Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Imperial Presence

I was just reviewing the Defense Department's Base Structure Report for FY2010, an interesting document that provides information on US military bases, both domestic and overseas. It lists 4,337 military bases within the United States and its territories, shedding some light on why our military budget is what it is. It divides out to over 80 bases per state, excluding the territories, although some states are more blessed than others. North Dakota, for example, has one base for every 2,800 inhabitants.

In addition, there are 662 bases in foreign countries, a number that does not include bases in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many are located in Germany, Japan, and Italy — a legacy of WWII. (Hmm... just how long ago did that war end?) In Japan, the bulk of US forces are located on Okinawa, where the locals have been agitating for their removal for years. (They'd prefer their young women not be raped quite so often.) There also is a substantial military presence in South Korea, where, one supposes, our soldiers are supposed to deter a missile launched nuclear attack from the North. (Go figure.)

More interesting, at the moment, is the US presence in the Middle East. Not only do we have troops all over the northernmost third of Kuwait to support our activities in Iraq, but we are present in other Gulf nations, including some currently undergoing anti-authoritarian political movements. We have no official base in Yemen, where there is a popular movement to oust Ali Abdullah Saleh, but it no longer is a secret that the Saleh regime authorized US air strikes in Yemeni territory against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — with particular emphasis on killing radical cleric and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki. Not too far away is the 3000 acre, $11.4 million base in Oman, a country where ongoing protests against endemic corruption continue.

Bahrain hosts the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, which protects the revenues of multinational oil companies throughout the Persian Gulf area. Bahrain also is the site of growing protests by the long suffering Shi'a majority against the autocratic al-Khalifa dynasty, a Sunni monarchy with close ties to Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration, of course, is calling for the Shi'a to "compromise" with the monarchy in ways extremely reminiscent of the way Obama "compromises" with Republicans, Wall Street, and Corporate America in general — that is, by kissing ruling class ass and settling for a few token concessions.

So far, there is little sign of democracy in Egypt or Tunisia, and the State Department is showing no enthusiasm for helping it along. Stability — especially for the sake of maintaining the US Imperial Presence abroad and keeping the Palestinians in their place — must necessarily take precedence over popular sovereignty.

Anyway, the success of democracy abroad (or even the appearance of its success) might have an uncomfortable tendency to encourage democratic yearnings at home. Some say the protests in Egypt helped to inspire the protests in Wisconsin. Personally, I think the overreaching hubris of Scott Walker did far more to arouse American workers than anything done by unemployed Egyptian college graduates (or the AFL-CIO), but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

We need all the help we can get.

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