Monday, April 5, 2010

It's Time to Abolish the American Empire

The Founding Fathers rarely agreed on much of anything, but aside from Alexander Hamilton they generally supported the idea that the United States should stay out of the affairs of other countries. Trade and exchanges of a cultural and scientific kind were to be encouraged, of course, but political or military involvement in other parts of the world was to be strictly avoided. They also believed (Hamilton again exempted) in a small or nonexistent military establishment except in time of war.

Keeping this in mind, imagine how disappointed the Founders would be if they could see the vast network of American military bases which today encircles the globe, and which might rightfully be termed the American Empire.

We have an army of 56,000 men permanently deployed in Germany. We also maintain nearly 10,000 men each in Italy and the United Kingdom, and another 10,000 scattered about the rest of Europe. We have 33,000 men in Japan and 28,000 men in South Korea. These are just the biggest deployments; thousands of other service personnel are based in scores of other countries. All told, America has nearly a thousand American military bases around the world.

The expense of maintaining this "empire of bases" is truly astounding. A vast fleet of enormous transport aircraft provides the logistical blood of these bases. The cost of construction and maintaining these bases is huge, and all the more upsetting because the construction contracts usually go to politically well-connected corporations. The upkeep of these bases by itself costs American taxpayers roughly $100 billion a year, about one-eighth of the entire military budget.

Many of these overseas bases are small American worlds unto themselves, with multiple bus lines for transportation and the whole array of American fast food restaurants. Recreational facilities, including everything from movie theaters to golf courses to health spas, are part of many of these establishments. A huge American school system exists within these overseas bases to provide education for the children of servicemen. If we do send our sons and daughters to serve overseas, we have a moral duty to provide for their needs. But it's far from free, and one can ask whether the golf courses are really necessary.

The very existence of these bases contributes to the rise of anti-Americanism around the world. With so many servicemen deployed overseas, it's inevitable that some will committ crimes, which discredit the entire American military in the eyes of the locals. In the last fifteen years, for example, assaults and rapes by Americans stationed on Okinawa has generated enormous anger towards America on the part of the Japanese people. The fact that the Americans involved in such incidents are often not tried by the justice system of the host country, but by the system of American military justice, only fuels the controversies.

Why, exactly, does the United States maintain more than 80,000 troops in Europe? There has been no conventional military threat to Europe since the end of the Cold War more than twenty years ago. And even if there was such a threat, isn't the defense of Europe the responsibility of the Europeans?

One can just as easily question the permanent deployments of American armies in Japan and South Korea. Those two countries have powerful militaries of their own, and their populations and economies are strong enough that they could easily increase their military power even more if they so chose. While they face the clear threat of North Korea and the potential threat of China, it seems obvious that these are matters for the nations of East Asia to resolve by themselves. There is no reason for America to be involved, and certainly not to spend untold billions of dollars on unecessary military bases in those countries.

And Although President Obama has declared his intention of withdrawing all American troops from Iraq, construction continues on several mammoth American bases in the country, revealing a desire to maintain a permanent military presence in that country. This would enable the American military to carry out military operations throughout the Middile East and Caspian Sea regions, which are still the world's most important sources of oil.

The overseas American military presence also contributes to unnecessary tensions between our country and others. The present Chinese military buildup is spreading alarm among many armchair strategists in America, but few point out the obvious fact that it is only taking place because of the powerful American military presence throughout East Asia. Russia is attempting to rebuild its former military power, but one wonders if it would be so determined to do so if the American military presence in Europe vanished. And so long as we continue to maintain a military presence in the Middle East, the struggle between the United States and radical Islam will continue to fester.

The powers-that-be would like us to believe that the "empire of bases" is necessary to maintain American security. In truth, by stoking tensions with other nations and contributing to anti-Americanism among foreign peoples, our overseas bases almost certainly put us at greater risk. And it must be remembered that these bases signficantly contribute the the country's national debt, which is a far greater threat to America than any possible foreign enemy.

America is supposed to be a republic, not an empire. Our "empire of bases" not only degrades our security and contributes to our debt, but they represent a disgraceful betrayal to our Jeffersonian ideals. We should begin an immediate reduction of our overseas military presence, with a view of its eventual elimination.

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