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How to Deal with America's Empire of Bases

A Modest Proposal for Garrisoned Lands

Chalmers Johnson

 by TomDispatch

The U.S. Empire of Bases -- at $102 billion a year
already the world's costliest military enterprise -- just got a good
deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State
Department will build
a new "embassy" in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be
the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost
overruns don't occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush
administration put up in Baghdad. The State Department was also
reportedly planning to buy the five-star Pearl Continental Hotel
(complete with pool) in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, to
use as a consulate and living quarters for its staff there.

Unfortunately for such plans, on June 9th Pakistani militants rammed a truck
filled with explosives into the hotel, killing 18 occupants, wounding
at least 55, and collapsing one entire wing of the structure. There has
been no news since about whether the State Department is still going
ahead with the purchase.

Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget,
even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy
-- a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American
officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their
country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled
compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers,
intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile
populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that
they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top
helicopter pads for quick get-aways.

While it may be comforting for State Department employees working in
dangerous places to know that they have some physical protection, it
must also be obvious to them, as well as the people in the countries
where they serve, that they will now be visibly part of an in-your-face
American imperial presence. We shouldn't be surprised when militants
attacking the U.S. find one of our base-like embassies, however heavily
guarded, an easier target than a large military base.

And what is being done about those military bases anyway -- now close to 800
of them dotted across the globe in other people's countries? Even as
Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over the cost of bank
bailouts, a new health plan, pollution controls, and other much needed
domestic expenditures, no one suggests that closing some of these
unpopular, expensive imperial enclaves might be a good way to save some
money.

Instead, they are evidently about to become even more expensive. On June 23rd, we learned that Kyrgyzstan, the former Central Asian Soviet Republic which, back in February 2009, announced that it was going to kick the U.S. military out of Manas Air Base (used since 2001
as a staging area for the Afghan War), has been persuaded to let us
stay. But here's the catch: In return for doing us that favor, the
annual rent Washington pays for use of the base will more than triple
from $17.4 million to $60 million, with millions
more to go into promised improvements in airport facilities and other
financial sweeteners. All this because the Obama administration, having
committed itself to a widening war in the region, is convinced it needs
this base to store and trans-ship supplies to Afghanistan.

I suspect this development will not go unnoticed in other countries
where Americans are also unpopular occupiers. For example, the
Ecuadorians have told us
to leave Manta Air Base by this November. Of course, they have their
pride to consider, not to speak of the fact that they don't like
American soldiers mucking about in Colombia and Peru. Nonetheless, they
could probably use a spot more money.

And
what about the Japanese who, for more than 57 years, have been paying
big bucks to host American bases on their soil? Recently, they reached
a deal with Washington to move some American Marines from bases on
Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam. In the process, however, they
were forced to shell out not only for the cost of the Marines' removal,
but also to build new facilities
on Guam for their arrival. Is it possible that they will now take a cue
from the government of Kyrgyzstan and just tell the Americans to get
out and pay for it themselves? Or might they at least stop funding the
same American military personnel who regularly rape Japanese women (at
the rate of about two per month) and make life miserable for whoever
lives near the 38 U.S. bases on Okinawa. This is certainly what the Okinawans have been hoping and praying for ever since we arrived in 1945.

In fact, I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit
weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now,
before it's too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go
home. I encourage this behavior because I'm convinced that the U.S.
Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country, and so -- on the
analogy of a financial bubble or a pyramid scheme -- if you're an
investor, it's better to get your money out while you still can.

This is, of course, something that has occurred to the Chinese and
other financiers of the American national debt. Only they're cashing in
quietly and slowly in order not to tank the dollar while they're still
holding onto such a bundle of them. Make no mistake, though: whether
we're being bled rapidly or slowly, we are bleeding; and hanging onto
our military empire and all the bases that go with it will ultimately
spell the end of the United States as we know it.

Count on this, future generations of Americans traveling abroad decades
from now won't find the landscape dotted with near-billion-dollar
"embassies."


© 2021 TomDispatch.com
Chalmers Johnson

Chalmers Johnson

Chalmers Johnson was the author of "Blowback "(2000), "The Sorrows of Empire" (2004), and "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic" (2006), and "Revolutionary Change" (1982).  His final book was "Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope" (2010). He died on November 20, 2010 at age 79.

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