Kerry Is Clueless on Bases

The case that I have been making in this space – that, from a non-interventionist perspective, John Kerry may be worse than Bush when it comes to foreign policy – was boosted, if not proved, with the Democrats’ denunciation of the President’s plan to withdraw some 70,000 troops from abroad and close some of those overseas bases. In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Kerry opined:

“Nobody wants to bring troops home more than those of us who have fought in foreign wars. But it needs to be done at the right time and in a sensible way. This is not that time or that way. For example, why are we unilaterally withdrawing 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time we are negotiating with North Korea – a country that really has nuclear weapons?”

Well, let’s see: if North Korea really does have nuclear weapons, and would, as many believe, launch a preemptive strike against U.S. and South Korean forces on the peninsula if they thought an invasion was imminent, what good would those 12,000 GIs do? Most would perish in the first few hours of such a conflagration, but Kerry has no problem with incinerating them on the altar of his ambition: anything to score some political points off of George W. Bush.

This ploy, however, is not scoring any points. If anything, it is losing Kerry points among his own supporters. The Democrats have, at least to some extent, previously been critics of our “forward-based” post-cold war foreign policy, but, as an alternately perceptive and maddening recent piece in the Los Angeles Times by Ronald Brownstein points out, the proposed withdrawal:

Has caused the two major political parties to switch positions. Democrats who long championed reducing U.S. troop commitments abroad now question the idea, while Bush is defending reductions with arguments like those Bill Clinton used against the president’s father in the 1992 campaign.”

The Brownstein piece presents this switch in polarities on two levels, domestic and foreign. The latter is expressed by Tom Bentley, director of “Demos,” a tranzi outfit based in London, and closely associated with Tony Blair’s New Labour:

“The logic has been turned around. The traditional position … was the concern that America was withdrawing into itself. The danger is now America untethered.”

Some people are just so hard to please. I have to wonder if Americans could embrace a policy that wouldn’t somehow rankle London, Paris, and Berlin. But if we look at the economics of the base closure issue, the question arises: who is tethered by whom?

The network of American military bases ringing the globe represents one of the biggest international welfare schemes, ever, on several levels. It’s true, as Chalmers Johnson points out in The Sorrows of Empire, that these bases impose a plethora of social costs on their often unwilling hosts: particularly in Asia, where American arrogance in Japan and South Korea provoked mass protests and calls for closing the bases.

Japan would be more than relieved to be rid of the American bases on their territory, particularly on Okinawa, but the Germans are somewhat glum at the prospect. Deutsche Welle‘s story, “Losing the Boys,” waxes sentimental over the departure of the “wild” Americans, who have apparently been on a bit of a spree in the town of Baumholder in southwestern Germany. But, hey, says Dimitri Panciera, who works for the local ice cream parlor, why not cut them some slack?:

“The boys have been gone for a whole year and were under a lot of stress. They’re happy to be in a safe place. I’m used to things getting a little crazy here at night.”

Volkmar Pees, a local official, expressed the general sentiment in this supposed hotbed of “anti-Americanism,” which is sheer horror at the economic implications:

“It would be a catastrophe if the Americans would leave without a replacement.”

“But where should the replacement come from?” asks Deutsche Welle:

Town officials have already contacted the German military. But the Bundeswehr is also closing down bases and won’t be able to fill the barracks and apartments that the Americans will leave behind. Another major issue is the loss of jobs: 600 Germans work on the base. Attracting businesses is not an easy thing in this part of the country, especially not as Germany is still struggling to escape an economic downturn, Pees said. That’s why the community has to face up to the fact that it will lose about €20 million ($24.7 million) in annual revenue. That’s how much the Americans spend right now.”

The network of U.S. military bases – more than 750 of them overseas – represents a multi-billion dollar subsidy to the host countries. This kind of generosity is the insignia of the American Imperium, which is unique in being the only empire in world history where “everything goes out and nothing comes in,” as the Old Right author Garet Garrett acerbically put it in his 1951 essay “Ex America.” It isn’t only Halliburton that profits from base-building and maintenance, but also local businesses.

Yet the impact of the changes may be overblown. As Scott MacMillan points out in his excellent round-up of European opinion on the troop realignment issue, in Germany the Bush plan calls for withdrawing less than half of “the boys.” The rest will remain to buy plenty of ice cream, go wild while drinking themselves into a stupor, and serve as both a remaining bargaining chip and a constant reminder of America’s imperial hegemony.

I would also point out that the plan, which calls for repositioning U.S. troops in Poland, Romania, and (ugh!) Uzbekistan, is really an expansion of our military presence.

U.S. troops are not abandoning Western Europe. Looked at in purely geographical terms, they are merely spreading Eastward, toward the War Party’s main target of the moment: the Middle East. But also much closer to Russia, which is another obvious but curiously overlooked aspect of the Eastward Ho plan. As South Ossetia heats up – and, with it, the campaign to demonize Vladimir Putin as the reincarnation of Stalin and Hitler – the stage is being set for what may be the surprising second act of the preemptive war follies.

There is, in short, a valid critique of the realignment strategy on which the repositioning proposal is based. But Kerry is not making it. His surprising inversion of the old partisan polarity on this issue certainly confuses his supporters, particularly the Anybody But Bush (ABB) contingent. But for instant enlightenment, all you have to do is drink deeply of Kerry’s Kool-Aid. Philip H. Gordon, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, must have downed a giant draught, because there he is in the Los Angeles Times bibbling to Brownstein:

“During the Cold War, bringing troops home was a dovish thing to do. Now, it’s hawkish.”

In the Bizarro World of the Kerry-ites, increasing the military by 45,000, as Kerry proposes, is also dovish. If and when Iraq becomes Kerry’s war, instead of Dubya’s, we’ll be hearing how mowing down Iraqis in the streets of their own cities is akin to releasing the doves of peace. As if by way of an explanation, Brownstein goes on to discuss the context in which the debate over troop realignment occurs:

“The proposed reductions in Europe, in particular, have become entangled with the ongoing dispute about whether Bush should give NATO and other allies a larger voice in American military choices — a controversy underscored by the U.S. decision to invade Iraq. As a result, a call for troop reduction that once raised fears America would be too slow to use force abroad now spurs concern that it will be too quick.”

There’s no pleasing some people, is there? That’s the thanks we get for “saving” Europe during two world wars, and the threat of a third. The Euro-ingrates are right to fear Uncle Sam’s quick temper, and increasing belligerence. But they are wrong to think they’ll get much in the way of relief from Kerry. “Any argument that Kerry makes is right,” argues Le Figaro, “if it means he wins the White House.” But the idea that John Kerry is going to run a presidential campaign based on the complaint that we aren’t listening to the UN, the French, and the Euro-crats in Brussels is just laughable.

Kerry’s criticism shows that he has no understanding of how warfare has changed: he poses the question of whether to retain our overseas bases not in a strategic framework, but in terms of forging political ties with our allies:

“With al-Qaeda operating in 60 countries, we need closer alliances in every part of the world to fight and win the war on terrorism. So, as president, I will be a commander in chief who renews our alliances based on shared interests and a common vision for a safer world. For more than 50 years, our allies have joined with us to say: the future doesn’t belong to fear; it belongs to freedom.”

But what Kerry misses completely is that every American base, in Al Qaeda’s war against the U.S., is a potential target. It’s all well and good to deny that the future belongs to fear, but somebody ought to tell that to the voters of Spain, who never supported the invasion of Iraq and were not about to put their lives on the line for the sake of George W. Bush’s foreign policy. If Kerry somehow believes they will make an exception for him, he is very much mistaken.

As Chalmers Johnson pointed out in a commentary on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now!” radio program, the Kerry/Wesley Clark critique of the realignment – that it somehow “compromises” the war on terrorism – is largely irrelevant. Military bases are of little use in the struggle against shadowy terrorist cells dispersed worldwide.

Johnson cuts right to the essential issue, which is not just the plethora of bases, but certain recently-established military installations:

“At the same time, they don’t say anything about 14 permanent bases being built in Iraq. Four are already built: Tallil Air Base, Baghdad, the one in the north near Mosul and the one over on the border with Syria. They don’t say anything about the bases in Jabuti, in the Saharan Desert, in Mali and places like that.”

Neither Kerry nor Bush wants to talk about those particular bases, or what they imply. Whatever their disagreements over particular nuances, both “major” party candidates support the concept of a semi-permanent American military presence in Iraq.

Beyond that, this mutual nonaggression pact underscores the role of the two parties as twin pillars of a foreign policy based on hubris, and rooted in the grating, militant self-righteousness of our ruling elites that has – rightly – made us the objects of worldwide opprobrium.

In the race to determine which candidate is more interventionist, Kerry is now neck-and-neck with Bush, and, who knows, he may even pull ahead before November.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].