippines in 1992.) American bases stretch from Australia to Italy, Rumania to Qatar, Iraq to Colombia, Greenland to the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The US even garrisons the seven seas; our various fleets and our massive aircraft carriers, with 5,000-6,000 personnel aboard, are functionally floating bases.
The Pentagon continues building bases. A US missile system is slated to go into Poland and a radar system into Israel, the first American base on Israeli territory. That will mean Americans stationed in both countries and, undoubtedly, modest bases of one sort or another to go with them.
Of the 194 countries on the planet (more or less), officially 39 of them have US "facilities," large and/or small. But some bases aren't counted, either because, as in the case of Jordan, a country finds it politically preferable not to acknowledge such bases; because, as in the case of Pakistan, the American military shares bases that are officially Pakistani; or because bases in war zones, no matter how elaborate, don't count.
That 39 figure doesn't include Iraq or Afghanistan. By 2005, there were 106 American bases in Iraq, ranging from tiny outposts to mega-bases like Balad Air Base, which reputedly has a level of air traffic similar to Chicago's O'Hare International or London's Heathrow, and the ill-named Camp Victory that house tens of thousands of troops, private contractors, Defense Department civilians, have bus routes, traffic lights, PXes, and big name fast-food restaurants. Have Americans tuning in to their television news ever been able to see what these gigantic bases look like or cost?
Some of these bases are American towns on foreign soil. In Afghanistan, Bagram Air Base, previously used by the Soviets in their occupation of the country, is the largest and best known. There are, however, many more, large and small, including Kandahar Air Base, located in what was once the unofficial capital of the Taliban.
Americans may pay no attention to our overseas occupation but they do pay the bill, as taxpayers. And the rest of the world pays attention to the militaristic and punitive face that the US has presented to the world, especially during George W. Bush's two terms in office.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the neoconservatives compared us to Rome and Britain at their imperial height. It was, in the phrase of the time, a "unipolar moment". Even liberal war hawks started talking about taking up "the burden" of empire.
Financially, Americans are unlikely to be able to shoulder forever the massive role the Pentagon and successive administrations have laid out for us. Sooner or later, cutbacks will come. At last the sun will slowly begin to set on our base-world abroad.
It now seems that, rather than victory, the second superpower was just heading for the exit more slowly. The twenty-first century will prove to be the Century of Multipolarity, the Century of China, the Century of Energy, or the Century of Chaos.
Editor’s note: Rather than leave a military vacuum to be filled by other’s intervention, we could replace our bases with a strengthened UN. Beyond military might, since much of humanity, especially women and children, are ready to move on, there is another global role where Americans have led, one which we could revive: economic investments, cultural diversions, and a genuine standard for justice in foreign affairs.
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