An Empire of Military Bases

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Jabbadabbado, Dec 21, 2010.

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  1. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    A lot of people think of the U.S. as an empire, but unlike the British, who had an empire of colonies, I've always felt challenged by the characterization of the U.S. as an empire. It feels right, but on what grounds.

    William Pfaff finally defined it for me in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs.

    The U.S. is an empire of military bases.

    They're cheaper than administering colonies, perhaps, and yet amazingly expensive. We have more than 1,000 bases worldwide, and by that measurement we're at or near the all time peak of our military empire. As everyone knows, our armed forces dwarf the militaries of all our rivals and allies put together.

    Consequently, the U.S. has come to resemble in many respects "a classical militarist state ? a society in which military and internal security demands are paramount and whose political imagination is dominated by vast threats yet to be realized."

    According to Pfaff, "This logically led to a reinforcement of the military?s role in U.S. foreign policy.
    As a consequence,
    Whether or not we "withdraw" combat troops from Iraq, the Pentagon is building what would appear to be an ?enduring? base complex there, able to serve as a center of U.S. strategic power in the region. The global U.S. base system was built to defend perceived U.S. interests abroad and to conduct global interventions (or indeed, if called on, to wage a world war). It is a system intended to deter war, but from the start, it has provided the means, the opportunity, and an incentive for U.S. military interventions in foreign countries.

    For me, this statement really sums it up:

    Without excessive exaggeration, one might say of the United States today what was once said of Prussia?that it is a state owned by its army.

    The questions I guess: does this massive empire of bases really serve America's security interests, or is it more and more the tail wagging the dog - our politics and foreign policy turned more and more toward the support and perpetuation of this massive military structure?

    And what did we get out of it?

    Between the beginning of the Cold War in Europe and the present war in Afghanistan, a period has passed that included the Korean War; the Vietnam War and the Cambodian invasion; U.S. interventions in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador (indirectly), and Somalia (in connection with a un operation, followed by sponsorship of an invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia); and two invasions of Iraq and one of Afghanistan. None except the Gulf War deserves to be called a victory.

    He left out U.S.-led NATO intervention in the Baltic states, but still.






  2. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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  3. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

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    Slightly off-topic, but couldn't we just make a "Jabbadabbado Presents The Apocalypse" thread and be done with it?
  4. SithLordDarthRichie London CR

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    Is a network of global bases really an Empire?
    An Empire surely is a controlled area, such as the UK had when it was in charge of all the countries in the Empire and the Monarch was Head of State.

    Many nations have military bases in other countries, but they don't have control over those countries, so I wouldn't say they have an Empire.
  5. Fire_Ice_Death Chosen One

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    Well, we are an empire by nature but not by name. The US dominates the countries it's in or at least bullies them into being more favorable.
  6. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Jun 29, 2000
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    That article writer is on crack if he thinks the Army posts or presence in Iraq qualify as "permanent." Yes they're large, and have alot of people on them, but I've been to the following US military posts in Iraq since I joined the Army:

    -Al Asad

    -Tikrit

    -Kirkuk

    -Baghdad

    -Ramadi

    -Fallujah

    -Balad

    None of them could by any stretch of the imagination be described as 'permanent.' They're basically collections of trailers and tents. We don't pave roads, build long-term infrastructure such as sewer systems or power stations, and we don't create permanent structures; the only actual buildings I've seen on any of them are whatever buildings were already here at the start of the war.
  7. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    This isn't an apocalypse thread, FID.

    Here are the topics.

    1. To what extent is the U.S. a militaristic society?

    dictionary definition of militarism

    1. Glorification of the ideals of a professional military class.
    2. Predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state.
    3. A policy in which military preparedness is of primary importance to a state.

    2. How well does our global system of military bases serve our national interests?

    I don't really care whether you call it an empire or not.

    db, the real point of interest is what our troop withdrawal from Iraq looks like. Who if anyone stays behind, and for how long? I'm sure there's sensitivity in Iraq about bases that look like they are built to last. But the only question that matters is how long do they actually last.
  8. shanerjedi Jedi Master

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    Mar 17, 2010
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    =D= thread Jabba. We've long had a run of around 350+ "bases" around the world.

    IMHO, we are an empire in all but name.

    Sith Lord Darth Ritchie
    Many nations have military bases in other countries, but they don't have control over those countries, so I wouldn't say they have an Empire.

    You don't need to control the area overtly to project power and influence societies. You only need a footprint, a presence, to "help" societies.

  9. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    It is an apocalypse thread of sorts, albeit thinly veiled. After all, Jabba, you see a need for cutting down US military spending because... y'all can't afford it after disaster has struck. Right? No apocalypse, no need for defense cuts.

    Me I have a different motivation for wanting the US to cut on defenses: a more independant Europe.

  10. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    It's an entirely justifiable point of view without reference to the end of western civilization.

    the U.S. is mired in debt. Contracting our military is a necessary part of balancing our budget. No responsible plan for balancing our budget and paying down our public debt can exclude deep military cuts.

    And I'm with you on a fully independent Europe. NATO is not just unnecessary but counterproductive, and an American military presence on western European soil is a sick joke at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.
  11. Mr44 VIP

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    May 21, 2002
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    I'd say that the original author is picking and choosing which points to make. As you said, he not-so-subtlety leaves out the operations in the Balkans because they represent concentrated military force applied for humanitarian grounds. El Salvador was almost completely the CIA and the state department, and not the military at all, which is the opposite of the his focus. He also leaves out examples other examples like the US's military mission to the Sinai, which was the only thing that acted as a buffer between Israel and Egypt for decades.

    One also can't use a set standard to characterize US overseas military bases. For example, the South Korean government pays the US's infrastructure costs for its bases in South Korea, so it's a very good deal for the US. Not all arrangements exist like that, as each deal is based on treaty-Germany comes to mind as an example where the arrangement is reversed. For another example, the only reason why the US has a huge base in Italy is because NATO wouldn't have any force projection if it didn't, so it requires the US to keep it. But "one size does fit all," especially if you want to make a political point.

    So, these discussions always start off with the focus on the US, but that's only a small part where the focus should be. In many ways it's a call for other nations to also shoulder a larger part of the burden, if in fact, these countries actually find fault with the arrangement.

  12. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    The article makes that point that we have an "accidental empire." Each particular base has its own unique circumstances and reason for existing. The point I think is that the net effect of all this haphazard ad hoc military buildup over the last 65 years tends to increase the power of the military over our national life and over our foreign policy, that military solutions are easy to reach for and so get used more often than might be prudent. The old if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail dilemma.

    And that nail and hammer issue isn't just a foreign policy problem. It extends deep into domestic politics. One example is the scale of any employment problem that would be created by downsizing the military. The problem of "how do we keep all these young, half-skilled young men and women gainfully employed and off the street" is just one more nail for the military's hammer. Or the challenge of creating jobs in a given state - just have our Senators land that big defense contract for our state and we'll be able to employ an additional 50,000 people for the life of the weapons system.
  13. Alpha-Red Force Ghost

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    Apr 25, 2004
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    To be honest if we're talking about Iran or North Korea, these two are some really bad eggs who need to be put in their place. Other than that, I don't think the U.S. bullies other countries around....I don't think we even have the means to bully other countries. If we get into a major spat with Italy or Turkey and they kick us out, what are we going to do, invade? No.
  14. Mr44 VIP

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    May 21, 2002
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    See, I would just about characterize it as the opposite, as since the US has "boots on the ground" in so many areas, actual military force is used quite sparingly. All things considered, the US military hasn't been involved in all that many engagements.

    Again, look at just about every single major operation, and the deterrent factor becomes quite clear. After the Korean War, the US has had a presence in South Korea for 50 years without major incident. After the 1973 War, the US has had a presence in the Sinai for at least 30 years without major incident. Germany. Okinawa. Philippines. Etc.. Even in Iraq, after the Gulf War, it tool 10 years of various strikes and general responses to end up with direct invasion.

    It's the disconnection that is more likely to breed direct military action. The stereotypical faceless firing of cruise missiles into aspirin factories and the like, or supporting 3rd parties, ala South/Central America.

    I understand and accept the disproportionate increase of the military that results from such an arrangement, and share the feeling that the US military can be reduced in certain areas, but articles like this tend to focus on the obvious examples (Look at Vietnam!") and ignore all the other political realities.
  15. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    We've been involved in 2 major wars for the better part of the last decade, and another 2-3 wars in the decade prior to that. "Sparingly" looks to me like the distorted view of a country with access to so much military power that anything short of perpetual global warfare can be characterized as restraint.
  16. Mr44 VIP

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    You're missing my point though.

    Two major wars compared to what? 5? 6? 12? If one looks at the number of nations where force/military action could be taken-from Iran to North Korea, to Rwanda, to Sudan, to Syria and onward, two wars looks practically non-existent.

    But my point is that even looking at the two wars, both occurred because of political realities, of which military force was simply a continuation of. Neither had US military bases on their soil, which would seem to be the exact opposite point of what the original author was trying to make. If one does a cost analysis, is it better to have US troops stationed in Korea, for example, if it means that Korean War II is put on indefinite hold? Even the latest tensions, which are as bad as anything in the area in the last couple of decades, seem to be mitigated by the potential costs of actually started something because of the US, and not the other way around.

    The question the author should be asking is what is the role of the UN and even NATO? No nation is going to replace the US on a one for one basis. But would North Korea still have qualms about invading the South if it were Italian troops stationed on the peninsula, which also represented NATO? Is that a concern that the international community should even waste time debating? But If 10,000 Italian troops were stationed in South Korea, and 10,000 Spanish troops were stationed in Macedonia, and 10,000 French troops were stationed in Lebanon, and the joy was spread around? It wouldn't be confused with an empire if 10,000 US troops were stationed somewhere like Okinawa. The US wouldn't solely represent the face of the UN and of NATO, and wouldn't absorb all the costs both monetary and perception based.
  17. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Sep 19, 2000
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    Your point is that the size and placement of the US army is the result of political realities? Hmmmm. Not much of a point to make.
    What do you personally think? Do you think the US army should downscale?
  18. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    Two major wars compared to what? 5? 6? 12? If one looks at the number of nations where force/military action could be taken-from Iran to North Korea, to Rwanda, to Sudan, to Syria and onward, two wars looks practically non-existent.

    Being at war for 7 out of 10 years is going to limit our options for fighting more wars in other places. We tend to fight the wars we're already in, which is possibly the determining factor for why we haven't yet waged war with Iran.

    But my point is that even looking at the two wars, both occurred because of political realities, of which military force was simply a continuation of. Neither had US military bases on their soil, which would seem to be the exact opposite point of what the original author was trying to make.

    I think the author's point is that our massive global deployment and the logistic opportunities that created is precisely what lured us into continuing our Iraq foreign policy by military means.

    If one does a cost analysis, is it better to have US troops stationed in Korea, for example, if it means that Korean War II is put on indefinite hold? Even the latest tensions, which are as bad as anything in the area in the last couple of decades, seem to be mitigated by the potential costs of actually started something because of the US, and not the other way around.

    My response would be how do we best extricate ourselves from taking responsibility for whether the Koreans fight another war. It's not our problem if we choose not to make it our problem.

    The question the author should be asking is what is the role of the UN and even NATO? No nation is going to replace the US on a one for one basis. But would North Korea still have qualms about invading the South if it were Italian troops stationed on the peninsula, which also represented NATO? Is that a concern that the international community should even waste time debating? But If 10,000 Italian troops were stationed in South Korea, and 10,000 Spanish troops were stationed in Macedonia, and 10,000 French troops were stationed in Lebanon, and the joy was spread around? It wouldn't be confused with an empire if 10,000 US troops were stationed somewhere like Okinawa. The US wouldn't solely represent the face of the UN and of NATO, and wouldn't absorb all the costs both monetary and perception based.

    Great ideas here. The U.S. gives the world fair warning of its intent to share proportionally with the size of its economy and population any agreed upon international goals of world policing. The UN then has an opportunity to take responsibility for peacekeeping in Korea in lieu of abandoning the peninsula to its fate.

  19. GrandAdmiralPelleaon Force Ghost

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    A little side note to this thread, the 20th of December was the 21 anniversary of the invasion of Panama. I noticed this, because I have quite some links with the country & aside from a spouse, also a lot of friends from there. A lot of them (surprisingly, maybe) chose to celebrate the occasion by changing their facebook status to "[expletive] USA" and "Gringos [expletive]", coupled with the reposting of this picture:

    [image=http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ad/Panama_clashes_1989.JPEG]

    with the words "Prohibido olvidar" (Forbidden to forget) or "Never forget" written underneath them.

    Actions have very real consequences that leave very real wounds, and this very much underscored this point for me. Even if you feel that the USA did the right thing, you didn't experience it - and believe me, I have friends that did - .
  20. Mr44 VIP

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    That may be true, but to what end? I would tell them that clinging to anger for anger's sake is a major problem in the world, and they should strive to move on, considering that most probably weren't born, or were just in the very early stages of life when that even happened. Even those in the US military at the time could have enlisted the year of the Panama invasion, served an entire 20 year career, and then retired from service.

    You know what also happened this month, a mere 2 weeks before the 20th? December 7th marked the 69th anniversary of the Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. How about we get those same people to change their Facebook pages to "[expletive] Japan" and "Samurais [expletive] with the words "Prohibido olvidar" (Forbidden to forget) or "Never forget" written underneath them in a show of solidarity to those wronged by war everywhere? Panama even supported the Allied cause against the Japanese during WWII through the Pan American Union, so there is a past hostility there. No one in Panama should ever buy a Japanese car for those reasons because, clearly, the current Japanese population is to blame for past grievances, and it's forbidden to forget.

    But I somehow doubt that would happen, and it wouldn't make even make sense, because those who changed their facebook page probably don't have a direct connection to the actual military action-it's just an excuse for those who are so inclined anyway. Because there's a difference between memorializing a past event and holding a grudge against the actions of the past.

    What's ironic is that the US came to the aid of the free Panamanian forces who were trying to overthrow Noriega and which requested US help. The US was initially criticized for its unwillingless to get involved and take sides. (partly because Noriega was friendly to the US up to that point, and partly because the alternative, Moises Giroldi, was viewed as a mini-Noriega.) It was after the US was slammed by Panama for abandoning it, was invasion seriously considered. The US wasn't fighting Panama, the US was fighting against the PDF forces who were still loyal to Noriega, and who were acting as a barrier against the free elections, which happened after the US removed him.
  21. SuperWatto Manager Emeritus

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    Funny you should name Japan, 44. I'd think the U.S. more or less settled that.

    [image=http://newsjunkiepost.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/hiroshima_wideweb__430x323.jpg]

    In fact, I know lyrics to an American song called 'Hiroshima' that go: "Don't you ever (expletive) forget".
  22. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    Dude, I'll tell you right now: There is no "massive US military support" in regards to the Iraqi military. I'm just shy of six months into my fourth rotation and our net responsibilities are ferrying leadership and various NGO types to places they need to go for meetings. The Iraq government *is* standing on it's own for all intents and purposes.

    The Security Agreement that was signed nearly two years ago (and I have yet to see mentioned anywhere in this forum) outlines all this.

    Security Agreement


    There has not been a combat role for US conventional forces for nearly a year and a half now.
  23. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    That's great news, db. Sounds like you can just pack up and come home.
  24. Ghost Chosen One

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    I think there are smaller and less important bases that could be closed, and actually have a chance of being closed, that you'd have more support in going after before moving focus to major sites like Iraq and Germany, Jabbadabbado. Do you have a map or list of all U.S. military bases?

    I don't think the amount of military bases we have, or how many countries they're in, makes the United States an "empire." What matters is how we use them. We shouldn't shut them all down and withdraw. You're right that military spending should be cut, but it should be cut with precision and in ways that don't harm U.S. interests. If we had a map or list of all U.S. military bases outside the country, we could then discuss why we have bases in those countries, and how expensive and important they are to our interests, what those interests are, and then we could logically analyze the costs and benefits and come to a rational decision if it's worth it to keep those specific bases open. Everything should be decided on a case-by-case study. But I do not think that even the bulk of our military spending comes from our military bases, we either doubled or tripled our military spending in the last decade, but I don't think we've set up too many new bases outside of the Middle East and Central Asia, so if you want to cut military spending maybe we should look at the other areas too?
  25. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    List of U.S. Military bases.

    The amount of GDP we devote to the military also includes the big weapons programs of dubious value, the size of our Navy.

    The military spending that I support is border defense, a strong survivable nuclear deterrent (I do support arms control treaties) and a limited ability to project power through a small number of aircraft carriers and missile launching ships and submarines.

    Anything more than that smacks of militarism and empire.
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