Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
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 David Vine decided to make sense of what garrisoning the planet means to our pocketbooks. His piece, "Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab" puts an annual price tag on 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."
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