John Reed, writing last week in Foreign Policy, describes Washington’s militarized empire of bases in the Persian Gulf in all its gritty detail. The Obama administration has moved significant military reinforcements into the Persian Gulfin order to intimidate Iran and increase the number of fighter jets capable of striking the Islamic Republic in any potential conflict. But as Reed explains, “what’s already there is pretty impressive.”
Take Jebel Ali. Built in the 1970s and located roughly 20 miles southwest of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, the port has the largest man-made deep-water harbor in the world; and, covering 52 square miles, it’s the largest port in the Middle East, with more than 1 million square meters of shipping container storage. A quick look on Google Earth reveals a U.S. Navy Nimitz class aircraft carrier tied up alongside the service’s fenced in R&R facility there. And where there are carriers, there are Aegis radar-equipped guided missile cruisers and destroyers, frigates, at least one attack submarine, and several supply ships similar to the Rappahannock nearby. While it’s not officially a major Navy base, it sees a steady stream of ships that are rotating through the region on deployments from their homeports in the United States.
Next up is the headquarters for the Navy’s Middle East operations, in Manama, Bahrain, a site the sea service describes as, “the busiest 60 acres in the world.” While Naval Support Activity Bahrain, as it’s formally known, isn’t necessarily bustling with as many large ships as Jebel Ali, it serves as the nerve center for the U.S. Fifth Fleet and a variety of U.S. and international task forces that do everything from protecting Iraq’s oil platforms to hunting pirates off the Somali coast. It’s also the home port of numerous U.S. Navy minesweepers and patrol boats, while bigger Navy ships often pull into Bahrain’s extensive repair and resupply facilities that sit just across the harbor from the base.
Much as Jebel Ali does for the Navy, the UAE air force’s Al Dhafra Air Base serves as a major hub for U.S. and allied jets. American KC-10 and KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, E-3 Sentry AWACS jets, U-2 spy planes, and even F-22 Raptors regularly deploy there. The base is also home to the Gulf Air Warfare Center, a facility that brings together the air forces of the GCC states, the U.S. Air Force, and other nations for air combat exercises. Al Dhafra is also rumored to be a potential home for U.S.-made high-altitude missile defense systems.
Perhaps more important than Al Dhafra is the American base at al Udeid, Qatar, U.S. Central Command’s hub for allied forces in the region, as well as host to a number of bombers, cargo planes, tankers, and spy jets. Again, a Google Earth overview reveals B-1 heavy bombers, KC-135 tankers, RC-135 Rivet Joint signals intelligence collection planes, E-8 Joint STARS ground-scanning radar jets, C-130 tactical airlifters, P-3 Orion submarine hunters, an EP-3 Aries signals intelligence plane, a C-5 Galaxy airlifter, and C-17 airlifters on the ramp there.
Meanwhile, Camp Arifjan in Kuwait has served as the regional depot for U.S. military ground vehicles in the Gulf, most recently thousands of tanks, trucks, MRAPS, and other armored vehicles departing Iraq. Camp Arifjan is closely linked with the Kuwaiti port of Shuaiba, where the ground vehicles are loaded and unloaded from cargo ships. The Air Force maintains a wing of C-130 Hercules tactical airlifters at Ali al Salem Air Base in Kuwait.
That’s all just the beginning. Reed goes into even further detail on the current reinforcements being brought to the Gulf states; everything from minesweepers, attack helicopters, “Griffin missiles and their associated launchers,” and high-tech radars, not to mention beefing up the militaries of these brutal, undemocratic regimes. And people still wonder how it is that innocent fisherman get killed by US forces in the Gulf waters, why Iran feels threatened (and acts accordingly), and of course…”why they hate us.”
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee report [PDF] recently described how Washington aims to maintain key military bases and troop presence throughout the entire region and how to overcome challenges to maintaining such dominance, which is vital because the region is “home to more than half of the world’s oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas.” The report, rather unapologetically, admitted that US military presence in the region as well as US support for brutal dictatorships has generated widespread hatred and blowback. According to the report, the challenge is to maintain the imperial dominance over the region, but avoid the messy “backlash” and embarrassment from the support for vast “human rights abuses.”
Do we face any actual military threat from Iran, or any other state in the Middle East? No. But as Colin Powell recently explained, American defense has nothing to do with defense, and everything to do with offense. These postures, as Madison said of standing armies, are one of history’s greatest mischiefs.