Mars? Venus? Earth-like bodies elsewhere in the galaxy? Who knows? But here, at least, no great power, no superpower, no hyperpower, not the Romans, nor imperial China, nor the British, nor the Soviet Union has ever garrisoned the globe quite the way we have: Asia to Latin America, Europe to the Greater Middle East, and increasingly Africa as well.
Build we must. If someday Washington took to the couch for therapy, the shrink would undoubtedly categorize what we've done as a compulsion, the base-building equivalent of a hoarding disorder.
And you know what else is unprecedented? Hundreds of thousands of Americans cycle annually through our various global garrisons, ranging from small American towns with all the attendant amenities, including fast-food joints, PXes, and Internet cafes to the most spartan of forward outposts, and yet our "Baseworld," as the late Chalmers Johnson used to call it, is hardly noticed in this country and seldom considered worthy of attention.
We built, for example, 505 bases at the cost of billions of dollars in Iraq (without a single reporter uncovering anything close to that number until we abandoned all of them in 2011). Over the years, millions of soldiers, private contractors, spies, civilian employees of the U.S. government, special ops types, and who knows who else spent time on them, as undoubtedly did hundreds of reporters, and yet news of those American ziggurats was rare to vanishing. On the whole, reporters on bases so large that one had a 27-mile fortified perimeter, multiple bus lines, and its own electricity grid and water-bottling plant generally looked elsewhere for their "news."
Our latest base-building mania: Washington's expanding "empire of bases" for its secret CIA and Special Forces drone wars in the Greater Middle East goes almost unnoticed (except at sites like this). We now, for instance, have a drone base in the Seychelles, an archipelago that evidently needs an infusion of money. Unless you had the dough for a high-end wedding in the middle of the Indian Ocean or a vacation in "paradise," you've probably never heard of the place.
No matter. You're still paying for the deployment of 82 people to those islands to fly and land crash-prone drones in our now endless "covert" robotic air wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa. With the so-called fiscal cliff now eternally on the media horizon, there's been reporting recently on how your tax dollars are being spent, but do you have the faintest idea what it actually costs you to garrison the globe? No? Then you're in good company, and the Pentagon certainly isn't interested in telling you either.
Fortunately, basing expert and TomDispatch regular David Vine decided to make sense of what garrisoning the planet means to our pocketbooks. Read this piece and you'll know what it costs all of us to build and support that Baseworld and more generally the American global military presence. Think about it: at the cost of possibly $2 trillion since 9/11, it should be one of the stories of the century. If it were, maybe by now we would be starting to pull back from the "military cliff." Tom
Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab
How U.S. Taxpayers Are Paying the Pentagon to Occupy the Planet
By David Vine
"Are you monitoring the construction?" asked the middle-aged man on a bike accompanied by his dog.
ldquo;Ah, sÃ¬," I replied in my barely passable Italian.
"Bene," he answered. Good.
In front of us, a backhoe's guttural engine whined into action and empty dump trucks rattled along a dirt track. The shouts of men vied for attention with the metallic whirring of drills and saws ringing in the distance. Nineteen immense cranes spread across the landscape, with the foothills of Italy's Southern Alps in the background. More than 100 pieces of earthmoving equipment, 250 workers, and grids of scaffolding wrapped around what soon would be 34 new buildings.
We were standing in front of a massive 145-acre construction site for a "little America" rising in Vicenza, an architecturally renowned Italian city and UNESCO world heritage site near Venice. This was Dal Molin, the new military base the U.S. Army has been readying for the relocation of as many as 2,000 soldiers from Germany in 2013.
Since 1955, Vicenza has also been home to another major U.S. base, Camp Ederle. They're among the more than 1,000 bases the United States uses to ring the globe (with about 4,000 more in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.). This complex of military installations, unprecedented in history, has been a major, if little noticed, aspect of U.S. power since World War II.
During the Cold War, such bases became the foundation for a "forward strategy" meant to surround the Soviet Union and push U.S. military power as close to its borders as possible. These days, despite the absence of a superpower rival, the Pentagon has been intent on dotting the globe with scores of relatively small "lily pad" bases, while continuing to build and maintain some large bases like Dal Molin.