Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo

September 24, 2001

Author's note: I am in transit, and so this column – written before the horrific events of September 11 – will have to do. To all of my readers who wrote in, expressing support – and criticism: thanks. I will address the latter in the next installment of "Behind the Headlines," scheduled for this coming Wednesday. Stay tuned….

Why are 994 GIs stationed in Portugal?

The question of the day is: what are 994 GIs doing stationed in Portugal? Is that little country in imminent danger from an invasion? Is Spain, the only country with which it shares a border, about to march on Lisbon? Well, uh, no: they're there because well, because they're there. That, at least, is the answer one gets from perusing a pair of eye-popping reports in Human Events Online [September 10], "Imperial Overstretch," and "The Threat in Germany." The first piece is a remarkable map with an accompanying chart detailing the number of American troops stationed in thirty-two countries, spread out over four continents. Did you know that 673 American troops are protecting the Netherlands? From what is hard to imagine, unless it's the effects of legalized marijuana, gay marriage, and close proximity to Carla Del Ponte.


But not everyone gets such an easy gig. Like those 1,666 GIs stationed in Iceland. And what's up with those 107 centurions who got assigned to Russia, including 72 Marines? Is Washington expecting Putin to launch a surprise attack on the American embassy? Ah, yes, but a missile defense – a miniature version, perhaps – would neatly dispose of that threat.


And what are we to make of the 1,574 US military personnel now stationed in Belgium? Enough to occupy Brussels in a first strike against the EU. Now that would certainly put an end to their superpower pretensions!


We know, unfortunately, what those 351 American soldiers are doing in Macedonia – escorting Albanian rebels to safety and otherwise making sure that the insurgents are well-protected. After all, each Albanian rebel represents a considerable investment of US tax dollars. Add up all the money that went to arm and train the Kosovo "Liberation" Army and throw in the cost of the Kosovo war. Divide the total by the estimated number of NLA cadre – anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000, roughly speaking – and you can see why they went in there and rescued those NLA fighters from almost certain defeat by the Macedonian army in the village of Aracivino. With each one worth somewhere in the high end of five figures, the rationale for our Macedonian contingent is clear enough: protecting valuable government property.


In spite of the proposal by a well-known conservative columnist for an American invasion of Africa, the US has yet to heed this sage advice: just 111 in Kenya, and the rest in Egypt. No doubt this is due to discrimination, a sad condition for which American black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are sure to demand reparations. The cry will no doubt go up for affirmative action imperialism, a theme that the Bush administration, with its emphasis on reaching out to minorities, would be foolish not to latch onto.


Looking at the chart, and the accompanying map, I am struck by the top-heaviness of US deployments in Eastasia. Half a century after the Korean War, 36,171 Americans face off against the half-starved to death North Koreans, whose regime is tottering on the brink of complete dissolution. Just as East Germany imploded and set off a chain-reaction in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, so a seismic upheaval in Pyongyang could send shockwaves through China and southward to Vietnam and Laos, the last bastions of unreconstructed Leninism on earth. Yet the continuing US military presence on the Korean peninsula provides the ideological rationale for the communist regime, and gives it legitimacy: Pyongyang can claim the banner of authentic Korean nationalism, and so the national socialist regime in the north is perpetuated, ironically, by the US. The great reconciliation between Pyongyang and Seoul, staged amid much pomp and ceremony last year, has now been aborted by the US, which has delayed the process and imposed all kinds of conditions. Furthermore, the US has stated categorically that under no circumstances would US troops be leaving, at least not anytime soon. Not even if we're asked to leave by a reunited and de-communized Korea?


Speaking of being asked to leave, how long before this demand is made by a new generation of Japanese leaders who want to know why they have been sentenced to an eternity of self-abasement? After all these years, 40,025 American soldiers maintain the military occupation of conquered Japan – and for what? As a social safety valve, at least in part, a means to export our social problems and misfits – just ask the women of Okinawa.


An empire is a self-created, self-perpetuating organism, like any State, but on an international scale: it's first imperative is growth, and this means expansion through aggression. During the cold war, the empire-builders had no problem rationalizing America's omnipresence: we were, they argued, involved in a life and death struggle with the Soviet Union and its allies on a global scale, and we needed to go on the offensive. But after the Soviet Union and its satellites were swept away with astonishing suddenness, taking professional anti-Communists as well as communists by surprise, the dynamic circuit of imperial expansionism was broken. Congressional support for bigger and more weapons, and interventions both military and political, began to dry up, and popular support for these programs and policies – always low – plummeted. Yet these government programs – such as foreign aid – are not only preserved but continually expanded. The financial and political interests that benefit from a frankly imperial foreign policy are vocal and actively intervene to preserve and increase their share of American tax dollars. The profiteers of empire know what directly benefits them – unfortunately, the general public is less aware of how and why they're being ripped off.


Human Events Online assistant editor Timothy P. Carney should get some kind of public service award for calling up various members of Congress and asking: "Against what threat are the 70,000 US troops in Germany defending America?" I won't list all the responses, but here are a few gems:

"It absolutely makes us not only safer, but it guarantees that the world is safe for free trade and economic progress, and that's a very important security concern, as well – our economic well-being." ~ Sen. Thad Cochran (R.-Miss.)

So, if the EU imposes trade barriers, we can always do what – reoccupy Germany and march on Paris? Oh well, at least he's honest about the purely economic rationale for the 117,241 American troops in Europe: bread and butter for a whole raft of interlocking political and economic interests.


Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) averred: "I do not know either the numbers, or what their mission as defined is right now, because I haven't studied it." In other words: the dog ate my homework. In any case, he burbled, "it depends on what the national security interest is, as it's been defined by our government and by the policy leaders both in Congress as well as the President." Earth to Senator Frist: you are the government.


My favorite answer is out of the mouth of Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), that bloviating old rascal, who quipped: "I'll answer that question another day." Yeah, but don't hold your breath, West Virginia voters. Hell will freeze over before Harry "Pork Barrel" Byrd decides whether or not to answer a simple question: why ship billions of tax dollars overseas, when people at home are barely eking out a living? Byrd and the corporate and foreign lobbyists do more than eke out a living. They are living in the lap of luxury, thanks to the corporate and political interests that create and manage the infrastructure of the American Empire, and directly benefit from its expansion.


United States bases overseas are the tripwires of future conflicts, targets of terrorism and outposts of crime and violence that are poor advertisements for American culture. Superfluous in a post-cold war world, expensive as well as unnecessary, we could give up virtually all of them overnight without endangering US national security in the slightest. Indeed, the tremendous economic savings alone – and the correction of a major stream of market malinvestment – would be enough to pull the US out of a steepening recession. The diversion of resources to more productive uses would energize the economy to such an extent that, I am convinced, we would enter a new golden age of technology-driven prosperity.


What is needed is leadership with the vision to propose such a radical restructuring, which would, in effect, abolish the Empire and restore our old Republic. At present, neither party offers such leadership, and so the initiative for reform is going to have to come from below. The Bush administration is now reviewing all US overseas military commitments, and there could not be a better time than now to act. It's time for America to come home, now that the Cold War is over: this is not "isolationism," but simple common sense – and, increasingly, an economic and diplomatic necessity.

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