As we write in 2004, the U.S. is currently
spending about 16 billion on foreign aid and $450 billion on military
outlays. The influence of the U.S. military in U.S. foreign policy is
still predominant but it is no longer quite so obviously in the ascendant.
Nor does the "empire" look so solid as a year ago. The looming
debacle in Iraq has exposed the weaknesses of the "new reformed military"
showcased in Iraq and now exposed for it's limitations. Indeed, the very
incompetence of the Department of Defense (DOD) headed by Defense secretary
Donald Rumsfeld has come into question.
Emblematic of the problem is that a year after Bush announced an end to
major combat behind a banner reading "Mission Accomplished,"
the U.S. is ordering thousands of armored vehicles, including 70-ton Abrams
tanks, to Iraq. Nevertheless, some experts continue to characterize U.S.
foreign policy as the most militarized of any country since the Second
World War. Certainly in terms of expenditures the Pentagon's budget is
unprecedented and eclipses even the combined total of the next ten countries
In fact, after September 1, 2001, the early 20th century notion of gunboat
diplomacy has been twisted to the point where-- gunboats trumped diplomacy
consistently-- at least until recent chastening events in Iraq produced
a reappraisal. In fact, the U.S. global reach is not so much an empire
in the classic sense but a global garrison state. As Tom Engelhardt puts
it "our particular version of military empire is perhaps unique:
all "gunboats, no colonies."
And today's gunboats are expensive. The DOD maintains that the only real
military threats to the U.S. derive from either 1) the potential use of
nuclear weapons or 2) what the Pentagon calls, "asymmetrical warfare";
i.e., the tactical use of terrorism to confront superior military power.
The war on terror declared in 2001, triggered a reversal of the cutbacks
seen in the 1990s in the Pentagon's budget and a surge in spending to
record levels. It is almost as if the administration's motto became: "so
many enemies, so little time." It seems daily more apparent now that
the U.S. government is spreading terrorism by a counterproductive foreign
policy. What is indisputable is that terrorism is increasing.
This pessimistic outlook is shared by the Bush administration and provides
the rationale for its military budget this year. The current budget of
$363 billion itself is more than ten times that of the country in second
place in military spending: Great Britain. The Bush administration's request
for 2004-2005 represents the biggest increase in Pentagon spending in
twenty years. This increase alone, $38 billion plus a $10 billion "war
reserve" fund, would add more money than any other country currently
spends on its military. The expansion of military funding for the foreseeable
future-- $451 billion by 2007 and $2.7 trillion on the military over the
next six years-- is historically unprecedented and contributes to the
record government deficit which is approaching 500 billion annually.
The current appropriations request include the development of long-range
missile defenses, long promoted by Rumsfeld; it does not include the supplemental
military budget for Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war on terrorism.
The Pentagon refuses to put a figure on the next request-- sure to come
after the elections in November-- but there are rumors of an amount between
$60 billion to $95 billion in one or more supplemental appropriations
to cover the estimated 105,000 and 150,000 troops remain in the country
through 2005. The original estimates of double or triple that number of
troops needed by General Anthony Zinny and Eric Shinseki, which were so
publicly disdained by the DOD, now look prophetic. Shinseki, then Army
chief of staff, was denounced by Rumsfeld and pushed into early retirement
for his trouble. The special supplement for Iraq alone this year was 87
billion and is now costing nearly $5 billion a month, claiming it cannot
determine the scope or cost of these circumstantial operations.
A large portion of the budget is dedicated to creating and sustaining
a vast global network of military and intelligence bases-- more than seven
hundred in all. The U.S. currently maintains bases in Turkey, Iraq, Saudi
Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Ethiopia,
Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as on the island
of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. In the Pacific on Okinawa, a small
island which can be driven around in a couple of hours, we have 38 bases.
Neoconservatives in Bush's Defense Department were eager to reform the
basing policy to create a more flexible, mobile entity which could respond
rapidly or "forward deploy" U.S. forces into any situation emerging
in the "arc of instability" extending from the Balkans south
to Northern Africa and east to the Chinese border. Not incidentally, this
theater also includes regions rich in oil and natural gas. The Pentagon
believes that during the 1990s the U.S. had to prepare for fighting two
wars simultaneously -- presumably in the Middle East and Northeast Asia--
while in he post 9-11 world, we must prepare for four.
New military facilities in, for example, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Qatar
will constitute a series of "lily pads" for launching quick
attacks and preemptive interventions. Bases were established in Saudi
Arabia and the small Gulf emirates after our first Gulf War in 1991; the
occupation of Islam's holy sites became one of the stated reasons for
Al Qaeda's attack on the U.S. September 11. The process of base creation
accelerated under Bush, including several in Pakistan and the Central
Asian republics of the former Soviet Union after the invasion of Afghanistan
in 2001. Iraq is slated for up to fourteen permanent U.S. bases -- what
the Pentagon quaintly calls "enduring camps"--to allow the U.S.
military to scale back its presence in Saudi Arabia. But for the foreseeable
future the military will control the entire country anyway.
The U.S. currently has some 480,000 men and women in the armed forces
with one third of US active duty combat troops in Iraq. Apart from distracting
from the real war on terrorism and alienating a good part of the globe
(it is safe to say that there has never been greater world-wide mistrust
and dislike of the U.S. government), the war in Iraq has dangerously stretched
U.S. military capabilities. The New York Times noted in a December 29,
2003, editorial that this military overstretch has pushed "peacetime
armed forces toward their limits; if a sudden crisis were to erupt in
North Korea or Afghanistan the U.S . would be hard-pressed to respond."
The editorial added that the White House must recognize that its unilateralism
is debilitating the Army and it must "change course before the damage
becomes harder to undo."
Iraq has distorted U.S. foreign and military policy in more ways than
one. James Fallows, in the April 2004 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, says
that "it is only a slight exaggeration to say that today the entire
U.S. military is either in Iraq, returning from Iraq, or getting ready
to go." National Guard or Army Reserves, many of whom enlisted for
educational benefits and never dreamed when they did that they would be
fighting a fierce and growing insurgency in Iraq, constitute forty per
cent of the troops deployed there.
In Africa the U.S. is currently dedicating 1 billion dollars in development
aid for the entire continent, one-twentieth of what it is spending in
Iraq for economic and infrastructural development. Moreover, since late
2003, the U.S. has been dispatching Special Forces troops to Mauritania,
Chad, Mali and Niger as part of the Pan Sahel Initiative, designed to
train the region's militaries in anti-terrorism. The U.S. has ratcheted
up military cooperation with Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia as well. The
ostensible reason is to reinforce the region's efforts against terrorism.
But behind the moves is the mounting interest in Africa's oil reserves
including many new and substantial discoveries and pressure from industry
and conservative ideologues to capture and protect energy sources outside
the Middle East.
In Asia the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program looms as
a real military problem for the U.S. unlike the manufactured problem in
Iraq. In the past two years Pyongyang revealed a previously clandestine
uranium enrichment program. The regime also began preparations to restart
a nuclear reactor plant to extract plutonium at Yongbyon which violated
the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. and other agreements with the US.
Experts estimate that it may have as many as eight nuclear bombs at present.
Notwithstanding its tough rhetoric about cracking down on weapons of mass
destruction, Washington is playing a delaying game in negotiating with
the regime of Kim Jong Il. The U.S. has over one hundred military bases
and 40,000 troops in South Korea. But it is surrounded by what is arguably
the most anti-American democracy on earth today and time is not on the
U.S. side. And while the clock ticks, the nuclear bombs accumulate. The
administration is hoping for the best when the talks resume May. But then
hope is a not a substitute for serious policy.
In Latin America the emphasis on military solutions and strengthening
military to military relations is quite pronounced. For the past three
years counterterrorism has played the central role that anticommunism
did during the cold war in defining U.S.-Latin American relations. For
example, right after 9-11, Secretary of State Colin Powell went to Colombia
and said that it no longer made any sense to insist on separating the
drug war in Colombia from the war on terrorism because narcotics and terrorism
were linked as threats to democracy. Under "Plan Colombia" that
country receives the third largest amount of U.S. aid, after Israel and
Egypt. Most is destined for the military. The U.S. also has over 1,000
soldiers and military contractors in Colombia. In April, despite Congressional
concern for an overstretched military, General Hill testified to the need
for doubling the "troop cap" in Colombia to 800 military personnel
and 600 civilian contractors.
Even before September 11, 2001, U.S. foreign policy was driven by Pentagon
security concerns rather than any comprehensive social and economic agenda
of the State Department. Afterward, the war on terrorism became the organizing
principle, political rallying cry of the administration, and the handmaiden
of a U.S. dominated global order.
Yet Al Qaeda has generated more terrorist attacks in the 30 months since
9-11 than in the previous decade. And there is every reason to anticipate
that the world will see more terrorism as we increasingly sink into the
two quagmires that we have created in Afghanistan and Iraq. This war is
being waged as a conventional military operation ignoring the complexity
of the problem of terrorism and the need for a multifaceted approach that
considers its root causes as well as the need for precise measures to
combat its immediate threat. In the meantime the war in Iraq has dangerously
diverted attention and resources from a real war on terror as well as
the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. Should a crisis materialize there,
the U.S. military would be sorely tested to respond.
The main elements of current US policy are consonant with Bush's world
view. U.S. budgets are skewed toward military operations but is in short
supply to aid the ravaged economies in many troubled regions or to address
the social and economic conditions that spawn frustration, anger and terrorism
in the developing world. Military projection and military solutions are
given a high priority for regional conflicts. Collateral damage from Washington's
military unilateralism, clumsy diplomacy and militaristic foreign policy
is reflected in an historic display of antiamericanism across the globe
and an unprecedented antagonism toward U.S. policies by foreign leaders
and media. These repercussions as in addition to the actual costs in blood
and treasure for the U.S. have yet to be fully calculated or understood.