Friday, July 31, 2009

Time For The US To Go Home

Text of Colonel Reese’s Memo

Published: July 30, 2009
Courtesy Of
The New York Times

Text of memo from Col. Timothy R. Reese, Chief, Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, MND-B, Baghdad, Iraq.

As the old saying goes, “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. Today the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are good enough to keep the Government of Iraq (GOI) from being overthrown by the actions of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Baathists, and the Shia violent extremists that might have toppled it a year or two ago. Iraq may well collapse into chaos of other causes, but we have made the ISF strong enough for the internal security mission. Perhaps it is one of those infamous paradoxes of counterinsurgency that while the ISF is not good in any objective sense, it is good enough for Iraq in 2009. Despite this foreboding disclaimer about an unstable future for Iraq, the United States has achieved our objectives in Iraq. Prime Minister (PM) Maliki hailed June 30th as a “great victory,” implying the victory was over the US. Leaving aside his childish chest pounding, he was more right than he knew. We too ought to declare victory and bring our combat forces home. Due to our tendency to look after the tactical details and miss the proverbial forest for the trees, this critically important strategic realization is in danger of being missed.

Equally important to realize is that we aren’t making the GOI and the ISF better in any significant ways with our current approach. Remaining in Iraq through the end of December 2011 will yield little in the way of improving the abilities of the ISF or the functioning of the GOI. Furthermore, in light of the GOI’s current interpretation of the limitations imposed by the 30 June milestones of the 2008 Security Agreement, the security of US forces are at risk. Iraq is not a country with a history of treating even its welcomed guests well. This is not to say we can be defeated, only that the danger of a violent incident that will rupture the current partnership has greatly increased since 30 June. Such a rupture would force an unplanned early departure that would harm our long term interests in Iraq and potentially unraveling the great good that has been done since 2003. The use of the military instrument of national power in its current form has accomplished all that can be expected. In the next section I will present and admittedly one sided view of the evidence in support of this view. This information is drawn solely from the MND-B area of operations in Baghdad Province. My reading of reports from the other provinces suggests the same situation exists there.

The general lack of progress in essential services and good governance is now so broad that it ought to be clear that we no longer are moving the Iraqis “forward.” Below is an outline of the information on which I base this assessment:

1. The ineffectiveness and corruption of GOI Ministries is the stuff of legend.

2. The anti-corruption drive is little more than a campaign tool for Maliki

3. The GOI is failing to take rational steps to improve its electrical infrastructure and to improve their oil exploration, production and exports.

4. There is no progress towards resolving the Kirkuk situation.

5. Sunni Reconciliation is at best at a standstill and probably going backwards.

6. Sons of Iraq (SOI) or Sahwa transition to ISF and GOI civil service is not happening, and SOI monthly paydays continue to fall further behind.

7. The Kurdish situation continues to fester.

8. Political violence and intimidation is rampant in the civilian community as well as military and legal institutions.

9. The Vice President received a rather cool reception this past weekend and was publicly told that the internal affairs of Iraq are none of the US’s business.

The rate of improvement of the ISF is far slower than it should be given the amount of effort and resources being provided by the US. The US has made tremendous progress in building the ISF. Our initial efforts in 2003 to mid-2004 were only marginally successful. From 2004 to 2006 the US built the ISF into a fighting force. Since the start of the surge in 2007 we have again expanded and improved the ISF. They are now at the point where they have defeated the organized insurgency against the GOI and are marginally self-sustaining. This is a remarkable tale for which many can be justifiably proud. We have reached the point of diminishing returns, however, and need to find a new set of tools. The massive partnering efforts of US combat forces with ISF isn’t yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition. Again, some touch points for this assessment are:

1. If there ever was a window where the seeds of a professional military culture could have been implanted, it is now long past. US combat forces will not be here long enough or with sufficient influence to change it.

2. The military culture of the Baathist-Soviet model under Saddam Hussein remains entrenched and will not change. The senior leadership of the ISF is incapable of change in the current environment.

a) Corruption among officers is widespread

b) Neglect and mistreatment of enlisted men is the norm

c) The unwillingness to accept a role for the NCO corps continues

d) Cronyism and nepotism are rampant in the assignment and promotion system

e) Laziness is endemic

f) Extreme centralization of C2 is the norm

g) Lack of initiative is legion

h) Unwillingness to change, do anything new blocks progress

i) Near total ineffectiveness of the Iraq Army and National Police institutional organizations and systems prevents the ISF from becoming self-sustaining

j) For every positive story about a good ISF junior officer with initiative, or an ISF commander who conducts a rehearsal or an after action review or some individual MOS training event, there are ten examples of the most basic lack of military understanding despite the massive partnership efforts by our combat forces and advisory efforts by MiTT and NPTT teams.

3. For all the fawning praise we bestow on the Baghdad Operations Command (BOC) and Ministry of Defense (MoD) leadership for their effectiveness since the start of the surge, they are flawed in serious ways. Below are some salient examples:

a) They are unable to plan ahead, unable to secure the PM’s approval for their actions

b) They are unable to stand up to Shiite political parties

c) They were and are unable to conduct an public relations effort in support of the SA and now they are afraid of the ignorant masses as a result

d) They unable to instill discipline among their officers and units for the most basic military standards

e) They are unable to stop the nepotism and cronyism

f) They are unable to take basic steps to manage the force development process

g) They are unable to stick to their deals with US leaders

It is clear that the 30 Jun milestone does not represent one small step in a long series of gradual steps on the path the US withdrawal, but as Maliki has termed it, a “great victory” over the Americans and fundamental change in our relationship. The recent impact of this mentality on military operations is evident:

1. Iraqi Ground Forces Command (IGFC) unilateral restrictions on US forces that violate the most basic aspects of the SA

2. BOC unilateral restrictions that violate the most basic aspects of the SA

3. International Zone incidents in the last week where ISF forces have resorted to shows of force to get their way at Entry Control Points (ECP) including the forcible takeover of ECP 1 on 4 July

4. Sudden coolness to advisors and CDRs, lack of invitations to meetings,

5. Widespread partnership problems reported in other areas such as ISF confronting US forces at TCPs in the city of Baghdad and other major cities in Iraq.

6. ISF units are far less likely to want to conduct combined combat operations with US forces, to go after targets the US considers high value, etc.

7. The Iraqi legal system in the Rusafa side of Baghdad has demonstrated a recent willingness to release individuals originally detained by the US for attacks on the US.

Yet despite all their grievous shortcomings noted above, ISF military capability is sufficient to handle the current level of threats from Sunni and Shiite violent groups. Our combat forces’ presence here on the streets and in the rural areas adds only marginally to their capability while exposing us to attacks to which we cannot effectively respond.

The GOI and the ISF will not be toppled by the violence as they might have been between 2006 and 2008. Though two weeks does not make a trend, the near cessation of attacks since 30 June speaks volumes about how easily Shiite violence can be controlled and speaks to the utter weakness of AQI. The extent of AQ influence in Iraq is so limited as to be insignificant, only when they get lucky with a mass casualty attack are they relevant. Shiite groups are working with the PM and his political allies, or plotting to work against him in the upcoming elections. We are merely convenient targets for delivering a message against Maliki by certain groups, and perhaps by Maliki when he wants us to be targeted. Extremist violence from all groups is directed towards affecting their political standing within the existing power structures of Iraq. There is no longer any coherent insurgency or serious threat to the stability of the GOI posed by violent groups.

Our combat operations are currently the victim of circular logic. We conduct operations to kill or capture violent extremists of all types to protect the Iraqi people and support the GOI. The violent extremists attack us because we are still here conducting military operations. Furthermore, their attacks on us are no longer an organized campaign to defeat our will to stay; the attacks which kill and maim US combat troops are signals or messages sent by various groups as part of the political struggle for power in Iraq. The exception to this is AQI which continues is globalist terror campaign. Our operations are in support of an Iraqi government that no longer relishes our help while at the same time our operations generate the extremist opposition to us as various groups jockey for power in post-occupation Iraq.

The GOI and ISF will continue to squeeze the US for all the “goodies” that we can provide between now and December 2011, while eliminating our role in providing security and resisting our efforts to change the institutional problems prevent the ISF from getting better. They will tolerate us as long as they can suckle at Uncle Sam’s bounteous mammary glands. Meanwhile the level of resistance to US freedom of movement and operations will grow. The potential for Iraqi on US violence is high now and will grow by the day. Resentment on both sides will build and reinforce itself until a violent incident break outs into the open. If that were to happen the violence will remain tactically isolated, but it will wreck our strategic relationships and force our withdrawal under very unfavorable circumstances.

For a long time the preferred US approach has been to “work it at the lowest level of partnership” as a means to stay out of the political fray and with the hope that good work at the tactical level will compensate for and slowly improve the strategic picture. From platoon to brigade, US Soldiers and Marines continue to work incredibly hard and in almost all cases they achieve positive results. This approach has achieved impressive results in the past, but today it is failing. The strategic dysfunctions of the GOI and ISF have now reached down to the tactical level degrading good work there and sundering hitherto strong partnerships. As one astute political observer has stated “We have lost all strategic influence with the GoI and trying to influence events and people from the tactical/operational level is courting disaster, wasting lives, and merely postponing the inevitable.”

The reality of Iraq in July 2009 has rendered the assumptions underlying the 2008 Security Agreement (SA) overcome by events — mostly good events actually. The SA outlines a series of gradual steps towards military withdrawal, analogous to a father teaching his kid to ride a bike without training wheels. If the GOI at the time the SA was signed thought it needed a long, gradual period of weaning. But the GOI now has left the nest (while continuing to breast feed as noted above). The strategic and tactical realities have changed far quicker than the provisions and timeline of the SA can accommodate. We now have an Iraqi government that has gained its balance and thinks it knows how to ride the bike in the race. And in fact they probably do know how to ride, at least well enough for the road they are on against their current competitors. Our hand on the back of the seat is holding them back and causing resentment. We need to let go before we both tumble to the ground.

Therefore, we should declare our intentions to withdraw all US military forces from Iraq by August 2010. This would not be a strategic paradigm shift, but an acceleration of existing US plans by some 15 months. We should end our combat operations now, save those for our own force protection, narrowly defined, as we withdraw. We should revise the force flow into Iraq accordingly. The emphasis should shift towards advising only and advising the ISF to prepare for our withdrawal. Advisors should probably be limited to Iraqi division level a higher. Our train and equip functions should begin the transition to Foreign Military Sales and related training programs. During the withdrawal period the USG and GOI should develop a new strategic framework agreement that would include some lasting military presence at 1-3 large training bases, airbases, or key headquarters locations. But it should not include the presence of any combat forces save those for force protection needs or the occasional exercise. These changes would not only align our actions with the reality of Iraq in 2009, it will remove the causes of increasing friction and reduce the cost of OIF in blood and treasure. Finally, it will set the conditions for a new relationship between the US and Iraq without the complications of the residual effects of the US invasion and occupation.


U.S. Adviser’s Blunt Memo on Iraq: Time ‘to Go Home’ (July 31, 2009)

10,000 Uighur's Went Missing

By Chisa Fujioka
Source: Reuters
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 6:44 AM
Courtesy Of The Washington Post

TOKYO (Reuters) - Nearly 10,000 Uighurs involved in deadly riots in China's northwestern Xinjiang region went missing in one night, exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer said Wednesday, calling for an international investigation.

Kadeer's visit to Tokyo was condemned by China. The vice foreign minister summoned the Japanese ambassador in Beijing to express China "strong dissatisfaction" and to "demand the Japanese government take effective action to stop her anti-China, splittist activities in Japan," the Foreign Ministry said.

In Xinjiang's worst ethnic violence in decades, Uighurs on July 5 attacked Han Chinese in the regional capital of Urumqi after police tried to break up a protest against fatal attacks on Uighur workers at a factory in south China.

Han Chinese in Urumqi launched revenge attacks later that week.

"The nearly 10,000 (Uighur) people who were at the protest, they disappeared from Urumqi in one night," Kadeer told a news conference in Tokyo through an interpreter. "If they are dead, where are their bodies? If they are detained, where are they?"

She called on the international community to send an independent investigative team to Urumqi to uncover details of what had taken place.

The official death toll from the riots stands at 197, most of whom were Han Chinese who form the majority of China's 1.3 billion population. Almost all the others were Uighurs, a Muslim people native to Xinjiang and culturally tied to Central Asia and Turkey.

More than 1,000 people were detained in the immediate aftermath of the riots, and over 200 more in recent days, state media said. None has been publicly charged.

China has accused Kadeer, who lives in exile in Washington, of triggering the riots and of spreading misinformation. It took great glee in pointing out that pictures she said were taken in Urumqi actually came from an unrelated incident in another part of the country.

Kadeer, who rejects the Chinese accusations, said she thought the death toll was much higher after learning that there was random gunfire one night when electricity in the city was shut down.

In a measure of continued nervousness and lack of information in Urumqi, the city government was forced to deny rumors sweeping the Han population that Uighurs were kidnapping Han to exchange them for detained Uighurs, a Chinese newspaper said.

Beijing does not want to lose its grip on Xinjiang. The vast territory borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Lucy Hornby in Beijing; Editing by Nick Nacfie)

Israel Admits White Phosphorus Use

UPDATED ON: Friday, July 31, 2009
01:25 Mecca time, 22:25 GMT
Courtesy Of Al-Jazeera

Israel had initially denied using white phosphorus, a chemical agent that causes severe burns [AFP]

Israel has admitted to using white phosphorus during its war on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, but says it did so in accordance with international law.

The admission came in a 163-page document published by the Israeli foreign ministry on Thursday ahead of a UN report next week.

The Israeli army "used munitions containing white phosphorus" in Gaza, the document said, but it denied violating international law, saying it had not fired such weapons inside populated areas.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Jerusalem, said the Israeli army had initially denied using white phosphorus, a chemical agent that causes severe burns.

"During the war, when we first started seeing the white phosphorous, the Israeli army said that everything it was using was in compliance with international law; it would not tell us whether or not it was using it," she said.

Legitimate Use

"As the campaign went on, it became very obvious [on television] that it was being used and the Israeli army, as well as government spokesmen, told us that it was being used," our correspondent said.


Gaza's phosphorus legacy
UN releases Gaza attack photos
War crimes convictions after Gaza?
Timeline: Gaza crisis
Video: Gaza speaks out on white phosphorus use

"The caveat that the Israeli army pressed on was that it was being used within the rules of war; that meant it was not being used amid a civilian population and that it was being used to provide a smokescreen legitimately, as opposed to illegitimately."

International law permits the use of white phosphorus as an "obscurant" to cover troop movements and prevent enemies from using certain guided weapons.

The Israeli government report follows charges from the UN and human rights groups that Israeli forces committed war crimes and violated international law during the operation.

UN officials have also said that they have evidence that white phosphorus was used in an attack on the UN relief agency's main building in Gaza that left three people injured.

But the government defended its military campaign as a "necessary and proportionate" response to Hamas rocket fire at Israel.

"Israel had both a right and an obligation to take military action against Hamas in Gaza to stop Hamas' almost incessant rocket and mortar attacks," it said.

Misconduct Investigation

The Israeli government also said it is investigating 100 complaints of misconduct by its forces during the three week war that began on December 27.

Our correspondent said the report follows several testimonies from witnesses and human rights organisations about the Israeli military's conduct.

"What we've seen in the past few months since the end of the war are various human rights reports from Amnesty International, the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, as well as testimonies coming out from army soldiers themselves," she said.

"What really ties all of these reports together is the idea that there was no proportionality and a deliberate use of force against the civilian population in Gaza."

Israeli 'Acknowledgment'

John Ging, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, welcomed the report as an "acknowledgment that an investigation has to be done into what happened" during the conflict.

Human rights groups have charged the Israeli army with violating international law during the war [AFP]
But he told Al Jazeera that the process has taken "far too long".

"What we actually need is an independent investigation that is credible for both sides," he said.

"The litmus test is that [any investigation] has to be credible to both sides. As is well documented, both sides have certain concerns and they have to be addressed.

"We have to see the rule of international law applied and upheld, even-handedly, with the confidence of both populations."

Israel has consistently said its troops respected international law during the war which ended in January.

Palestinian officials say 1,417 Palestinians were killed, including 926 civilians.

But Israel says that the number killed is considerably lower, and that only 295 of the dead were civilians.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Obama's Secret Police

Government Spies Infiltrate Antiwar Movement

By Justin Raimondo,
July 31, 2009

Courtesy Of
Anti-War News

Well, we can relax, because the bad old days of the Bush administration, when government agencies routinely spied on the antiwar movement and other dissidents, are over — right?

Wrong – very wrong.

The indispensable Amy Goodman has the scoop: The Seattle Port Militarization Resistance (SPMR) group in Washington state thought their listserv coordinator, who went by the name "John Jacob," was one of them: a dedicated antiwar activist and self-described anarchist. They trusted him, they put him in a key position, they befriended him – and then they found out that he was a government informant.

His real name: John Towery (here’s his myspace page, and here is a photo). He claimed to be a civilian employee at Washington state’s Ft. Lewis: in reality, he was and is a functionary of the force protection unit, i.e. military personnel. His job: spying on the antiwar movement.

Towery was "outed" when one of SPMR’s members filed a public records request in the city of Olympia for any documents, including emails, in the city’s possession that referenced communications between the city police and the military regarding "anything on anarchists, anarchy, anarchism, Students for a Democratic Society or the Industrial Workers of the World," as local antiwar activist Brendan Maslauskas Dunn described it to Amy Goodman on her "Democracy Now" program. The results were startling: "I got back hundreds of documents from the city."

It was in going through this material that he and his fellow activists discovered the truth about "John Jacob": that he was a spy sent in to keep track of antiwar activity in the area, and a member of the Force Protection Service at Ft. Lewis. His fellow activists confronted him, and, as Dunn stated:

"He admitted to several things. He admitted that, yes, he did in fact spy on us. He did in fact infiltrate us. He admitted that he did pass on information to an intelligence network, which … was composed of dozens of law enforcement agencies, ranging from municipal to county to state to regional, and several federal agencies, including Immigration Customs Enforcement, Joint Terrorism Task Force, FBI, Homeland Security, the Army in Fort Lewis. … He admitted to other things, too. He admitted that the police had placed a camera, surveillance camera, across the street from a community center in Tacoma that anarchists ran called the Pitch Pipe Infoshop. He admitted that there were police that did put a camera up there to spy on anarchists, on activists going there."

Oh, but he had a story: it wasn’t as bad as it seemed, he hadn’t completely betrayed his friends and associates, who had known him since 2007, when he first insinuated himself into local activist circles: because, you see, the Olympia and Tacoma cops had been planning to raid the Pitch Pipe Infoshop, as well as a house in Olympia where many activists lived, and they wanted their informant to tell them about all the guns, and drugs, and bombs that they imagined – hoped – were stockpiled there. Because, as everyone knows, no self-respecting anarchist is ever without a bomb to throw. "And, of course," says Dunn, "John told them, no, we didn’t have any of that stuff. He told them the truth."

"Of course" is maybe giving Towery too much of the benefit of a doubt: after all, if his friends were arrested, and the anarchist "conspiracy" broken up, his intelligence-gathering activities would be rendered more difficult. Perhaps Dunn is allowing his residual feelings for someone he describes as a former "close friend" get in the way of a more realistic assessment. Towery did his job all too well.

Be that as it may, this incident throws the spotlight on a shadowy national network of domestic spies – in effect, Obama’s political police, who infiltrate dissident groups of whatever sort and send the information back to what are called "fusion centers," part of the new "integrated" approach to fighting our eternal "war on terrorism" — a war that isn’t only being fought on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The enemy is not just the Talibanit’s Americans, too. And we aren’t just talking about the various weirdos and would-be mini-Osama bin Ladens, like John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo. The national hysteria over the alleged threat of "homegrown" terrorism is being stoked to a fever pitch by the latest FBI "catch," a rural North Carolina "terrorist cell" supposedly headed by the proprietor of the local drywall contractor — a former "soldier of fortune" who allegedly fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets by the name of Daniel Patrick Boyd ("also known as Mohammed"), and a good old boy if there ever was one.

The next logical stage in our carefully-stoked national hysteria is to cast the "anti-terrorist" net wider – to include antiwar organizations like SPMR, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which Towery took a particular interest in. The antiwar movement is not a collection of "terrorist cells," and yet that is precisely how the US government is dealing with them: infiltrating and spying on our organizations, planning "raids" on activist gathering places and homes, and no doubt engaging in further disruptive activities yet to be revealed. How is this possible in the land of the free?

It’s possible – and, indeed, inevitable – due to the post-9/11 national security industry that grew up in the wake of 9/11. A vast bureaucracy sprang up around the stream – nay, river – of tax dollars that flowed out of Washington in the wake of the worst terrorist attack on American soil in our history. No expense was spared, no contractor was left behind – and the money spigot has only been opened wider now that Obama and his Keynesian advisors have decreed we must spend our way out of the economic recession. All these people, busily compiling "intelligence" on anything deemed "suspicious," are a police state waiting to be born.

The "fusion centers" are the product of a supposedly "wholistic" theory of intelligence-gathering adopted by the burgeoning Homeland Security bureaucracy in the post-9/11 era, an approach that integrates the personnel and facilities of various government agencies and pools them in designated "fusion centers." Fusing the civilian and the military, the local cop on the beat and the national security bureaucracy, the new apparatus of surveillance and repression is the virtual embodiment of government "work." Unable to get anywhere near Al Qaeda, they have to produce something to justify their funding, and naturally began to broaden the definitional limits of the "terrorist" label to include an ever-widening array of "suspicious" activities. The antiwar movement soon came into their purview, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Towery apparently worked for one such "fusion center," located at Ft. Lewis, where he routinely transmitted information about local antiwar organizations to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, including military intelligence, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the immigration authorities. With his intimate knowledge of the politics and personal activities of every key member of the local "radical" scene – quite aside from having the names, addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information of every person on the local antiwar listserv – he was a valuable asset to anyone who wanted to throw a monkey wrench into the works. What every local activist, and anyone who’s ever signed their name to an antiwar petition or attended a meeting, needs to ask themselves is: how many other "John Jacob"s are hanging around – and to what purpose?

It can’t happen here? It has happened here.

You won’t hear or read about this in the "mainstream" media: Amy Goodman’s "Democracy Now" broke the story, and it hasn’t gone much further than that. The reason: the media is in the tank for Obama, and they don’t want to further tarnish his "progressive" credentials. After all, it’s bad enough he’s following the Bushian path on government secrecy, detainee policy, and the unprecedented expansion of presidential power.

Now that the Democrats are in power, they’re for all these things – because, after all, the Good Guys hold the reins. I can hear the Obama cultists now: They would never spy on the antiwar movement – why, for goodness sakes, most of those antiwar types voted for Obama! And now he’s sent his spies to disrupt their organizations? I don’t believe it!

Yet that, in effect, is what happened: not that the President personally ordered "Agent Orange" – as Towery was known on the listserv – to infiltrate and spy on the Washington antiwar movement. It wasn’t necessary: the "fusion centers" that dot the American landscape are merely doing what spy agencies are supposed to do, and they’re doing the same thing under President Obama that they did under George W. Bush. Obama hasn’t put a stop to it because he’s fighting an expanded version of the same war, and is loath to let a bunch of left-wing hippies stand in his way.

We have been through this before: go back and read Seymour Hersh’s exposés of government "cointelpro" operations conducted on antiwar activists and other dissidents during the 1970s. The Socialist Workers Party, at one point, had something close to a majority of police agents in its ranks, and the SWP case is a particularly egregious example of what was a widespread phenomenon during that tumultuous era.

It looks to me like we are going back in time, rather than progressing – an odd phenomenon when you consider that there’s an alleged "progressive" in the White House. To get a handle on what’s happening, consider the thoroughly reactionary Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory of "eternal recurrence" – with the added fillip that each time some infamous chapter in our history repeats itself, the brazen hypocrisy of the miscreants grows worse.

At least with people like Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover, we had some kind of ideological consistency and honesty: those guys thought they had the right – and the duty — to carry out their crimes against the Constitution, and didn’t make any bones about it. It’s the "progressives," who claim fealty to civil libertarian values, and yet countenance the Obama administration’s continuation and expansion of the surveillance state, that are the real danger. Because they manage to fool an awful lot of people – the very same people who wrote to me in anger and puzzlement when I first began to take on the Obama-ites. Give him a chance, they whined. He’s only just gotten into office.

Okay, well, he’s had his chance, and he hasn’t taken it. President Obama is presiding over an even wider war than George W. Bush ever dreamed of, and because of that the antiwar movement is a natural target for his spy agencies, whose reach continues to grow. Why any of this is surprising to anyone is beyond me, but then again I’ve not been inducted into the Obama cult.

One wonders what it will take for what passes for the "left" these days to wake up. If I were them, I would heed the words of Murray Rothbard, the great libertarian theorist and onetime ally of the New Left, and apply it to their own movement:

"For the libertarian, the main task of the present epoch is to … discover who his friends and natural allies are, and above all, perhaps, who his enemies are."

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Dismantling The Empire

By Chalmers Johnson
posted July 30, 2009 10:28 am
Courtesy Of Tom Dispatch

The Obama administration's plan to end production of the F-22 Raptor has received plenty of press coverage, but the Pentagon budget itself, even though it's again on the rise, hardly rates a bit of notice. In fact, amid the plethora of issues large and small -- from health care reform to Gates-gate, from energy policy to the culpability of Michael Jackson's doctor -- that make up the American debate in the media, in Washington, and possibly even in the country, what Chalmers Johnson has called "our empire of bases" goes essentially unmentioned. Not that we don't build them profligately. At one point, we had 106 of them -- mega to micro -- in Iraq alone; right now, we have at least 50 forward operating bases and command outposts in Afghanistan to go with a few giant bases (and the Pentagon is evidently now considering the possibility of creating a single, privatized, mercenary force to defend them, according to the Washington Post).

This is all staggering expensive. In an era when the need for funds at home is self-evident, on purely practical grounds -- and there are obviously others -- the maintenance of our global imperial stance, not to speak of the wars, conflicts, and dangers that go with it, should be at the forefront of national discussion. Instead, it has largely been left to oppositional websites to keep this crucial issue alive.

Our military empire, and the vast national security state and bureaucracy that go with it, have been perhaps the central focus of TomDispatch since it launched in late 2002. This site has concentrated on our military bases, the Pentagon's blue-sky thinking about future weaponry, air war as the American way of war, the defense budget, and the out-of-control nature of the Pentagon, among many other related issues. Nick Turse, associate editor at this site and an expert on the Pentagon, has even put its properties on "the auction block."

Since Chalmers Johnson first wrote of that empire of bases at this site back in 2004, no one has more cogently analyzed the dangers of militarism, military Keynesianism, and a Pentagon budget spun out of control. His trilogy of books on the subject, Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis are already classics, and assumedly on the shelves of all TomDispatch readers.

Today, he turns to the issue which should be, but isn't, central to our moment: dismantling the empire. Think of this as the American health care reform program that no one is discussing. Tom

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire

And Ten Steps to Take to Do So
By Chalmers Johnson

However ambitious President Barack Obama's domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and overseas U.S. territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries and territories. In just one such country, Japan, at the end of March 2008, we still had 99,295 people connected to U.S. military forces living and working there -- 49,364 members of our armed services, 45,753 dependent family members, and 4,178 civilian employees. Some 13,975 of these were crowded into the small island of Okinawa, the largest concentration of foreign troops anywhere in Japan.

These massive concentrations of American military power outside the United States are not needed for our defense. They are, if anything, a prime contributor to our numerous conflicts with other countries. They are also unimaginably expensive. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the United States spends approximately $250 billion each year maintaining its global military presence. The sole purpose of this is to give us hegemony -- that is, control or dominance -- over as many nations on the planet as possible.

We are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past -- including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union. There is an important lesson for us in the British decision, starting in 1945, to liquidate their empire relatively voluntarily, rather than being forced to do so by defeat in war, as were Japan and Germany, or by debilitating colonial conflicts, as were the French and Dutch. We should follow the British example. (Alas, they are currently backsliding and following our example by assisting us in the war in Afghanistan.)

Here are three basic reasons why we must liquidate our empire or else watch it liquidate us.

1. We Can No Longer Afford Our Postwar Expansionism

Shortly after his election as president, Barack Obama, in a speech announcing several members of his new cabinet, stated as fact that "[w]e have to maintain the strongest military on the planet." A few weeks later, on March 12, 2009, in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington DC, the president again insisted, "Now make no mistake, this nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world." And in a commencement address to the cadets of the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22nd, Obama stressed that "[w]e will maintain America's military dominance and keep you the finest fighting force the world has ever seen."

What he failed to note is that the United States no longer has the capability to remain a global hegemon, and to pretend otherwise is to invite disaster.

According to a growing consensus of economists and political scientists around the world, it is impossible for the United States to continue in that role while emerging into full view as a crippled economic power. No such configuration has ever persisted in the history of imperialism. The University of Chicago's Robert Pape, author of the important study Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House, 2005), typically writes:

"America is in unprecedented decline. The self-inflicted wounds of the Iraq war, growing government debt, increasingly negative current-account balances and other internal economic weaknesses have cost the United States real power in today's world of rapidly spreading knowledge and technology. If present trends continue, we will look back on the Bush years as the death knell of American hegemony."

There is something absurd, even Kafkaesque, about our military empire. Jay Barr, a bankruptcy attorney, makes this point using an insightful analogy:

"Whether liquidating or reorganizing, a debtor who desires bankruptcy protection must provide a list of expenses, which, if considered reasonable, are offset against income to show that only limited funds are available to repay the bankrupted creditors. Now imagine a person filing for bankruptcy claiming that he could not repay his debts because he had the astronomical expense of maintaining at least 737 facilities overseas that provide exactly zero return on the significant investment required to sustain them… He could not qualify for liquidation without turning over many of his assets for the benefit of creditors, including the valuable foreign real estate on which he placed his bases."

In other words, the United States is not seriously contemplating its own bankruptcy. It is instead ignoring the meaning of its precipitate economic decline and flirting with insolvency.

Nick Turse, author of The Complex: How the Military Invades our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books, 2008), calculates that we could clear $2.6 billion if we would sell our base assets at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and earn another $2.2 billion if we did the same with Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. These are only two of our over 800 overblown military enclaves.

Our unwillingness to retrench, no less liquidate, represents a striking historical failure of the imagination. In his first official visit to China since becoming Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner assured an audience of students at Beijing University, "Chinese assets [invested in the United States] are very safe." According to press reports, the students responded with loud laughter. Well they might.

In May 2009, the Office of Management and Budget predicted that in 2010 the United States will be burdened with a budget deficit of at least $1.75 trillion. This includes neither a projected $640 billion budget for the Pentagon, nor the costs of waging two remarkably expensive wars. The sum is so immense that it will take several generations for American citizens to repay the costs of George W. Bush's imperial adventures -- if they ever can or will. It represents about 13% of our current gross domestic product (that is, the value of everything we produce). It is worth noting that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the Euro Zone is a deficit no greater than 3% of GDP.

Thus far, President Obama has announced measly cuts of only $8.8 billion in wasteful and worthless weapons spending, including his cancellation of the F-22 fighter aircraft. The actual Pentagon budget for next year will, in fact, be larger, not smaller, than the bloated final budget of the Bush era. Far bolder cuts in our military expenditures will obviously be required in the very near future if we intend to maintain any semblance of fiscal integrity.

2. We Are Going to Lose the War in Afghanistan and It Will Help Bankrupt Us

One of our major strategic blunders in Afghanistan was not to have recognized that both Great Britain and the Soviet Union attempted to pacify Afghanistan using the same military methods as ours and failed disastrously. We seem to have learned nothing from Afghanistan's modern history -- to the extent that we even know what it is. Between 1849 and 1947, Britain sent almost annual expeditions against the Pashtun tribes and sub-tribes living in what was then called the North-West Frontier Territories -- the area along either side of the artificial border between Afghanistan and Pakistan called the Durand Line. This frontier was created in 1893 by Britain's foreign secretary for India, Sir Mortimer Durand.

Neither Britain nor Pakistan has ever managed to establish effective control over the area. As the eminent historian Louis Dupree put it in his book Afghanistan (Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 425): "Pashtun tribes, almost genetically expert at guerrilla warfare after resisting centuries of all comers and fighting among themselves when no comers were available, plagued attempts to extend the Pax Britannica into their mountain homeland." An estimated 41 million Pashtuns live in an undemarcated area along the Durand Line and profess no loyalties to the central governments of either Pakistan or Afghanistan.

The region known today as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan is administered directly by Islamabad, which -- just as British imperial officials did -- has divided the territory into seven agencies, each with its own "political agent" who wields much the same powers as his colonial-era predecessor. Then as now, the part of FATA known as Waziristan and the home of Pashtun tribesmen offered the fiercest resistance.

According to Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, experienced Afghan hands and coauthors of Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story (City Lights, 2009, p. 317):

"If Washington's bureaucrats don't remember the history of the region, the Afghans do. The British used air power to bomb these same Pashtun villages after World War I and were condemned for it. When the Soviets used MiGs and the dreaded Mi-24 Hind helicopter gunships to do it during the 1980s, they were called criminals. For America to use its overwhelming firepower in the same reckless and indiscriminate manner defies the world's sense of justice and morality while turning the Afghan people and the Islamic world even further against the United States."

In 1932, in a series of Guernica-like atrocities, the British used poison gas in Waziristan. The disarmament convention of the same year sought a ban against the aerial bombardment of civilians, but Lloyd George, who had been British prime minister during World War I, gloated: "We insisted on reserving the right to bomb niggers" (Fitzgerald and Gould, p. 65). His view prevailed.

The U.S. continues to act similarly, but with the new excuse that our killing of noncombatants is a result of "collateral damage," or human error. Using pilotless drones guided with only minimal accuracy from computers at military bases in the Arizona and Nevada deserts among other places, we have killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of unarmed bystanders in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pakistani and Afghan governments have repeatedly warned that we are alienating precisely the people we claim to be saving for democracy.

When in May 2009, General Stanley McChrystal was appointed as the commander in Afghanistan, he ordered new limits on air attacks, including those carried out by the CIA, except when needed to protect allied troops. Unfortunately, as if to illustrate the incompetence of our chain of command, only two days after this order, on June 23, 2009, the United States carried out a drone attack against a funeral procession that killed at least 80 people, the single deadliest U.S. attack on Pakistani soil so far. There was virtually no reporting of these developments by the mainstream American press or on the network television news. (At the time, the media were almost totally preoccupied by the sexual adventures of the governor of South Carolina and the death of pop star Michael Jackson.)

Our military operations in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have long been plagued by inadequate and inaccurate intelligence about both countries, ideological preconceptions about which parties we should support and which ones we should oppose, and myopic understandings of what we could possibly hope to achieve. Fitzgerald and Gould, for example, charge that, contrary to our own intelligence service's focus on Afghanistan, "Pakistan has always been the problem." They add:

"Pakistan's army and its Inter-Services Intelligence branch... from 1973 on, has played the key role in funding and directing first the mujahideen [anti-Soviet fighters during the 1980s]… and then the Taliban. It is Pakistan's army that controls its nuclear weapons, constrains the development of democratic institutions, trains Taliban fighters in suicide attacks and orders them to fight American and NATO soldiers protecting the Afghan government." (p. 322-324)

The Pakistani army and its intelligence arm are staffed, in part, by devout Muslims who fostered the Taliban in Afghanistan to meet the needs of their own agenda, though not necessarily to advance an Islamic jihad. Their purposes have always included: keeping Afghanistan free of Russian or Indian influence, providing a training and recruiting ground for mujahideen guerrillas to be used in places like Kashmir (fought over by both Pakistan and India), containing Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan (and so keeping it out of Pakistan), and extorting huge amounts of money from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf emirates, and the United States to pay and train "freedom fighters" throughout the Islamic world. Pakistan's consistent policy has been to support the clandestine policies of the Inter-Services Intelligence and thwart the influence of its major enemy and competitor, India.

Colonel Douglas MacGregor, U.S. Army (retired), an adviser to the Center for Defense Information in Washington, summarizes our hopeless project in South Asia this way: "Nothing we do will compel 125 million Muslims in Pakistan to make common cause with a United States in league with the two states that are unambiguously anti-Muslim: Israel and India."

Obama's mid-2009 "surge" of troops into southern Afghanistan and particularly into Helmand Province, a Taliban stronghold, is fast becoming darkly reminiscent of General William Westmoreland's continuous requests in Vietnam for more troops and his promises that if we would ratchet up the violence just a little more and tolerate a few more casualties, we would certainly break the will of the Vietnamese insurgents. This was a total misreading of the nature of the conflict in Vietnam, just as it is in Afghanistan today.

Twenty years after the forces of the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in disgrace, the last Russian general to command them, Gen. Boris Gromov, issued his own prediction: Disaster, he insisted, will come to the thousands of new forces Obama is sending there, just as it did to the Soviet Union's, which lost some 15,000 soldiers in its own Afghan war. We should recognize that we are wasting time, lives, and resources in an area where we have never understood the political dynamics and continue to make the wrong choices.

3. We Need to End the Secret Shame of Our Empire of Bases

In March, New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert noted, "Rape and other forms of sexual assault against women is the great shame of the U.S. armed forces, and there is no evidence that this ghastly problem, kept out of sight as much as possible, is diminishing." He continued:

"New data released by the Pentagon showed an almost 9 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults -- 2,923 -- and a 25 percent increase in such assaults reported by women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan [over the past year]. Try to imagine how bizarre it is that women in American uniforms who are enduring all the stresses related to serving in a combat zone have to also worry about defending themselves against rapists wearing the same uniform and lining up in formation right beside them."

The problem is exacerbated by having our troops garrisoned in overseas bases located cheek-by-jowl next to civilian populations and often preying on them like foreign conquerors. For example, sexual violence against women and girls by American GIs has been out of control in Okinawa, Japan's poorest prefecture, ever since it was permanently occupied by our soldiers, Marines, and airmen some 64 years ago.

That island was the scene of the largest anti-American demonstrations since the end of World War II after the 1995 kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder of a 12-year-old schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor. The problem of rape has been ubiquitous around all of our bases on every continent and has probably contributed as much to our being loathed abroad as the policies of the Bush administration or our economic exploitation of poverty-stricken countries whose raw materials we covet.

The military itself has done next to nothing to protect its own female soldiers or to defend the rights of innocent bystanders forced to live next to our often racially biased and predatory troops. "The military's record of prosecuting rapists is not just lousy, it's atrocious," writes Herbert. In territories occupied by American military forces, the high command and the State Department make strenuous efforts to enact so-called "Status of Forces Agreements" (SOFAs) that will prevent host governments from gaining jurisdiction over our troops who commit crimes overseas. The SOFAs also make it easier for our military to spirit culprits out of a country before they can be apprehended by local authorities.

This issue was well illustrated by the case of an Australian teacher, a long-time resident of Japan, who in April 2002 was raped by a sailor from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, then based at the big naval base at Yokosuka. She identified her assailant and reported him to both Japanese and U.S. authorities. Instead of his being arrested and effectively prosecuted, the victim herself was harassed and humiliated by the local Japanese police. Meanwhile, the U.S. discharged the suspect from the Navy but allowed him to escape Japanese law by returning him to the U.S., where he lives today.

In the course of trying to obtain justice, the Australian teacher discovered that almost fifty years earlier, in October 1953, the Japanese and American governments signed a secret "understanding" as part of their SOFA in which Japan agreed to waive its jurisdiction if the crime was not of "national importance to Japan." The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.

Since that time the U.S. has negotiated similar wording in SOFAs with Canada, Ireland, Italy, and Denmark. According to the Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces (2001), the Japanese practice has become the norm for SOFAs throughout the world, with predictable results. In Japan, of 3,184 U.S. military personnel who committed crimes between 2001 and 2008, 83% were not prosecuted. In Iraq, we have just signed a SOFA that bears a strong resemblance to the first postwar one we had with Japan: namely, military personnel and military contractors accused of off-duty crimes will remain in U.S. custody while Iraqis investigate. This is, of course, a perfect opportunity to spirit the culprits out of the country before they can be charged.

Within the military itself, the journalist Dahr Jamail, author of Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007), speaks of the "culture of unpunished sexual assaults" and the "shockingly low numbers of courts martial" for rapes and other forms of sexual attacks. Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq (Beacon Press, 2009), quotes this figure in a 2009 Pentagon report on military sexual assaults: 90% of the rapes in the military are never reported at all and, when they are, the consequences for the perpetrator are negligible.

It is fair to say that the U.S. military has created a worldwide sexual playground for its personnel and protected them to a large extent from the consequences of their behavior. As a result a group of female veterans in 2006 created the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN). Its agenda is to spread the word that "no woman should join the military."

I believe a better solution would be to radically reduce the size of our standing army, and bring the troops home from countries where they do not understand their environments and have been taught to think of the inhabitants as inferior to themselves.

10 Steps Toward Liquidating the Empire

Dismantling the American empire would, of course, involve many steps. Here are ten key places to begin:

1. We need to put a halt to the serious environmental damage done by our bases planet-wide. We also need to stop writing SOFAs that exempt us from any responsibility for cleaning up after ourselves.

2. Liquidating the empire will end the burden of carrying our empire of bases and so of the "opportunity costs" that go with them -- the things we might otherwise do with our talents and resources but can't or won't.

3. As we already know (but often forget), imperialism breeds the use of torture. In the 1960s and 1970s we helped overthrow the elected governments in Brazil and Chile and underwrote regimes of torture that prefigured our own treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. (See, for instance, A.J. Langguth, Hidden Terrors [Pantheon, 1979], on how the U.S. spread torture methods to Brazil and Uruguay.) Dismantling the empire would potentially mean a real end to the modern American record of using torture abroad.

4. We need to cut the ever-lengthening train of camp followers, dependents, civilian employees of the Department of Defense, and hucksters -- along with their expensive medical facilities, housing requirements, swimming pools, clubs, golf courses, and so forth -- that follow our military enclaves around the world.

5. We need to discredit the myth promoted by the military-industrial complex that our military establishment is valuable to us in terms of jobs, scientific research, and defense. These alleged advantages have long been discredited by serious economic research. Ending empire would make this happen.

6. As a self-respecting democratic nation, we need to stop being the world's largest exporter of arms and munitions and quit educating Third World militaries in the techniques of torture, military coups, and service as proxies for our imperialism. A prime candidate for immediate closure is the so-called School of the Americas, the U.S. Army's infamous military academy at Fort Benning, Georgia, for Latin American military officers. (See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire [Metropolitan Books, 2004], pp. 136-40.)

7. Given the growing constraints on the federal budget, we should abolish the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and other long-standing programs that promote militarism in our schools.

8. We need to restore discipline and accountability in our armed forces by radically scaling back our reliance on civilian contractors, private military companies, and agents working for the military outside the chain of command and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (See Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater:The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army [Nation Books, 2007]). Ending empire would make this possible.

9. We need to reduce, not increase, the size of our standing army and deal much more effectively with the wounds our soldiers receive and combat stress they undergo.

10. To repeat the main message of this essay, we must give up our inappropriate reliance on military force as the chief means of attempting to achieve foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately, few empires of the past voluntarily gave up their dominions in order to remain independent, self-governing polities. The two most important recent examples are the British and Soviet empires. If we do not learn from their examples, our decline and fall is foreordained.

Chalmers Johnson is the author of Blowback (2000), The Sorrows of Empire (2004), and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006), and editor of Okinawa: Cold War Island (1999).

[Note on further reading on the matter of sexual violence in and around our overseas bases and rapes in the military: On the response to the 1995 Okinawa rape, see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, chapter 2. On related subjects, see David McNeil, "Justice for Some. Crime, Victims, and the US-Japan SOFA," Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 8-1-09, March 15, 2009; "Bilateral Secret Agreement Is Preventing U.S. Servicemen Committing Crimes in Japan from Being Prosecuted," Japan Press Weekly, May 23, 2009; Dieter Fleck, ed., The Handbook of the Law of Visiting Forces, Oxford University Press, 2001; Minoru Matsutani, "'53 Secret Japan-US Deal Waived GI Prosecutions," Japan Times, October 24, 2008; "Crime Without Punishment in Japan," the Economist, December 10, 2008; "Japan: Declassified Document Reveals Agreement to Relinquish Jurisdiction Over U.S. Forces," Akahata, October 30, 2008; "Government's Decision First Case in Japan," Ryukyu Shimpo, May 20, 2008; Dahr Jamail, "Culture of Unpunished Sexual Assault in Military,", May 1, 2009; and Helen Benedict, "The Plight of Women Soldiers," the Nation, May 5, 2009.]

Copyright 2009 Chalmers Johnson

Obama's Empire

By Catherine Lutz
Published 30 July 2009
Courtesy Of The New Statesman

The 44th president of the United States was elected amid hopes that he would roll back his country’s global dominance. Today, he is commander-in-chief of an unprecedented network of military bases that is still expanding.

In December 2008, shortly before being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama pledged his belief that, "to ensure prosperity here at home and peace abroad", it was vital to maintain "the strongest military on the planet". Unveiling his national security team, including George Bush's defence secretary, Robert Gates, he said: "We also agree the strength of our military has to be combined with the wisdom and force of diplomacy, and that we are going to be committed to rebuilding and restrengthening
alliances around the world to advance American interests and American security."

Unfortunately, many of the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts are being directed towards maintaining and garnering new access for the US military across the globe. US military officials, through their Korean proxies, have completed the eviction of resistant rice farmers from their land around Camp Humphreys, South Korea, for its expansion (including a new 18-hole golf course); they are busily making back-room deals with officials in the Northern Mariana Islands to gain the use of the Pacific islands there for bombing and training purposes; and they are scrambling to express support for a regime in Kyrgyzstan that has been implicated in the murder of its political opponents but whose Manas Airbase, used to stage US military actions in Afghanistan since 2001, Obama and the Pentagon consider crucial for the expanded war there.

The global reach of the US military today is unprecedented and unparalleled. Officially, more than 190,000 troops and 115,000 civilian employees are massed in approximately 900 military facilities in 46 countries and territories (the unofficial figure is far greater). The US military owns or rents 795,000 acres of land, with 26,000 buildings and structures, valued at $146bn (£89bn). The bases bristle with an inventory of weapons whose worth is measured in the trillions and whose killing power could wipe out all life on earth several times over.

The official figures exclude the huge build-up of troops and structures in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, as well as secret or unacknowledged facilities in Israel, Kuwait, the Philippines and many other places. In just three years of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, £2bn was spent on military construction. A single facility in Iraq, Balad Airbase, houses 30,000 troops and 10,000 contractors, and extends across 16 square miles, with an additional 12 square mile "security perimeter". From the battle zones of Afghanistan and Iraq to quiet corners of Curaçao, Korea and Britain, the US military domain consists of sprawling army bases, small listening posts, missile and artillery testing ranges and berthed aircraft carriers (moved to "trouble spots" around the world, each carrier is considered by the US navy as "four and a half acres of sovereign US territory"). While the bases are, literally speaking, barracks and weapons depots, staging areas for war-making and ship repairs, complete with golf courses and basketball courts, they are also political claims, spoils of war, arms sale showrooms and toxic industrial sites. In addition to the cultural imperialism and episodes of rape, murder, looting and land seizure that have always accompanied foreign armies, local communities are now subjected to the ear-splitting noise of jets on exercise, to the risk of helicopters and warplanes crashing into residential areas, and to exposure to the toxic materials that the military uses in its daily operations.

The global expansion of US bases - and with it the rise of the US as a world superpower - is a legacy of the Second World War. In 1938, the US had 14 military bases outside its continental borders. Seven years later, it had 30,000 installations in roughly 100 countries. While this number was projected to shrink to 2,000 by 1948 (following pressure from other nations to return bases in their own territory or colonies, and pressure at home to demobilise the 12 million-man military), the US continued to pursue access rights to land and air space around the world. It established security alliances with multiple states within Europe (Nato), the Middle East and south Asia (Cento) and south-east Asia (Seato), as well as bilateral agreements with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Status of Forces Agreements (Sofas) were crafted in each country to specify what the military could do, and usually gave US soldiers broad immunity from prosecution for crimes committed and environmental damage caused. These agreements and subsequent base operations have mostly been shrouded in secrecy, helped by the National Security Act of 1947. New US bases were built in remarkable numbers in West Germany, Italy, Britain and Japan, with the defeated Axis powers hosting the most significant numbers (at one point, Japan was peppered with 3,800 US installations).

As battles become bases, so bases become battles; the sites in east Asia acquired during the Spanish-American war in 1898 and during the Second World War - such as Guam, Thailand and the Philippines - became the primary bases from which the US waged war on Vietnam. The number of raids over north and south Vietnam required tons of bombs unloaded at the naval station in Guam. The morale of ground troops based in Vietnam, as fragile as it was to become through the latter part of the 1960s, depended on R&R (rest and recreation) at bases outside the country, which allowed them to leave the war zone and yet be shipped back quickly and inexpensively for further fighting. The war also depended on the heroin the CIA was able to ship in to the troops on the battlefield in Vietnam from its secret bases in Laos. By 1967, the number of US bases had returned to 1947 levels.

Technological changes in warfare have had important effects on the configuration of US bases. Long-range missiles and the development of ships that can make much longer runs without resupply have altered the need for a line of bases to move forces forward into combat zones, as
has the aerial refuelling of military jets. An arms airlift from the US to the British in the Middle East in 1941-42, for example, required a long hopscotch of bases, from Florida to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Trinidad, British Guiana, north-east Brazil, Fernando de Noronha, Takoradi (now in Ghana), Lagos, Kano (now in Nigeria) and Khartoum, before finally making delivery in Egypt. In the early 1970s, US aircraft could make the same delivery with one stop in the Azores, and today can do so non-stop.

On the other hand, the pouring of money into military R&D (the Pentagon has spent more than $85bn in 2009), and the corporate profits to be made in the development and deployment of the resulting technologies, have been significant factors in the ever larger numbers of technical facilities on foreign soil. These include such things as missile early-warning radar, signals intelligence, satellite control and space-tracking telescopes. The will to gain military control of space, as well as gather intelligence, has led to the establishment of numerous new military bases in violation of arms-control agreements such as the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. In Colombia and Peru, and in secret and mobile locations elsewhere in Latin America, radar stations are primarily used for anti-trafficking operations.

Since 2000, with the election of George W Bush and the ascendancy to power of a group of men who believed in a more aggressive and unilateral use of military power (some of whom stood to profit handsomely from the increased military budget that would require), US imperial ambition has grown. Following the declaration of a war on terror and of the right to pre-emptive war, the number of countries into which the US inserted and based troops radically expanded. The Pentagon put into action a plan for a network of "deployment" or "forward operating" bases to increase the reach of current and future forces. The Pentagon-aligned, neoconservative think tank the Project for the New American Century stressed that "while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of ­Saddam Hussein".

The new bases are designed to operate not defensively against particular threats but as offensive, expeditionary platforms from which military capabilities can be projected quickly, anywhere. The Global Defence Posture Review of 2004 announced these changes, focusing not just on reorienting the footprint of US bases away from cold war locations, but on remaking legal arrangements that support expanded ­military activities with other allied countries and prepositioning equipment in those countries. As a recent army strategic document notes, "Military personnel can be transported to, and fall in on, prepositioned equipment significantly more quickly than the equivalent unit could be transported to the theatre, and prepositioning equipment overseas is generally less politically difficult than stationing US military personnel."

Terms such as facility, outpost or station are used for smaller bases to suggest a less permanent presence. The US department of defence currently distinguishes between three types of military facility. "Main operating bases" are those with permanent personnel, strong infrastructure, and often family housing, such as Kadena Airbase in Japan and Ramstein Airbase in Germany. "Forward operating sites" are "expandable warm facilit[ies] maintained with a limited US military support presence and possibly prepositioned equipment", such as Incirlik Airbase in Turkey and Soto Cano Airbase in Honduras. Finally, "co-operative security locations" are sites with few or no permanent US personnel, maintained by contractors or the host nation for occasional use by the US military, and often referred to as "lily pads". These are cropping up around the world, especially throughout Africa, a recent example being in Dakar, Senegal.

Moreover, these bases are the anchor - and merely the most visible aspect - of the US military's presence overseas. Every year, US forces train 100,000 soldiers in 180 countries, the presumption being that beefed-up local militaries will help to pursue US interests in local conflicts and save the US money, casualties and bad publicity when human rights abuses occur (the blowback effect of such activities has been made clear by the strength of the Taliban since 9/11). The US military presence also involves jungle, urban, desert, maritime and polar training exercises across wide swathes of landscape, which have become the pretext for substantial and permanent positioning of troops. In recent years, the US has run around 20 exercises annually on Philippine soil, which have resulted in a near-continuous presence of US soldiers in a country whose people ejected US bases in 1992 and whose constitution forbids foreign troops to be based on its territory. Finally, US personnel work every day to shape local legal codes to facilitate US access: they have lobbied, for example, to change the Philippine and Japanese constitutions to allow, respectively, foreign troop basing and a more-than-defensive military.

Asked why the US has a vast network of military bases around the world, Pentagon officials give both utilitarian and humanitarian arguments. Utilitarian arguments include the claim that bases provide security for the US by deterring attack from hostile countries and preventing or remedying unrest or military challenges; that bases serve the national economic interests of the US, ensuring access to markets and commodities needed to maintain US standards of living; and that bases are symbolic markers of US power and credibility - and so the more the better. Humanitarian arguments present bases as altruistic gifts to other nations, helping to liberate or democratise them, or offering aid relief. None of these humanitarian arguments deals with the problem that many of the bases were taken during wartime and "given" to the US by another of the war's victors.

Critics of US foreign policy have dissected and dismantled the arguments made for maintaining a global system of military basing. They have shown that the bases have often failed in their own terms: despite the Pentagon's claims that they provide security to the regions they occupy, most of the world's people feel anything but reassured by their presence. Instead of providing more safety for the US or its allies, they have ­often provoked attacks, and have made the communities around bases key targets of other nations' missiles. On the island of Belau in the Pacific, the site of sharp resistance to US attempts to instal a submarine base and jungle training centre, people describe their experience of military basing in the Second World War: "When soldiers come, war comes." On Guam, a joke among locals is that few people except for nuclear strategists in the Kremlin know where their island is.

As for the argument that bases serve the national economic interest of the US, the weapons, personnel and fossil fuels involved cost billions of dollars, most coming from US taxpayers. While bases have clearly been concentrated in countries with key strategic resources, particularly along the routes of oil and gas pipelines in central Asia, the Middle East and, increasingly, Africa, from which one-quarter of US oil imports are expected by 2015, the profits have gone first of all to the corporations that build and service them, such as Halliburton. The myth that bases are an altruistic form of "foreign aid" for locals is exploded by the substantial costs involved for host economies and polities. The immediate negative effects include levels of pollution, noise, crime and lost productive land that cannot be offset by soldiers' local spending or employment of local people. Other putative gains tend to benefit only local elites and further militarise the host nations: elaborate bilateral negotiations swap weapons, cash and trade privileges for overflight and land-use rights. Less explicitly, rice imports, immigration rights to the US or overlooking human rights abuses have been the currency of exchange.

The environmental, political, and economic impact of these bases is enormous. The social problems that accompany bases, including soldiers' violence against women and car crashes, have to be handled by local communities without compensation from the US. Some communities pay the highest price: their farmland taken for bases, their children neurologically damaged by military jet fuel in their water supplies, their neighbours imprisoned, tortured and disappeared by the autocratic regimes that survive on US military and political support given as a form of tacit rent for the bases. The US military has repeatedly interfered in the domestic affairs of nations in which it has or desires military access, operating to influence votes and undermine or change local laws that stand in the way.

Social movements have proliferated around the world in response to the empire of US bases, ever since its inception. The attempt to take the Philippines from Spain in 1898 led to a drawn-out guerrilla war for independence that required 126,000 US occupation troops to stifle. Between 1947 and 1990, the US military was asked to leave France, Yugoslavia, Iran, Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Vietnam, Indonesia, Peru, Mexico and Venezuela. Popular and political objection to the bases in Spain, the Philippines, Greece and Turkey in the 1980s gave those governments the grounds to negotiate ­significantly more compensation from the US. Portugal threatened to evict the US from important bases in the Azores unless it ceased its support for independence for its African colonies.

Since 1990, the US has been sent packing, most significantly, from the Philippines, Panama, Saudi Arabia, Vieques and Uzbekistan. Of its own accord, for varying reasons, it decided to leave countries from Ghana to Fiji. Persuading the US to clean up after itself - including, in Panama, more than 100,000 rounds of unexploded ordnance - is a further struggle. As in the case of the US navy's removal from Vieques in 2003, arguments about the environmental and health damage of the military's activities remain the centrepiece of resistance to bases.

Many are also concerned by other countries' overseas bases - primarily European, Russian and Chinese - and by the activities of their own militaries, but the far greater number of US bases and their weaponry has understandably been the focus. The sense that US bases represent a major injustice to the host community and nation is very strong in countries where US bases have the longest standing and are most ubiquitous. In Okinawa, polls show that 70 to 80 per cent of the island's people want the bases, or at least the marines, to leave. In 1995, the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl by two US marines and one US sailor led to demands for the removal of all US bases in Japan. One family in Okinawa has built a large peace museum right up against the edge of the Futenma Airbase, with a stairway to the roof that allows busloads of schoolchildren and other visitors to view the sprawling base after looking at art depicting the horrors of war.

In Korea, the great majority of the population feels that a reduction in US presence would increase national security; in recent years, several violent deaths at the hands of US soldiers triggered vast candlelight vigils and protests across the country. And the original inhabitants of Diego Garcia, evicted from their homes between 1967 and 1973 by the British on behalf of the US for a naval base, have organised a concerted campaign for the right to return, bringing legal suit against the British government, a story told in David Vine's recent book Island of Shame. There is also resistance to the US expansion plans into new areas. In 2007, a number of African nations baulked at US attempts to secure access to sites for military bases. In eastern Europe, despite well-funded campaigns to convince Poles and Czechs of the value of US bases and much sentiment in favour of accepting them in pursuit of closer ties with Nato and the EU, and promised economic benefits, vigorous pro­tests have included hunger strikes and led the Czech government, in March, to reverse its plan to allow a US military radar base to be built in the country.

The US has responded to action against bases with a renewed emphasis on "force protection", in some cases enforcing curfews on soldiers, and cutting back on events that bring local people on to base property. The department of defence has also engaged in the time-honoured practice of renaming: clusters of soldiers, buildings and equipment have become "defence staging posts" or "forward operating locations" rather than military bases. Regulating documents become "visiting forces agreements", not "status of forces agreements", or remain entirely secret. While major reorganisation of bases is under way for a host of reasons, including a desire to create a more mobile force with greater access to the Middle East, eastern Europe and central Asia, the motives also include an attempt to prevent political momentum of the sort that ended US use of the Vieques and Philippine bases.

The attempt to gain permanent basing in Iraq foundered in 2008 on the objections of forces in both Iraq and the US. Obama, in his Cairo speech in June, may have insisted that "we pursue no bases" in either Iraq or Afghanistan, but there has been no sign of any significant dismantling of bases there, or of scaling back the US military presence in the rest of the world. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, recently visited Japan to ensure that it follows through on promises to provide the US with a new airfield on Okinawa and billions of dollars to build new housing and other facilities for 8,000 marines relocating to Guam. She ignored the invitation of island activists to come and see the damage left by previous decades of US base activities. The myriad land-grabs and hundreds of billions of dollars spent to quarter troops around the world persist far beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, and too far from the headlines.

Catherine Lutz is a professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University and editor of "The Bases of Empire: the Global Struggle against US Military Posts" (Pluto Press, £17.99)