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Empire in Decline, Really? The American War Machine Continues to Grow

Everything the Trump administration does is geared toward intimidation and war.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefs members of the media on Syria at the Pentagon April 13, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis briefs members of the media on Syria at the Pentagon April 13, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Last week, on July 26, the United States House of Representatives passed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which will then go on to the U.S. Senate and finally to the U.S. president. It is worthwhile to note that 139 Democrats, including the entire Democratic Party leadership, voted for this bill. This Act provides the U.S. government with $717 billion for a year’s military spending. This is $100 billion more than was spent last year (which is itself more than half of the annual Chinese military budget). No country spends money on its military like the United States. It’s not long now before the annual U.S. military budget will cross the $1 trillion mark.

"The people of Africa, Asia and Latin America do not want the United States' footprint to be placed so heavily on their soil. It is one thing to have to tolerate bases and joint exercises. It is another to allow the full weight of U.S. imperialism on one's soil."

In fact, many suggest that if the covert parts of the budget—for the CIA, for military intelligence, for the National Security Agency and for the ongoing wars—are added in, the $1 trillion threshold has already been crossed.

Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire, recently told CNBC that the United States has wasted $14 trillion over the past 30 years in its many, many wars. A modest estimate suggests that the U.S. war on Afghanistan—which is ongoing since 2001—has itself cost over $1 trillion. After all this time and money, and after all the human suffering, it is now certain that the United States, Imran Khan’s government in Pakistan and the Chinese will seek a compromise with the Taliban. Ma’s statement about “waste” should be taken very seriously. A foreign policy that sows disorder and chaos, which increases human suffering, is a waste—regardless of the benefits it might produce for the arms dealers.

Power Through the Barrel of a Gun

This week, on July 30, the United States’ military’s African Command (Africom) admitted that it was flying armed drones out of a U.S. base in Niamey, Niger’s capital. Africom’s spokesperson Samantha Reho said that the government of Niger gave the U.S. permission to do so in November 2017, and that the U.S. began to fly these armed drones in early 2018. There was no admission that the U.S. has fired any of these drones.

Very soon, these lethal drones will move from Air Base 101 in Niamey to the newly constructed Air Base 201 in Agadez. This new base is one of the largest drone bases in the world. The drones from here can travel from one end of West Africa to cover most of North Africa. Another U.S. drone base in Djibouti is able to send its lethal machines across East Africa and deep into Central Africa. In sum, with these two bases, the U.S. is able to strike targets across most of the African continent. All this with no debate in the U.S. Congress and with little care for the sensibilities of the African people.

"Peace does not define U.S. foreign policy. Everything is geared toward intimidation and war."

The question of sensibility should not be sniffed at. In late March, the government of Ghana signed a military agreement with the United States. Ghana’s military would get a paltry $20 million to train its troops, while the U.S. would get access to Ghana’s airports and to Ghana’s radio spectrum and the U.S. would be able to bring in military hardware duty-free. Eager to set up a military base in Ghana, the U.S. miscalculated the residue of anti-colonial sentiment in the country. This sentiment is the reason why the U.S. African Command is based in Stuttgart, Germany, rather than in any African country. No leader can afford to be seen to allow the United States to encroach so brazenly on the sovereignty of an African country.

It is important to underline the fact that no U.S. command headquarters is located outside Western Europe and the United States. The Southern Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in Latin America, was based in Panama from 1963 to 1997. Now it is based in Doral, Florida, having been ejected by the governments that followed the ouster of the old CIA asset Manuel Noriega. The Central Command headquarters, which monitors and directs U.S. operations in the Middle East, is located 200 miles north in Tampa, Florida. The headquarters of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees operations in Asia, is located in Hawaii. The people of Africa, Asia and Latin America do not want the United States’ footprint to be placed so heavily on their soil. It is one thing to have to tolerate bases and joint exercises. It is another to allow the full weight of U.S. imperialism on one’s soil.

Threats of One Kind or Another

There’s an old adage: if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The sheer scale of the U.S. military arsenal gives its political leaders a rush. They feel that they can intimidate the rest of the planet to suit their needs.

Peace does not define U.S. foreign policy. Everything is geared toward intimidation and war. Here’s a scanner of recent maneuvers by the Trump administration that are contrary to a policy of peacemaking.

  1. Korea. A great feat of humanity pushed the two Koreas to renew their dialogue toward a normal future. The United States has consistently attempted to spoil this process, with Trump being churlish about the good feeling between the North’s Kim Jong-un and the South’s Moon Jae-in. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a march across Southeast Asia, pushing ASEAN countries to continue to sanction North Korea despite the consensus within ASEAN to lighten the burden on the North as a way to open the road to peace. The United States indicated that North Korea is continuing with its missile program, just when senior military leaders of the North and South met at the border on July 31. These mischievous statements by the U.S. did not deter the Koreans. Lieutenant General An Ik San of North Korea and Major General Kim Do-gyun of the South continued with their dialogue. Artillery will be withdrawn from the shore of the West Sea and military exercises will cease. “The people of the North and South regard our talks as important,” said Lieutenant General An. The military leaders are committed to peace and do not want Korea to be the battlefield for U.S. aggression.
  2. Iran. On July 22, Trump woke up and wrote a tweet in all caps—“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” Threats of this kind are routine. The Iranian leadership shrugged them off. In the military spending bill that just passed the U.S. House of Representatives, there is a sentence that bears notice: “nothing in this act may be construed to authorize the use of force against Iran.” But in another part of the act, there is license for the Trump administration to pursue cyber-war against Iran, North Korea, Russia and China. The bill gives Trump carte blanche to escalate against these four countries.

These are the dramatic threats. In the shadows linger worse atrocities that have become normal. The U.S. drone base in Salak, in the north of Cameroon, houses a Rapid Intervention Battalion—a Cameroonian detachment, which has been filmed executing civilians. Last year, the Intercept reported that U.S. operatives of one kind or another had tortured prisoners at this base. There is no human rights agenda here.

Threats of the Imagination

The United States claims that it requires such a massive military and deployment in places such as Niger because of the threats not only to the U.S., but to the world. In the belt of countries that make up the Sahel region of Africa—with Niger at their center—there is a claim made by the West of the threats of al-Qaeda and other assorted groups. Many of these groups are indeed a threat to the people of the region, but many of them are also merely gangsters (al-Qaeda is largely a smuggler of cigarettes and weapons across the Sahara Desert). The real threats that have brought in the United States and France are elsewhere. It is worthwhile to make a list of these (based on my reporting from last year).

  1. China. The United States has made it clear that China’s presence in Africa is unacceptable. Unable to best China in a straightforward bid for resources and markets, the U.S. has turned to the use of force and intimidation to threaten countries to provide advantages to less supple Western firms. The ring of bases along the Sahel and downward toward South Africa is plainly to throttle China’s interests in the continent.
  2. Resources. The countries of the Sahel are home to very important resources—gold in Burkina Faso and Mali, uranium in Niger and iron ore in Mauritania as well as proven reserves of coal, cobalt, diamonds, fluorspar, manganese, platinum, rare earth minerals and a host of other minerals. European and American mining companies—with old colonial roots—are eager to protect their investments here and protect their future profits as the mining laws in this region are slowly being dissolved in favor of the large corporations.
  3. Drugs. It is now clear that South American drug smugglers, exhausted by the difficulties posed along the U.S.-Mexican border and along the U.S. coastline, have now turned toward Africa as a pathway to the United States. Large quantities of cocaine are flown into the Sahel, where they are then carted at considerable risk across the Sahara into Europe. From Europe, these drugs are shipped across the Atlantic to the United States and Canada. Drug enforcement is the task of the phalanx of troops that are now in the region.
  4. Migration. Europe has been eager to move its border from the northern edge of the Mediterranean Sea to the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. French troops and European Union funds, alongside the U.S. presence, are in operation to block the traffic of migrants who are fleeing economies destroyed by IMF-driven policies.

There is ugliness here. Tired liberal motives drift away into the shadows as the harder motivations flourish—to control and to appropriate. This is our world. But beneath this world are people who have better ideas, better dreams.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad

Vijay Prashad is the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and Chief Editor of LeftWord Books. He is a Writing Fellow and Chief Correspondent at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He writes regularly for The Hindu, Frontline, Newsclick, and BirGün.

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