FROM THE ARCHIVES OF TOMDISPATCH: AMERICA’S EMPIRE OF BASES

Aug 12, 2015 by

 

By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch  VIA TRUTHDIG

The U.S. Army / CC BY 2.0

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Introduction by Nick Turse.

There’s a secret world out beyond the horizon, a world of austere airstrips and shadowy commandos, a world of screens filled by streaming full-motion video of armed young men in the backlands of the planet, a world of musty storage depots and warehouses, pallets and fuel drums just waiting for sailors and soldiers and airmen to come calling. It’s the American “baseworld,” a huge but hidden network of far-flung outposts and tucked-away compounds stretching from North America to the Middle East, Asia to Africa. If you follow the subject, you may not be surprised by some of the sites now mentioned in connection with this empire of bases, like Romania, where a major U.S. military transit hub became fully operational last year; Senegal and Ghana, where the Marine Corps recently established “cooperative security locations”; and Bashur airfield in Iraqi Kurdistan, which was reportedly being turned into a training site for the fight against the Islamic State in 2014. You might, however, be surprised to learn that plans for each of these locales were mentioned more than a decade ago in an article by the late Chalmers Johnson.

After an ideological shift that took him from diehard Cold Warrior to anguished patriot and critic of American militarism, Johnson got in the habit of being ahead of the curve. If you had, for instance, read his groundbreaking book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire when it was published, you wouldn’t have been shocked when September 11, 2001, rolled around. His 2004 article “America’s Empire of Bases” shares the same profound prescience. Some, perhaps most, articles go stale days or weeks after they’re published. (Some even expire before they hit the printed page or webpage.) But only now—nearly five years after his death—are we finally catching up to one of TomDispatch’s greatest oracles and most eloquent writers.

Johnson followed up Blowback—which became a post-9/11 bestseller—with his book-length exploration of America’s “empire of bases” (as he called it) and its consequences in The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, before completing his trilogy with a magisterial study of imperial overstretch: Nemesis, The Last Days of the American Republic. All these years later, his books still have the power to shine a bright light into the darkened corners of American militarism. Today, TomDispatch is pleased to whet your appetite for reading (or re-reading) them with “America’s Empire of Bases,” an article, originally published on January 15, 2004, that—given America’s dedication to maintaining a massive global network of military outposts—will remain relevant for many years to come. Nick Turse

By Chalmers Johnson

As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize—or do not want to recognize—that the United States dominates the world through its military power. Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire—an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can’t begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.

Our military deploys well over half a million soldiers, spies, technicians, teachers, dependents, and civilian contractors in other nations. To dominate the oceans and seas of the world, we are creating some thirteen naval task forces built around aircraft carriers whose names sum up our martial heritage—Kitty Hawk, Constellation, Enterprise, John F. Kennedy, Nimitz, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Carl Vinson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John C. Stennis, Harry S. Truman, and Ronald Reagan. We operate numerous secret bases outside our territory to monitor what the people of the world, including our own citizens, are saying, faxing, or e-mailing to one another.

Our installations abroad bring profits to civilian industries, which design and manufacture weapons for the armed forces or, like the now well-publicized Kellogg, Brown & Root company, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation of Houston, undertake contract services to build and maintain our far-flung outposts. One task of such contractors is to keep uniformed members of the imperium housed in comfortable quarters, well fed, amused, and supplied with enjoyable, affordable vacation facilities. Whole sectors of the American economy have come to rely on the military for sales. On the eve of our second war on Iraq, for example, while the Defense Department was ordering up an extra ration of cruise missiles and depleted-uranium armor-piercing tank shells, it also acquired 273,000 bottles of Native Tan sunblock, almost triple its 1999 order and undoubtedly a boon to the supplier, Control Supply Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its subcontractor, Sun Fun Products of Daytona Beach, Florida.

At Least Seven Hundred Foreign Bases

It’s not easy to assess the size or exact value of our empire of bases. Official records on these subjects are misleading, although instructive. According to the Defense Department’s annual “Base Structure Report” for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and has another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories. Pentagon bureaucrats calculate that it would require at least $113.2 billion to replace just the foreign bases—surely far too low a figure but still larger than the gross domestic product of most countries—and an estimated $591.5 billion to replace all of them. The military high command deploys to our overseas bases some 253,288 uniformed personnel, plus an equal number of dependents and Department of Defense civilian officials, and employs an additional 44,446 locally hired foreigners.  The Pentagon claims that these bases contain 44,870 barracks, hangars, hospitals, and other buildings, which it owns, and that it leases 4,844 more.

These numbers, although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2003 Base Status Report fails to mention, for instance, any garrisons in Kosovo—even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel, built in 1999 and maintained ever since by Kellogg, Brown & Root. The Report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, although the U.S. military has established colossal base structures throughout the so-called arc of instability in the two-and-a-half years since 9/11.

For Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan, which has been an American military colony for the past 58 years, the report deceptively lists only one Marine base, Camp Butler, when in fact Okinawa “hosts” ten Marine Corps bases, including Marine Corps Air Station Futenma occupying 1,186 acres in the center of that modest-sized island’s second largest city. (Manhattan’s Central Park, by contrast, is only 843 acres.) The Pentagon similarly fails to note all of the $5-billion-worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases in other people’s countries, but no one—possibly not even the Pentagon—knows the exact number for sure, although it has been distinctly on the rise in recent years.

For their occupants, these are not unpleasant places to live and work. Military service today, which is voluntary, bears almost no relation to the duties of a soldier during World War II or the Korean or Vietnamese wars. Most chores like laundry, KP (“kitchen police”), mail call, and cleaning latrines have been subcontracted to private military companies like Kellogg, Brown & Root, DynCorp, and the Vinnell Corporation. Fully one-third of the funds recently appropriated for the war in Iraq (about $30 billion), for instance, are going into private American hands for exactly such services. Where possible, everything is done to make daily existence seem like a Hollywood version of life at home. According to the Washington Post, in Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, waiters in white shirts, black pants, and black bow ties serve dinner to the officers of the 82nd Airborne Division in their heavily guarded compound, and the first Burger King has already gone up inside the enormous

These numbers, although staggeringly large, do not begin to cover all the actual bases we occupy globally. The 2003 Base Status Report fails to mention, for instance, any garrisons in Kosovo—even though it is the site of the huge Camp Bondsteel, built in 1999 and maintained ever since by Kellogg, Brown & Root. The Report similarly omits bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, although the U.S. military has established colossal base structures throughout the so-called arc of instability in the two-and-a-half years since 9/11.

For Okinawa, the southernmost island of Japan, which has been an American military colony for the past 58 years, the report deceptively lists only one Marine base, Camp Butler, when in fact Okinawa “hosts” ten Marine Corps bases, including Marine Corps Air Station Futenma occupying 1,186 acres in the center of that modest-sized island’s second largest city. (Manhattan’s Central Park, by contrast, is only 843 acres.) The Pentagon similarly fails to note all of the $5-billion-worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases in other people’s countries, but no one—possibly not even the Pentagon—knows the exact number for sure, although it has been distinctly on the rise in recent years.

For their occupants, these are not unpleasant places to live and work. Military service today, which is voluntary, bears almost no relation to the duties of a soldier during World War II or the Korean or Vietnamese wars. Most chores like laundry, KP (“kitchen police”), mail call, and cleaning latrines have been subcontracted to private military companies like Kellogg, Brown & Root, DynCorp, and the Vinnell Corporation. Fully one-third of the funds recently appropriated for the war in Iraq (about $30 billion), for instance, are going into private American hands for exactly such services. Where possible, everything is done to make daily existence seem like a Hollywood version of life at home. According to the Washington Post, in Fallujah, just west of Baghdad, waiters in white shirts, black pants, and black bow ties serve dinner to the officers of the 82nd Airborne Division in their heavily guarded compound, and the first Burger King has already gone up inside the enormous military base we’ve established at Baghdad International Airport.

Some of these bases are so gigantic they require as many as nine internal bus routes for soldiers and civilian contractors to get around inside the earthen berms and concertina wire. That’s the case at Camp Anaconda, headquarters of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, whose job is to police some 1,500 square miles of Iraq north of Baghdad, from Samarra to Taji. Anaconda occupies 25 square kilometers and will ultimately house as many as 20,000 troops. Despite extensive security precautions, the base has frequently come under mortar attack, notably on the Fourth of July, 2003, just as Arnold Schwarzenegger was chatting up our wounded at the local field hospital.

The military prefers bases that resemble small fundamentalist towns in the Bible Belt rather than the big population centers of the United States.  For example, even though more than 100,000 women live on our overseas bases—including women in the services, spouses, and relatives of military personnel—obtaining an abortion at a local military hospital is prohibited. Since there are some 14,000 sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults each year in the military, women who become pregnant overseas and want an abortion have no choice but to try the local economy, which cannot be either easy or pleasant in Baghdad or other parts of our empire these days.

Our armed missionaries live in a closed-off, self-contained world serviced by its own airline—the Air Mobility Command, with its fleet of long-range C-17 Globemasters, C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters, KC-135 Stratotankers, KC-10 Extenders, and C-9 Nightingales that link our far-flung outposts from Greenland to Australia. For generals and admirals, the military provides seventy-one Learjets, thirteen Gulfstream IIIs, and seventeen Cessna Citation luxury jets to fly them to such spots as the armed forces’ ski and vacation center at Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps or to any of the 234 military golf courses the Pentagon operates worldwide. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld flies around in his own personal Boeing 757, called a C-32A in the Air Force.

Our “Footprint” on the World

Of all the insensitive, if graphic, metaphors we’ve allowed into our vocabulary, none quite equals “footprint” to describe the military impact of our empire. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and senior members of the Senate’s Military Construction Subcommittee such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are apparently incapable of completing a sentence without using it. Establishing a more impressive footprint has now become part of the new justification for a major enlargement of our empire—and an announced repositioning of our bases and forces abroad—in the wake of our conquest of Iraq. The man in charge of this project is Andy Hoehn, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy. He and his colleagues are supposed to draw up plans to implement President Bush’s preventive war strategy against “rogue states,” “bad guys,” and “evil-doers.” They have identified something they call the “arc of instability,” which is said to run from the Andean region of South America (read: Colombia) through North Africa and then sweeps across the Middle East to the Philippines and Indonesia. This is, of course, more or less identical with what used to be called the Third World—and perhaps no less crucially it covers the world’s key oil reserves. Hoehn contends, “When you overlay our footprint onto that, we don’t look particularly well-positioned to deal with the problems we’re now going to confront.”

Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies.  America’s version of the colony is the military base.  By following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever larger imperial stance and the militarism that grows with it. Militarism and imperialism are Siamese twins joined at the hip. Each thrives off the other. Already highly advanced in our country, they are both on the verge of a quantum leap that will almost surely stretch our military beyond its capabilities, bringing about fiscal insolvency and very possibly doing mortal damage to our republican institutions. The only way this is discussed in our press is via reportage on highly arcane plans for changes in basing policy and the positioning of troops abroad—and these plans, as reported in the media, cannot be taken at face value.

Marine Brigadier General Mastin Robeson, commanding our 1,800 troops occupying the old French Foreign Legion base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti at the entrance to the Red Sea, claims that in order to put “preventive war” into action, we require a “global presence,” by which he means gaining hegemony over any place that is not already under our thumb. According to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, the idea is to create “a global cavalry” that can ride in from “frontier stockades” and shoot up the “bad guys” as soon as we get some intelligence on them.

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military base we’ve established at Baghdad International Airport.

Some of these bases are so gigantic they require as many as nine internal bus routes for soldiers and civilian contractors to get around inside the earthen berms and concertina wire. That’s the case at Camp Anaconda, headquarters of the 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, whose job is to police some 1,500 square miles of Iraq north of Baghdad, from Samarra to Taji. Anaconda occupies 25 square kilometers and will ultimately house as many as 20,000 troops. Despite extensive security precautions, the base has frequently come under mortar attack, notably on the Fourth of July, 2003, just as Arnold Schwarzenegger was chatting up our wounded at the local field hospital

The military prefers bases that resemble small fundamentalist towns in the Bible Belt rather than the big population centers of the United States.  For example, even though more than 100,000 women live on our overseas bases—including women in the services, spouses, and relatives of military personnel—obtaining an abortion at a local military hospital is prohibited. Since there are some 14,000 sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults each year in the military, women who become pregnant overseas and want an abortion have no choice but to try the local economy, which cannot be either easy or pleasant in Baghdad or other parts of our empire these days.

Our armed missionaries live in a closed-off, self-contained world serviced by its own airline—the Air Mobility Command, with its fleet of long-range C-17 Globemasters, C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters, KC-135 Stratotankers, KC-10 Extenders, and C-9 Nightingales that link our far-flung outposts from Greenland to Australia. For generals and admirals, the military provides seventy-one Learjets, thirteen Gulfstream IIIs, and seventeen Cessna Citation luxury jets to fly them to such spots as the armed forces’ ski and vacation center at Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps or to any of the 234 military golf courses the Pentagon operates worldwide. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld flies around in his own personal Boeing 757, called a C-32A in the Air Force.

Our “Footprint” on the World

Of all the insensitive, if graphic, metaphors we’ve allowed into our vocabulary, none quite equals “footprint” to describe the military impact of our empire. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and senior members of the Senate’s Military Construction Subcommittee such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are apparently incapable of completing a sentence without using it. Establishing a more impressive footprint has now become part of the new justification for a major enlargement of our empire—and an announced repositioning of our bases and forces abroad—in the wake of our conquest of Iraq. The man in charge of this project is Andy Hoehn, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy. He and his colleagues are supposed to draw up plans to implement President Bush’s preventive war strategy against “rogue states,” “bad guys,” and “evil-doers.” They have identified something they call the “arc of instability,” which is said to run from the Andean region of South America (read: Colombia) through North Africa and then sweeps across the Middle East to the Philippines and Indonesia. This is, of course, more or less identical with what used to be called the Third World—and perhaps no less crucially it covers the world’s key oil reserves. Hoehn contends, “When you overlay our footprint onto that, we don’t look particularly well-positioned to deal with the problems we’re now going to confront.”

Once upon a time, you could trace the spread of imperialism by counting up colonies.  America’s version of the colony is the military base.  By following the changing politics of global basing, one can learn much about our ever larger imperial stance and the militarism that grows with it. Militarism and imperialism are Siamese twins joined at the hip. Each thrives off the other. Already highly advanced in our country, they are both on the verge of a quantum leap that will almost surely stretch our military beyond its capabilities, bringing about fiscal insolvency and very possibly doing mortal damage to our republican institutions. The only way this is discussed in our press is via reportage on highly arcane plans for changes in basing policy and the positioning of troops abroad—and these plans, as reported in the media, cannot be taken at face value.

Marine Brigadier General Mastin Robeson, commanding our 1,800 troops occupying the old French Foreign Legion base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti at the entrance to the Red Sea, claims that in order to put “preventive war” into action, we require a “global presence,” by which he means gaining hegemony over any place that is not already under our thumb. According to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, the idea is to create “a global cavalry” that can ride in from “frontier stockades” and shoot up the “bad guys” as soon as we get some intelligence on them.

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