As the editor of Chalmers Johnson's Blowback
Trilogy for the American
Empire Project, I was struck by an oddity when the second volume, The
Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic,
was published in 2004 to splendid reviews in this country. Johnson's focus
in the book its heart and soul, you might say was what he called
of bases," the over-700
military bases, giant to micro, that the Pentagon then listed as ours.
The book vividly laid out the Pentagon's global basing structure, its "footprint"
(to use the term the Defense Department favors), in startling detail.
It was a way of getting at the nature of imperial power for a country that
largely avoided colonies, but nonetheless managed to garrison the globe. As
a topic, all those bases would have seemed unavoidable in any serious review,
no less one praising the book. Yet, somehow, review after review managed not
to mention, no less substantively discuss, this crucial aspect of Johnson's
thesis. Only recently, all these years later, has a mainstream review appeared
in this country that focused on his work on those bases. Jonathan Freedland,
reviewing the third volume in Johnson's trilogy, Nemesis:
The Last Days of the American Republic, in the New
York Review of Books, took up the subject eloquently and (wouldn't
you know it?), he isn't an American. He works for the British Guardian.
Isn't it strange that we Americans can garrison the planet and yet, in this
country, bases are only a topic of discussion when some local U.S. community
suddenly hears that it might lose its special base and an uproar ensues. Typically,
we have made it through years of war since 2001, during which untold billions
of dollars have gone into constructing massive bases in Iraq and Afghanistan,
and yet these bases (as well as the planning behind them) have, until recently,
gone almost totally unmentioned
in all the argument, debate, and uproar over what to do about Iraq.
In reality explain it as you will Americans have little grasp of the
enormity of the Pentagon, despite real military budgets that, by some calculations,
of a trillion dollars yearly. (And don't forget that, since 2002, we've
been piling on with a second Defense Department, the hapless
bureaucratic morass that goes by the name of the Department of Homeland
Security.) Nick Turse, Tomdispatch associate editor whose book, The Complex
about all the newest twists on the old Military-Industrial you-know-what
will be out in the spring of 2008, quite literally sizes the Pentagon up
for us. Tom
How the Pentagon Came to Own the Earth, Seas, and Skies
By Nick Turse
Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported
on a proposal, championed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to reduce the
number of U.S. troops in Iraq in exchange for bipartisan Congressional support
for the long-term (read: more or less permanent) garrisoning of that country.
The troops are to be tucked away on "large bases far from Iraq's major cities."
This plan sounded suspiciously similar to one revealed
by Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt in the New York Times on April 19,
2003, just as U.S. troops were preparing to enter Baghdad. Headlined "Pentagon
Expects Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq," it laid out a U.S. plan
"a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of
Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to perhaps four bases in Iraq
that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside
Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated
airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that
runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north."
Shortly thereafter, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, denied any such
plans: "I have never, that I can recall, heard the subject of a permanent
base in Iraq discussed in any meeting," and, while the bases were being built,
the story largely disappeared
from the mainstream media.
Even with the multi-square mile, multi-billion dollar, state-of-the-art
Air Base and Camp
Victory thrown in, however, the bases in Gates' new plan will be but
a drop in the bucket for an organization that may well be the world's largest
landlord. For many years, the U.S. military has been gobbling up large swaths
of the planet and huge amounts of just about everything on (or in) it. So,
with the latest Pentagon Iraq plans in mind, take a quick spin with me around
this Pentagon planet of ours.
Garrisoning the Globe
In 2003, Forbes magazine revealed that media mogul Ted Turner was
America's top land baron with a total of 1.8 million acres across the
U.S. The nation's ten largest landowners, Forbes reported,
"own 10.6 million acres, or one out of every 217 acres in the country."
Impressive as this total was, the Pentagon puts Turner and the entire pack
of mega-landlords to shame with over 29 million acres in U.S. landholdings.
Abroad, the Pentagon's "footprint" is also that of a giant. For example,
the Department of Defense controls 20% of the Japanese island of Okinawa
and, according to Stars and Stripes, "owns about 25 percent of Guam."
Mere land ownership, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.
In his 2004 book, The
Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson opened the world's eyes to the
size of the Pentagon's global footprint, noting that the Department of Defense
(DoD) was deploying nearly 255,000 military personnel at 725 bases in 38 countries.
Since then, the total number of overseas bases has increased to at least 766
and, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, may actually
be as high as 850. Still, even these numbers don't begin to capture the global
sprawl of the organization that unabashedly refers to itself as "one of the
world's largest landlords."
The DoD's "real property portfolio," according to 2006 figures, consists
of a total of 3,731 sites. Over 20% of these sites are located on more than
711,000 acres outside of the U.S. and its territories. Yet even these numbers
turn out to be a drastic undercount. For example, while a 2005 Pentagon
report listed U.S. military sites from Antigua and Hong Kong to Kenya and
Peru, some countries with significant numbers of U.S. bases go entirely
unmentioned Afghanistan and Iraq, for example.
In Iraq, alone, in mid-2005, U.S. forces were deployed at some 106
bases, from the massive Camp Victory, headquarters of the U.S. high
command, to small 500-troop outposts in the country's hinterlands. None
of them made the Pentagon's list. Nor was there any mention of bases in
Jordan on that list or in the 2001-2005 reports either. Yet that nation,
as military analyst William Arkin has pointed out, allowed the garrisoning
of 5,000 U.S. troops at various bases around the country during the build-up
to the war in Iraq. In addition, some 76 nations have given the U.S. military
access to airports and airfields in addition to who knows where else
that the Pentagon forgot to acknowledge or considers inappropriate for inclusion
in its list.
Even without Jordan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the more than 20 other nations
that, Arkin noted in early 2004, were "secretly or quietly providing bases
and facilities," the available statistics do offer a window into a bloated
organization bent on setting up franchises across the globe. According to
2005 documents, the Pentagon acknowledges 39 nations with at least one U.S.
base, stations personnel in over 140 countries around the world, and boasts
a physical plant of at least 571,900 facilities, though some Pentagon figures
show 587,000 "buildings and structures." Of these, 466,599 are located in
the United States or its territories. In fact, the Department of Defense
owns or leases more than 75% of all federal buildings in the U.S.
According to 2006 figures, the Army controls the lion's share of DoD land
(52%), with the Air Force coming in second (33%), the Marine Corps (8%) and
the Navy (7 %) bringing up the rear. The Army is also tops in total number
of sites (1,742) and total number of installations (1,659). But when it comes
to "large installations," those whose value tops $1.584 billion, the Army
is trumped by the Air Force, which boasts 43 mega-bases compared to the Army's
39. The Navy and Marines possess only 29 and 10, respectively. What
the Navy lacks in big bases of its own, however, it more than makes up for
in borrowed foreign naval bases and ports some 251 across the globe.
Land and large installations, however, are not all that the Defense Department
owns. Until relatively recently, the U.S. Navy operated its own dairy, complete
with a herd of Holsteins. Even though it did get rid of those cows in 1998,
it kept the 865-acre farm tract in Gambrills, Maryland, and now leases it
to Horizon Organic Dairy.
While it doesn't have a dairy, the Army still operates stables such
as the John C. McKinney Memorial Stables where many of the 44 horses from
its ceremonial Caisson Platoon live. It also has a big farm (the Large Animal
Research Facility). In fact, the Pentagon owns hundreds of thousands of
animals from rats to dogs to monkeys. In addition to an unknown number
of animals used for unexplained "other purposes," in 2001 alone, the DoD
utilized 330,149 creatures for various types of experimentation.
Then, there's the equipment the DoD owns, loads of it. For instance, it
is the unlikely owner of "over 2,050 railcars, know[n] as the Defense Freight
Rail Interchange Fleet." The DoD also reportedly ships 100,000 sea containers
each year and spends $800 million annually on domestic cargo, primarily
truck and rail shipments. And when it comes to trucks, the Army, alone,
has a fleet of 12,700 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (huge, eight-wheeled
vehicles used to supply ammunition, petroleum, oils, and lubricants to other
combat vehicles and weapons systems in the field) and 120,000 Humvees. All
told, according to a 2006 Pentagon report, the DoD had a total of at least
"280 ships, 14,000 aircraft, 900 strategic missiles, and 330,000 ground
combat and tactical vehicles."
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the DoD's largest combat support agency
(with operations in 48 of the 50 states and 28 foreign countries) boasts:
"If America's forces eat it, wear it, maintain equipment with it, or burn
it as fuel, DLA probably provides it." In fact, the DLA claims that it "manages"
some 5.2 million items and maintains an inventory, in its Defense Distribution
Depots (which stretch from Italy and Japan to Korea and Kuwait), valued at
The DLA runs the Defense National Stockpile Center (DNSC) which stores
42 "strategic and critical materials" from zinc, lead, cobalt, chromium,
and mercury (more than 9.7 million pounds of it in 2005) to precious metals
such as platinum, palladium, and even industrial diamonds at 20 locations
across the U.S. With a stockpile valued at over $1.5 billion and $5.7 billion
in sales of excess commodities since 1993, the DNSC claims that there is
"no private sector company in the world that sells this wide range of commodities
All told, the Department of Defense owns up to having "[o]ver $1 trillion
in assets [and] $1.6 trillion in liabilities." This is, no doubt, a gross
underestimate given the DoD's historic penchant for flawed book-keeping
and the fact that, according to a study by its own inspector general, it
cannot even account for at least $1 trillion dollars in money spent or
perhaps, according to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as much
as $2.3 trillion. Cooking the books and stashing cash is fitting enough
for an American organization, in the age of Enron, that thinks of itself
not just as a government agency but, in its own words,
as "America's oldest company, largest company, busiest company and most
successful company." In fact, on its website, the DoD makes the point that
it easily bests Wal-Mart, Exxon-Mobil, and General Motors in terms of budget
It's Got the Whole World in Its Hands
In addition to assembling a dizzying array of assets, from tungsten to
tubas in 2005 alone, it spent more than $6 million on sheet music, musical
instruments, and accessories the Pentagon owns a great deal of housing:
300,000 units worldwide. By its own admission, it is also a slumlord par
excellence with an inventory of "180,000 inadequate family housing
units." According to the Office of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense
(Installations & Environment):
"Approximately 33 percent of all [military] families live on-base,
in housing that is often dilapidated, too small, lacking in modern facilities
almost 49 percent (or 83,000 units) are substandard."
Meanwhile, the Department of Defense's own home, the Pentagon, bests the
Sultan of Brunei's Istana Nurul Iman palace, the largest private residence
in the world 3,705,793 to 2,152,782 square feet of occupiable space.
The DoD likes to boast that the Pentagon is "virtually a city in itself"
with 30 miles of access highways, 200 acres of lawn space. It includes
a five-acre center courtyard, 17.5 miles of corridors, 16 parking lots (with
an estimated 8,770 parking spaces), seven snack bars, two cafeterias, one
dining room, a post office, "credit union, travel agency, dental offices,
ticket offices, blood donor center, housing referral office, and 30 other
retail shops and services," a chapel, a heliport, and numerous libraries.
Moreover, says the DoD, the Pentagon consumed a huge portion of its natural
environment, its concrete reportedly contains "680,000 tons of sand and
gravel from the nearby Potomac River."
In value, the Pentagon's other properties are almost as impressive. The
combined worth of the world's two most expensive homes, the $138 million
Court" in Windlesham, Surrey in the United Kingdom and Saudi Prince
Bandar bin Sultan's $135 million Aspen ski lodge don't even come close to
the price tag on Ascension Auxiliary Airfield, located on a small island
off the coast of St. Helena (the place of Napoleon Bonaparte's exile and
death). It has an estimated replacement value of over $337 million. Other
high-priced facilities include Camp Ederle in Italy at $544 million; Incirlik
Air Base in Turkey at almost $1.2 billion; and Thule Air Base in Greenland
at $2.8 billion; while the U.S. Naval Air Station in Keflavik, Iceland is
appraised at $3.4 billion and the various military facilities in Guam are
valued at more than $11 billion.
Still, to begin to grasp the Pentagon's global immensity, it helps to
look, again, at its land holdings all 120,191 square kilometers which
are almost exactly the size of North Korea (120,538 square kilometers).
These holdings are larger than any of the following nations: Liberia, Bulgaria,
Guatemala, South Korea, Hungary, Portugal, Jordan, Kuwait, Israel, Denmark,
Georgia, or Austria. The 7,518 square kilometers of 20 micro-states the
Vatican, Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Saint Kitts and
Nevis, Maldives, Malta, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Barbados, Antigua
and Barbuda, Seychelles, Andorra, Bahrain, Saint Lucia, Singapore, the Federated
States of Micronesia, Kiribati and Tonga combined pales in comparison
to the 9,307 square kilometers of just one military base, White Sands Missile
While it has been setting up hundreds of bases across the globe to support
ongoing wars, the Pentagon has also been restructuring its forces in an
effort to reduce troop levels at old Cold War mega-bases and close down
less strategically useful sites. Does this mean less Pentagon control in
Don't bet on it. In fact, the U.S. military is exploring long-term options
to dominate the planet as never before. Previously, the DoD has only maintained
a moving presence on the high seas. This may change. The Pentagon is now
considering and planning for future "sea-basing." No longer just a
ship, a fleet, or "prepositioned material" stationed on the world's oceans,
sea-bases will be "a hybrid system-of-systems consisting of concepts of
operations, ships, forces, offensive and defensive weapons, aircraft, communications
and logistics." The notion of such bases is increasingly popular within
the military due to the fact that they "will help to assure access to areas
where U.S. military forces may be denied access to support [land] facilities."
After all, as a report by the Defense Science Board pointed out, "[S]eabases
are sovereign [and] not subject to alliance vagaries." Imagine a future
where the people of countries at odds with U.S. policies suddenly find America's
"massive seaborne platforms" floating just outside their territorial waters.
With a real-estate portfolio that includes the earth and the sea, the sky
would, quite literally, be the limit for the DoD. According to Noah Shachtman,
editor of Wired's "Danger Room" blog, the "U.S. Air Force Transformation
Flight Plan" of 2004 outlined what "analysts call the most detailed picture
since the end of the Cold War of the Pentagon's efforts to turn outer space
into a battlefield, the report makes U.S. dominance of the heavens a top Pentagon
priority in the new century." As the U.S. military's outer-space policy statement
puts it, "Freedom of action in space is as important to the United States
as air power and sea power."
When you're focused on effectively controlling a planet, the idea of occupying
Iraq, a country about the size of the state of California, for the next decade
or five, must seem like a small thing. In practice, however, the global landlord
on the Potomac has found property values in Iraq steep indeed. As all now
know, it has been fought to a standstill there by modest-sized bands of guerrillas
lacking air power, sea power, or high-tech spy satellites in outer space.
The Pentagon may be landlord to massive swaths of the globe, but from Vietnam
to Laos, Beruit to Somalia, U.S. forces have also found themselves evicted
by neighborhood residents from properties they were prepared to consider their
own. The question remains: Will Iraq be added to the list of permanently occupied
territories and take on the look of long-garrisoned South Korea as Secretary
of Defense Gates and President Bush have urged or will it be added
to a growing list of places that have effectively resisted paying the rent
on Planet Pentagon?
Nick Turse is the associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com.
He has written for the Los
Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Nation, the Village Voice,
and regularly for Tomdispatch.com. His first book, The Complex, an exploration
of the new military-corporate complex in America, is due out in the American
Empire Project Series by Metropolitan Books in 2008.
Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt