Imagine a foreign military base in the United States.
The European Union has developed an independent army. It maintains a strategic interest in its former colonies in the Caribbean. The dollar is weak, and the euro is strong. In exchange for canceling some of the U.S. debt owed to European countries, the EU says, “Hey, how about a spot of land on your southern coast where we can help ensure the security of the region?” The United States gives a Henny Youngman response: “Take Miami. Please.”
The U.S. public is concerned. Foreign soldiers on U.S. soil? That hasn’t happened since 1812, when the Brits burned down the White House. The U.S. government, desperate for a little debt relief, reassures the population: “They’re allies. You don’t have to worry about them. There’s been a spike of terrorist activity down there in the islands, and our European friends will be helping us defend you against the bad guys.” So the Europeans buy some cheap real estate in downtown Miami and set up shop.
The problems with this little debt-for-bases swap emerge rather quickly. Our “allies” begin behaving badly. First it’s just a couple fistfights with the locals. Then one of the EU soldiers is accused of raping a young woman. Shortly after that, an EU armored personnel carrier, on a narrow road at dusk, strikes and kills a University of Miami sophomore on his bike. The controversy over these crimes escalates when, as per the status of forces agreement, the Miami authorities hand over the suspects to the EU, which is concerned about the rather barbaric U.S. habit of executing people whether they’re guilty or innocent. Meanwhile, Miami civic groups begin accusing the EU military officials of burying toxic chemicals on base property and releasing noxious fumes into the atmosphere. People living near the compound complain about the noise from the artillery range. Then there’s the grower whose entire crop of oranges is destroyed when an EU jet fighter drops a bomb that completely misses the testing ground.
Sound implausible? That kind of stuff couldn’t happen between allies. Except that it does. And you could get a bushel of similar stories from the people of South Korea, Okinawa, the Philippines, Diego Garcia, Guam, Cuba, Djibouti, and all the other places where the United States maintains one of its 700-plus military bases around the world. Until recently, South Korea hosted a huge military base in downtown Seoul. Over the course of its military presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa, U.S. service personnel have attacked, kidnapped, abused, gang-raped or murdered over 400 women (just this month a staff sergeant was arrested and charged with raping a 14-year-old girl in Okinawa). Back in the 1990s, the U.S. Army estimated that it would cost $3 billion to clean up just the soil and groundwater pollution that the bases have caused abroad. And the United States has argued that these bases are necessary to protect not only U.S. interests but also the local people.
This week at FPIF, we debut our new strategic focus on the global U.S. military footprint – and how to shrink it. We start with Iraq, where the footprint is off the charts. As FPIF contributor Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.com explains in The Million Year War, the Bush administration has put down roots in the country. “This administration has already built its state-of-the-art mega-bases in Iraq as well as a mega-embassy, the largest on the planet,” Engelhardt writes. “Yet in April 2003, the month Baghdad fell to American forces, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld first denied that the United States was seeking ‘permanent’ bases in Iraq. Ever since then, administration officials have consistently denied that those increasingly permanent-looking mega-bases were ‘permanent.’” The Bush administration is temporary but alas, the Iraq bases are looking very suspiciously permanent.
FPIF contributor Adil Shamoo provides two explanations for Bush’s strategy of an “enduring presence” in Iraq. “One is to intimidate future Iraqi governments from daring to break the relationship with the only superpower that can threaten their very existence,” he writes in The Enduring Trap in Iraq. “The second is to intimidate anyone who wins the U.S. presidential election with the accusation of ‘cutting and running’ in Iraq.”
In some parts of the world, the United States is reducing, retrenching, repositioning. But not Africa. With the new Africa Command – AFRICOM – the United States is aiming for full continental dominance. “The Pentagon claims that AFRICOM is all about integrating coordination and ‘building partner capacity,’” write FPIF contributors Daniel Volman and Beth Tuckey in Militarizing Africa (Again). “But the new structure is really about securing oil resources, countering terrorism, and rolling back Chinese influence. Given AFRICOM’s emphasis on defense over diplomacy, resistance to the initiative is possible not only from civic movements but even the U.S. State Department.”
The expansion of U.S. basing extends to Europe as well. The United States has been twisting arms in the “new” Europe – in Rummyspeak – to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar military base in the Czech Republic. But according to FPIF contributors Joanne Landy and Thomas Harrison, it’s far from a done deal. Sixty percent of Poles and 70% of Czechs are opposed to the bases. “Resistance in Europe and elsewhere has received reinforcement from the U.S. Congress, which has hesitated to move forward with the bases,” they write in Pushing Missile Defense in Europe. “In May 2007, the Senate Armed Services Committee cut $85 million from the 2008 Defense Authorization act intended for site activation and construction work on the missile installation in Poland and radar site in the Czech Republic. The Senate committee action followed a House vote earlier in May to cut the president’s request for the anti-missile system by $160 million.”
This Wednesday, February 27, if you’re in the Washington, DC area, please join us for a protest we’re cosponsoring with the Campaign for Peace and Democracy against the proposed U.S. base in the Czech Republic. We’ll be meeting at 12:30 in front of the White House, just across from Lafayette Park. Bring your lunch, your signs, and your friends.
Welcome President Bush!
FPIF continued its coverage of President George W. Bush’s visit to Africa last week. In his sardonic contribution Welcome President Bush!, FPIF contributor Tajudeen Abdulraheem explains the difficulties of rolling out the red carpet. “The hassles of hosting a U.S. president are bad enough,” he writes. “His people take over your whole country and make our normally inefficient states go into overdrive and our egregious first ladies and their husbands go into overkill to show their hospitality.”
But the carpet is red for other reasons. As FPIF contributors Bahati Ntama Jacques and Beth Tuckey explain, the legacy that the U.S. president is leaving in Africa is a bloody one. “Bush knows that Rwanda’s involvement in the armed conflict in the DRC delays peace in eastern Congo, but he continues to authorize military aid to Rwanda,” they write in Rwanda and the War on Terror. “In 2007, the United States armed and trained Rwandan soldiers with $7.2 million from the U.S. defense program Africa Contingent Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) and $260,000 from the International Military and Education (IMET) program.”
The last stop on the trip was Liberia. As FPIF contributor Tim Newman points out in Rejecting Paternalism in Africa?, the Liberian case undercuts the president’s claim that he has boosted development on the continent. “Bush will end his trip by spending a few hours in Liberia,” Newman writes. “There he will try to cast himself in the role of the compassionate conservative who successfully intervened in Liberia’s long civil war, thus heralding in a shining new democracy led by Africa’s first democratically elected female president. In his February 14 press conference, Bush celebrated increasing private capital flows to sub-Saharan Africa. But the workers supposedly benefiting from foreign private investment in Liberia might have a different perspective.”
A New State?
Kosovo, the predominantly Albanian enclave of Serbia, declared its formal independence last week. FPIF’s Ian Williams and Stephen Zunes both support the right of the Kosovars to self-determination. But they don’t see exactly eye to eye on the issue of recognizing the new state.
In our latest strategic dialogue, Ian Williams observes in A New Kosovo that “recognition of Kosovar independence has started with the United States and most of the European Union. Most Islamic countries will probably follow suit, along with many non-aligned states. So far Belgrade has blustered and threatened to downgrade relations with the dozens of very important neighbors who will recognize Kosovo. But after the multiple defeats that Miloševic caused for Serbs, fortunately there is little appetite for military action.”
Stephen Zunes, in Kosovo and the Politics of Recognition, argues that the U.S. decision to recognize Kosovo, which President Bush announced during his Africa trip, was perhaps a bit hasty. He points to the potential for pushing Serbian toward right-wing extremism, the prospect of the Albanian minority in Macedonia pushing to join a greater Kosovo, and the encouraging of secessionist movements in the Caucasus. Finally, he notes, “the impact of Kosovo’s independence and recognition by the United States and other Western nations could also seriously worsen U.S.-Russian relations, exacerbating differences that hawks on both sides are warning could evolve into a ‘new Cold War.’”
After its recent elections, Pakistan almost qualifies as a new state. The victory of the opposition in the parliamentary elections may well herald the return of democracy to the ill-fated land. Alas, General Pervez Musharraf shows no signs of stepping aside, not when he still has America on his side. FPIF contributor Najum Mushtaq urges the United States to reconsider. “Washington should have reviewed its ill-directed, one-dimensional Pakistan policy long ago,” he writes in Letting Go of Musharraf. “Instead of persisting with the failed Musharraf option, Washington should put all its weight behind the new parliament, which represents the voice of the Pakistani people.
Breaking the Bank
The financial big boys are freaking out, reports FPIF columnist Walden Bello. George Soros and World Economic Forum host Klaus Schwab are suddenly sounding like the gravediggers of capitalism. “Skyrocketing oil prices, a falling dollar, and collapsing financial markets are the key ingredients in an economic brew that could end up in more than just an ordinary recession,” Bello writes in Capitalism in an Apocalyptic Mood. “The falling dollar and rising oil prices have been rattling the global economy for some time. But it is the dramatic implosion of financial markets that is driving the financial elite to panic.”
You might think that U.S. politicians, when confronted with an escalating economic crisis, would reach into the biggest pot of money around to help get us out of the pickle. Not so.
President Bush’s treatment of the military budget as a sacred cow is at least consistent with his conduct over the last seven years. But what about the Democrats? As FPIF contributor William Hartung explains in Dems: What about the Military Budget?, “Not only have the major presidential candidates been largely silent on these record expenditures, but they want to increase them. Barack Obama has said we will probably need to ‘bump up’ the military budget in a new administration, and both he and Hillary Clinton have committed themselves to increasing the size of the armed forces by tens of thousands of troops.”
And Now for Something Completely Different
In our second installment of poetry to celebrate the upcoming Split This Rock poetry festival, FPIF contributor Susan Tichy reflects on what we think about when we think about war. Her American Ghazals, named after the Persian poetic form, describe a landscape of pain and fear, and yet in there too is beauty and compassion.
Finally, in the Russian tradition of “laughter through tears,” we present to you the job description for a great new opening: the head of Cuba.
FPIF’s humorist Alec Dubro provides the details: “The nation of Cuba is planning a massive restructuring that may or may not actually happen. Possible outcomes: become Chinese-model, free-market police state; acquire banana republic status; enter United States as a county of Florida; limp along without direction; or make the transition to social democracy and prosperity. We want you to be part of this momentous change, or possibly stifle it.
FPIF, February 25, 2008