The Question No U.S. Official
[Closing U.S. Military Bases]
by William Pfaff
www.truthdig.com/, January 7,
It is time to ask a question that virtually no one in an official
or political position in the United States is willing to contemplate
asking. For a person in a responsible public position to pose
this question would be to risk exclusion from the realm of "serious"
policy discussion. It could be, as they say in the bureaucracies,
"a career destroyer."
It would be like declaring that after long analysis you had come
to the conclusion that the world is indeed flat, and not round.
A round earth is merely an illusion, which everyone has accepted,
and adapted to-and fears challenging.
My question is the following. Has it been a terrible, and by now
all but irreversible, error for the United States to have built
a system of more than 700 military bases and stations girdling
the world? Does it provoke war rather than provide security?
Each of six world regions now has a separate U.S. commander with
his staff and intelligence, planning and potential operational
capabilities. Central Command, based in Florida, currently is
responsible for America's Middle Eastern and Central Asian wars.
The other five commands-Atlantic, Pacific, Southern (for Latin
America), Africa and Europe-oversee in detail what goes on in
their assigned portions of the world, generating analyses, appreciations,
and scenarios of possible reactions to a myriad of perceived or
possible threats to the United States.
Each commander also makes contact with regional government military
forces, so far as possible, cultivating good relations, professional
exchanges and training. Each promotes training missions to the
U.S. and military aid, and supports equipment purchases.
Each regional commander controls "main
operating bases" abroad, which in turn support fully manned
"forward operating sites," usually including permanently
stationed American forces and an air base.
Beyond them, "cooperative security
locations" are established, shared with the forces of allies
The hegemonic implications and intention
of all this, which provides the military structure from which
to conduct global interventions (or indeed a third world war),
are readily acknowledged in Washington, and motivated by what
Washington considers internationally valid and constructive reasons.
The unthinkable question with which I
began this article was whether all of this has been a ghastly
mistake. Many Americans question or oppose this system, but ordinarily
with anti-militarist motives, or because they see it as imperialist,
or part of an interventionist or aggressive foreign policy outlook
that they oppose.
My reason for questioning it is that it
generates apprehension, hostility and fear of the United States;
frequently promotes insecurity; and has already provoked wars-unnecessary
It is an obstacle to peaceful long-term
relations between the United States and other countries, and with
the international community as a whole.
Today the United States is involved in
two and a half-or even more-wars provoked by this system of global
American military engagement. I say "more" than two
wars because in addition to the Afghanistan war there still are
more than 100,000 American troops in Iraq, in circumstances in
which an outbreak of further fighting involving them is perfectly
possible. The United States is also taking part in the fight against
the Taliban inside Pakistan, and at the same time experiences
serious tensions with the Pakistan government and public. Then
there is Yemen.
The 9/11 attacks on the United States
in 2001, according to Osama bin Laden himself, were provoked by
the presence of U.S. military bases in what Muslims consider the
sacred territories of Saudi Arabia. U.S. forces went there at
the time of the Gulf War and were kept in place afterward by the
U.S. against the objections of the Saudi Arabian government. (It
is noteworthy that immediately following the invasion of Iraq
the U.S. announced closure of the Saudi bases.)
In the current discussion of a negotiated
U.S. disengagement from the war in Afghanistan, one of America's
best experts on the region, Selig S. Harrison, writes that this
would be possible only on a regional basis supported by Russia,
Iran, China, Pakistan and certain other states.
He writes: "All these neighboring
countries are disturbed in varying degree by the expansion of
U.S bases near their borders; they recognize that no Taliban faction
is likely to negotiate peace until the United States and NATO
set a timetable that covers both withdrawal of their forces and
closure of U.S. bases.
"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's
March 2009 proposal for a regional conference, revived recently
by Henry Kissinger, has been ignored by potential participants
because it assumes the indefinite continuance of a U.S. military
American bases in Japan, an ally for a
half-century, are today the subject of tension between Washington
and the new Japanese government. What set the scene for Georgia's
attack on South Ossetia and Russian troops in August 2008 was
U.S. pressure to bring Georgia into NATO. In Yemen there already
are protests over the possibility of U.S. operations there.
This evidence is that the U.S. global
base system is a system of insecurity for the U.S., and for others
as well. But what president would dare dismantle it?
Visit William Pfaff's Web site at www.williampfaff.com.