The U.S. Empire of Bases — at $102 billion a year already the world’s costliest military enterprise — just got a good deal more expensive. As a start, on May 27th, we learned that the State Department will build a new "embassy" in Islamabad, Pakistan, which at $736 million will be the second priciest ever constructed, only $4 million less, if cost overruns don’t occur, than the Vatican-City-sized one the Bush administration put up in Baghdad...
Whatever the costs turn out to be, they will not be included in our already bloated military budget, even though none of these structures is designed to be a true embassy — a place, that is, where local people come for visas and American officials represent the commercial and diplomatic interests of their country. Instead these so-called embassies will actually be walled compounds, akin to medieval fortresses, where American spies, soldiers, intelligence officials, and diplomats try to keep an eye on hostile populations in a region at war. One can predict with certainty that they will house a large contingent of Marines and include roof-top helicopter pads for quick get-aways.
Strangely enough, this bristling musculature of imperial dominance doesn't sit well with the locals in the "garrisoned lands" -- an apt phrase used by Tom Englehardt in introducing Chalmer's piece. Englehardt also points us to this Christian Science Monitor story:
In Pakistan, however, large parts of the population are hostile to the US presence in the region – despite receiving billions of dollars in aid from Washington since 2001 – and anti-American groups and politicians are likely to seize on the expanded diplomatic presence in Islamabad as evidence of American "imperial designs."
"This is a replay of Baghdad," said Khurshid Ahmad, a member of Pakistan's upper house of parliament for Jamaat-e-Islami, one of the country's two main religious political parties. "This [Islamabad embassy] is more [space] than they should need. It's for the micro and macro management of Pakistan, and using Pakistan for pushing the American agenda in Central Asia."
While one has very little sympathy for religious parties anywhere (just look at the murderous, sanctimonious gits of the Republican and Democratic parties, all of them -- Obama included -- oozing Heepish piety as they rob the poor and wage ceaseless war all over the world), in this case Mr Ahmad hits ye old nail on the head. "Micro and macro management" of the imperial satrapies are indeed the feverish obsessions of our Potomac poobahs -- especially in a world which they darkly suspect is rapidly slipping from their accustomed control.
Chalmers also makes the vitally important -- hence universally ignored -- point that the American power structure, whether led by Neanderthal conservatives or ultramodern "progressives," has no intention of giving up the global archipelago of military bases that are the physical footprint of the American imperium:
And what is being done about those military bases anyway — now close to 800 of them dotted across the globe in other people’s countries? Even as Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over the cost of bank bailouts, a new health plan, pollution controls, and other much needed domestic expenditures, no one suggests that closing some of these unpopular, expensive imperial enclaves might be a good way to save some money.
Instead, they are evidently about to become even more expensive. On June 23rd, we learned that Kyrgyzstan, the former Central Asian Soviet Republic which, back in February 2009, announced that it was going to kick the U.S. military out of Manas Air Base (used since 2001 as a staging area for the Afghan War), has been persuaded to let us stay. But here’s the catch: In return for doing us that favor, the annual rent Washington pays for use of the base will more than triple from $17.4 million to $60 million, with millions more to go into promised improvements in airport facilities and other financial sweeteners. All this because the Obama administration, having committed itself to a widening war in the region, is convinced it needs this base to store and trans-ship supplies to Afghanistan.
Chalmers believes that the ring of iron that the United States has wrapped around the world will ultimately be the unmaking of the empire:
I have a suggestion for other countries that are getting a bit weary of the American military presence on their soil: cash in now, before it’s too late. Either up the ante or tell the Americans to go home. I encourage this behavior because I’m convinced that the U.S. Empire of Bases will soon enough bankrupt our country, and so — on the analogy of a financial bubble or a pyramid scheme — if you’re an investor, it’s better to get your money out while you still can.
This is, of course, something that has occurred to the Chinese and other financiers of the American national debt. Only they’re cashing in quietly and slowly in order not to tank the dollar while they’re still holding onto such a bundle of them. Make no mistake, though: whether we’re being bled rapidly or slowly, we are bleeding; and hanging onto our military empire and all the bases that go with it will ultimately spell the end of the United States as we know it.
While Chalmers is undoubtedly one of the wise men of our day, I am not so sure about this final point. Oh, it's true that the empire of bases is further bankrupting our already bankrupt country. And it's an indisputable fact that the fever-dream of dominance and militarism has already spelled the end of the United States as we knew it (or as we once perceived and hoped it to be). Yet it is hard for me to believe that if push really comes to shove for our imperial managers, they will simply stand by and watch their power and privilege melt away with nothing more than a wistful sigh for passing glories. Especially with a unfathomably vast military arsenal -- including thousands of nation-devouring nuclear weapons -- at their command.
In such a case, I strongly doubt they will show the wisdom and courage that unaccountably appeared among the party hacks of the late Soviet leadership, who had the guts to look reality in the face and realize they could not maintain their own militarist empire without a cataclysm of murder and violence that would have put the whole world in peril. They did something almost unthinkable for a political class -- especially those which, like the Communists (and the Democrats and Republicans), see themselves as the righteous vanguard of a uniquely blessed system beyond question or reproach: they admitted defeat, they let go -- not only of the Eastern bloc nations they had controlled since World War II, but also core territories that Russia had governed for centuries, such as Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. They risked an internal breakdown of epic proportions -- a fate which did indeed come to pass -- but they did not make war to save their empire. They withdrew their troops, and their political control, from country after country after country.
It is one of the most extraordinary episodes in world history. But it will almost certainly not be mentioned next week when Barack Obama visits Moscow -- where, as the proud head of a war machine that has killed a million innocent people in Iraq and is killing thousands in Afghanistan, as the stout defender and expander of the authoritarian power grabs of his White House predecessor and a staunch shield for torturers and other war criminals, he will scold the Russians for their lack of liberty and scanting of human rights. The vast sacrifices that the Russian people have made in the peaceful surrender of their empire -- the shattering of their society by the foolish adoption of Western "shock doctrine" economics and the Western-backed oligarchism of the bufoonish Yeltsin, all of which opened the door to the thuggish authoritarianism of the current Kremlin regime -- will once again go unremarked.
(Just as little was said a few weeks ago in the outpouring of official ceremonies marking the 65th annivesary of D-Day, where endless press paeans and political rhetoric hymned the "decisive" invasion, in which Allied forces faced 14 German divisions -- no mean feat, to be sure, and worthy of remembrance. But at the very same time, the Soviet armies were fighting 163 German divisions, rolling them back in a series of monumental battles that dwarfed the Normandy invasion, in a campaign that cost the lives of 20 million Russians and other Soviet peoples -- and was, by any measurement, the decisive factor in destroying Nazi power. But this too is largely ignored in American re-tellings of how "we" won the war.]
Perhaps -- when the last T-bills are called in, when the gigantic Ponzi scheme of the bailout scam runs out of suckers, when thousands of angry 'natives' are beseiging the walls of the Crusader fortresses the empire has raised in the midst of the "garrison lands," when the whole, sky-blackening hoard of imperial chickens comes home to roost -- perhaps the American elite of the day will rise to the moral level of late-20th century Soviet hacks, and let go. The history of America's bipartisan, multi-generational elite does not exactly inspire confidence in this regard, of course -- although stranger things have happened, I suppose, so it remains at least an outside chance. But I fear that when and if the Iron Ring comes down, it will not be "without great fall of blood."