THE BLOG

On Not Noticing America's Empire of Bases

06/15/2015 10:56 am ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

I'm sure that you've heard about the three bare-bones "staging outposts" or, in the lingo of the trade, "cooperative security locations" that the U.S. Marines have established in Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon. We're talking about personnel from Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, a unit at present garrisoned at Morón, Spain. It would, however, like to have some bases -- though that's not a word in use at U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which oversees all such expansion -- ready to receive them in a future in which anything might happen in an Africa exploding with new or expanding terror outfits.

Really? You haven't noticed anything on the subject? Admittedly, the story wasn't on the nightly news, nor did it make the front page of your local paper, or undoubtedly its inside pages either, but honestly it was right there in plain sight in Military Times! Of course, three largely unoccupied cooperative security locations in countries that aren't exactly on the tip of the American tongue would be easy enough to miss under the best of circumstances, but what about the other eight "staging facilities" that AFRICOM now admits to having established across Africa. The command had previously denied that it had any "bases" on the continent other than the ever-expanding one it established in the tiny nation of Djibouti in the horn of Africa and into which it has already sunk three-quarters of a billion dollars with at least $1.2 billion in upgrades still to go. However, AFRICOM'S commander, General David Rodriguez, now proudly insists that the 11 bare-bones outposts will leave U.S. forces "within four hours of all the high-risk, high-threat [diplomatic] posts" on the continent.

Really, you didn't hear a peep about those bases either, even though Stars and Stripes had the story front and center?

Hmmm, that might be truly strange if anyone in this country (outside the Pentagon) paid the slightest attention to the issue of U.S. global garrisons. Of course they don't. They never have, which should qualify as one of the great mysteries of American life and yet somehow doesn't. U.S. bases abroad are just about never in the news. Few are the journalists who write stories about them, though they often spend time on them. Pundits rarely discuss them. Candidates don't debate them. Editorialists don't write about them. These days, who even remembers the 505 (!) bases, ranging from tiny combat outposts to small American towns (with most of the amenities of home), that the U.S. built, maintained, and then abandoned in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 to the tune of tens of billions of dollars -- before, that is, American trainers and other personnel were sent back to a few of them in 2014-2015 for Iraq War 3.0? Almost no one, including a Congress generally eager to cut funds on just about anything, discusses the costs of preserving the hundreds and hundreds of bases of every size and shape that the Pentagon maintains globally in a fashion that is historically unprecedented. Back in 2012, TomDispatchregular David Vine estimated that those costs ran to about $170 billion a year, conservatively speaking, and since 9/11 had added up to a total of perhaps a couple of trillion dollars.

If you don't get the way this country has garrisoned the planet, if you never notice its empire of bases, there is no way to grasp its imperial nature, which perhaps is the point. And of course, if you haven't taken any of this in, as is likely if you're a red-blooded American, then you probably have no idea that this country has sunk billions of dollars into a single base on a single island, Diego Garcia, lost in the far reaches of the Indian Ocean but crucial to America's Middle Eastern conflicts. This also means you don't know that the Pentagon, in an act of cruelty of the first order, demanded that a whole people be exiled from their country, their lives, everything that mattered to them, everything that rootedness means in this world, so that the base could be built, staffed, and used in America's endless wars in the Greater Middle East without any onlookers whatsoever.

It's a grim tale you probably won't have heard (even if you read Military Times or Stars and Stripes). David Vine is that rarest of Americans who has found himself riveted by what Chalmers Johnson once called America's Baseworld. He's written about it vividly in Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, a book Andrew Bacevich has termed "a devastating critique" and that's due out this August. No one knows more about Diego Garcia and the fate of its people than Vine does. (He wrote a previous book on the subject, Island of Shame.) So take a moment to cast your eyes to the distant edge of America's empire of bases in his "The Truth About Diego Garcia" and briefly consider some of the other costs of this country's mania for garrisoning the world.