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Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Pentagon's Planet of Bases

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India, a rising power, almost had one (but the Tajiks said no).  China, which last year became the world's second largest economy as well as the planet's leading energy consumer, and is expanding abroad like mad (largely via trade and the power of the purse), still has none.  The Russians have a few (in Central Asia where "the great game" is ongoing), as do those former colonial powers Great Britain and France, as do certain NATO countries in Afghanistan.  Sooner or later, Japan may even have one.

All of them together -- and maybe you've already guessed that I'm talking about military bases not on one's own territory -- add up to a relatively modest (if unknown) total.  The U.S., on the other hand, has enough bases abroad to sink the world.  You almost have the feeling that a single American mega-base like Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan could swallow them all up.  It's so large that a special Air Force "team" has to be assigned to it just to deal with the mail arriving every day, 360,000 pounds of it in November 2010 alone.  At the same base, the U.S. has just spent $130 million building "a better gas station for aircraft... [a] new refueling system, which features a pair of 1.1-million gallon tanks and two miles of pipes."  Imagine that: two miles of pipes, thousands of miles from home -- and that's just to scratch the surface of Bagram's enormity. 

Spencer Ackerman of Wired's Danger Room blog visited the base last August, found that construction was underway everywhere (think hundreds of millions of dollars more from the pockets of U.S. taxpayers), and wrote: "More notable than the overstuffed runways is the over-driven road. [The Western part of] Disney Drive, the main thoroughfare that rings the eight-square-mile base,[...] is a two-lane parking lot of Humvees, flamboyant cargo big-rigs from Pakistan known as jingle trucks, yellow DHL shipping vans, contractor vehicles, and mud-caked flatbeds. If the Navy could figure out a way to bring a littoral-combat ship to a landlocked country, it would idle on Disney."

Serving 20,000 or more U.S. troops, and with the usual assortment of Burger Kings and Popeyes, the place is nothing short of a U.S. town, bustling in a way increasingly rare for actual American towns these days, part of a planetary military deployment of a sort never before seen in history.  Yet, as various authors at this site have long noted, the staggering size, scope, and strangeness of all this is seldom considered, analyzed, or debated in the American mainstream.  It's a given, like the sun rising in the east.  And yet, what exactly is that given?  As Nick Turse, who has been following American basing plans for this site over the years, points out, it's not as easy to answer that question as you might imagine.  (To catch Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Turse discusses how to count up America's empire of bases, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.) Tom

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Empire of Bases 2.0 
Does the Pentagon Really Have 1,180 Foreign Bases? 
By Nick Turse

The United States has 460 bases overseas!  It has 507 permanent bases!  What is the U.S doing with more than 560 foreign bases?  Why does it have 662 bases abroad?  Does the United States really have more than 1,000 military bases across the globe?

In a world of statistics and precision, a world in which "accountability" is now a Washington buzzword, a world where all information is available at the click of a mouse, there's one number no American knows.  Not the president.  Not the Pentagon.  Not the experts.  No one. 

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The man who wrote the definitive book on it didn't know for sure.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist didn't even come close.  Yours truly has written numerous articles on U.S. military bases and even part of a book on the subject, but failed like the rest. 

There are more than 1,000 U.S. military bases dotting the globe.  To be specific, the most accurate count is 1,077.  Unless it's 1,088.  Or, if you count differently, 1,169.  Or even 1,180.  Actually, the number might even be higher.  Nobody knows for sure.

Keeping Count

In a recent op-ed piece, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof made a trenchant point: "The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago. Do we fear that if we pull our bases from Germany, Russia might invade?"

For years, the late Chalmers Johnson, the man who literally wrote the book on the U.S. military's empire of bases, The Sorrows of Empire, made the same point and backed it with the most detailed research on the globe-spanning American archipelago of bases that has ever been assembled.  Several years ago, after mining the Pentagon's own publicly-available documents, Johnson wrote, "[T]he United States maintains 761 active military "sites' in foreign countries. (That's the Defense Department's preferred term, rather than "bases,' although bases are what they are.)"

Recently, the Pentagon updated its numbers on bases and other sites, and they have dropped.  Whether they've fallen to the level advanced by Kristof, however, is a matter of interpretation.  According to the Department of Defense's 2010 Base Structure Report, the U.S. military now maintains 662 foreign sites in 38 countries around the world.  Dig into that report more deeply, though, and Grand Canyon-sized gaps begin to emerge.

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A Legacy of Bases

In 1955, 10 years after World War II ended, the Chicago Daily Tribune published a major investigation of bases, including a map dotted with little stars and triangles, most of them clustered in Europe and the Pacific.  "The American flag flies over more than 300 overseas outposts," wrote reporter Walter Trohan.  "Camps and barracks and bases cover 12 American possessions or territories held in trust.  The foreign bases are in 63 foreign nations or islands."

Today, according to the Pentagon's published figures, the American flag flies over 750 U.S. military sites in foreign nations and U.S. territories abroad.  This figure does not include small foreign sites of less 10 acres or those that the U.S. military values at less than $10 million.  In some cases, numerous bases of this type may be folded together and counted as a single military installation in a given country.  A request for further clarification from the Department of Defense went unanswered. 

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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