The True Costs of Empire
US Taxpayers Pay the Pentagon to Occupy the Planet
In the bizarro world of Pentagon accounting, ledgers are sometimes still handwritten and $1 billion can be a rounding error. What will make Americans feel the waste? This 2012 excerpt is from TomDispatch, Dec 11.
by David VineThese days, despite the absence of a superpower rival, the Pentagon has been intent on dotting the globe with scores of relatively small “lily pad” foreign bases, while continuing to build and maintain some large bases.
How much does the United States spend each year occupying the planet with its bases and troops? How much does it spend on its global presence? Forced by Congress to account for its spending overseas, the Pentagon has put that figure at $22.1 billion a year. This doesn’t include any of the more than $118 billion spent that year on the wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.
While $22.1 billion is a considerable sum, representing about as much as the budgets for the Departments of Justice and Agriculture and about half the State Department’s 2012 budget, it turns out that even a conservative estimate of the true costs of garrisoning the globe comes to an annual total of about $170 billion. In fact, it may be considerably higher. Since the onset of “the Global War on Terror” in 2001, the total cost for our garrisoning policies, for our presence abroad, has probably reached $1.8 trillion to $2.1 trillion.
Last but certainly not least comes the real biggie: the costs of the 550 bases the U.S. built in Afghanistan, as well as the last three months of life for our bases in Iraq, which once numbered 505 before the U.S. pullout from that country (that is, the first three months of fiscal year 2012). $104.9 billion for bases and military presence in Afghanistan and other war zones.
Bases also create a different “spillover” in the financial and non-financial costs host countries bear. In 2004, for example, on top of direct “burden sharing” payments, host countries made in-kind contributions of $4.3 billion to support U.S. bases. In addition to agreeing to spend billions of dollars to move thousands of U.S. Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam, the Japanese government has paid nearly $1 billion to soundproof civilian homes near U.S. air bases on Okinawa and millions in damages for successful noise pollution lawsuits. Similarly, as base expert Mark Gillem reports, between 1992 and 2003, the Korean and U.S. governments paid $27.3 million in damages because of crimes committed by U.S. troops stationed in Korea. In a single three-year period, U.S. personnel “committed 1,246 criminal acts, from misdemeanors to felonies.”
Environmental damage pushes the financial and non-financial toll even higher. The creation of a base on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean sent all of the local Chagossian people into exile.
To adapt a famous line from President Dwight Eisenhower: every base that is built signifies in the final sense a theft.
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JJS: The US owns some of the best locations on the planet for waging war and which the US military hopes would end with the US even more thoroughly conquering foreign lands. Yet it is all so unnecessary. The greater threat to Americans is the ill-will such dominance creates, not to mention the waste which weakens the American economy.
Rather than send the US military overseas, let American music and movies and fashion go by itself. US taxpayers would be better neighbors, save a bundle, and have lots of surplus public revenue for funding a dividend to all Americans.
And while we’re at it -- that is, ending our treatment of foreigners as conquered peoples -- we could also liberate ourselves and quit taxing our productive efforts as if we American citizens were the ones who were under the thumb. What a combination that would be: freedom from wrongheaded taxation plus a Citizens Dividend in the pocket each month. Goodbye empire, hello prosperity and fairness!
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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