Empire and Resistance in an Increasingly Dangerous Era
by Joseph Gerson December 01, 2004
The following is a speech given at the Japan Peace Conference in Sasebo, Japan Nov. 19, 2004.
“I see dark moon rising on the right” – John Fogerty
I want to thank the Japan Peace Committee for your generous invitation return to the Japan Peace Conference, for the opportunity to continuing learning and taking strength from your movement, and to make what contributions I can to our collaborative work for peace, justice and true security. I also want to appreciate the important contributions that Uehara-san and Hirayama-san made to the Boston Social Forum in July on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. Their speeches, media work, and interactions with Social Forum participants helped awaken U.S. activists to the suffering caused by U.S. military bases and by the U.S. Japan alliance. They educated U.S. activists about the assault on the Japanese Constitution and growing militarism here in Japan. And their reports about the Japanese peace movement encouraged people in much the same way that my visits here have done for me.
It is a humbling experience to come to Sasebo. In addition to the suffering caused by the U.S. base here, I remember seeing photographs of this city after the U.S. fire bombings during the Second World War. At first glance, I was almost unable to distinguish between the devastation of this city and that of Hiroshima. The city was burned to the ground, with countless innocent people killed and maimed for life – physically and emotionally. On behalf of people of conscience in my country, I want to apologize and ask forgiveness for this war crime committed by my parents’ generation which helped to open the way for the indiscriminate slaughters of our era.
I have been asked to talk about roles of U.S. bases in war fighting and maintaining U.S. global hegemony, global resistance to U.S. bases, a little about the continuing disastrous U.S. war in Iraq and what we can expect in the aftermath of the U.S. election.
Let me begin with some thoughts about the U.S. election. Despite more people voting for a Democratic presidential candidate than ever before in U.S. history, the U.S. people and much of the world have suffered an historically important defeat that will have devastating reverberations for decades to come. Many of my compatriots are in states of shock and depression that our fellow and sister countrymen could have voted such an inarticulate, uneducated, and brutal figure.
Kerry had many many flaws which were on display during the Democratic convention when he presented himself as a Vietnam-era war hero “reporting for duty” and provided no real alternatives for a far more dangerous time. He seriously miscalculated in “April 2002 when he voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq and with his insistence throughout the campaign that if he was elected, the U.S. would prevail in Iraq. This undermined his criticisms of Bush’s wars, opened him to charges of muddled thinking, and limited the support the peace movement could give him. Equally damning, Democrats’ dependence on corporate contributions meant that Kerry could not campaign convincingly on economic issues: better wages, restoration of public services, provision of health care, and redistribution of the national wealth in ways that provide real security.
That said, a Kerry victory would have served notice that we will not tolerate a “war president” and provided us openings to limit some of the damage that the U.S. is wreaking on the world. We saw a Kerry victory as a way to slow the post – 9-11 drive toward fascism. While not offering what we need in terms of nuclear abolition, he had denounced the production of new nuclear weapons, opposed resumption of nuclear weapons testing, and would have been more flexible in the period leading up to and during the NPT Review Conference. The Iraq war was not his, and our hope was that this would make U.S. withdrawal more likely under U.S. peace movement and international pressure.
Bush now boasts that, having won finally won an electoral majority that he “earned political capital” and “intends to spend it.” Internationally, he pledges continuity: unilateralist and first strike imperialism. This will likely lead to a deepening catastrophe in Iraq, where more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians and more than a thousand U.S. troops have died since the U.S. invasion began. It will further alienate the Arab and Islamic worlds, resulting in still more terrorism. And, it will add to U.S. isolation as Washington continues down the path of becoming a pariah nation. Bush’s commitments to building a new generation of “usable” nuclear weapons, to resuming nuclear weapons testing, and to derailing the NPT can only result in accelerated nuclear weapons proliferation and increased dangers of nuclear war.
Interestingly, we may find ourselves with some unexpected allies as “conservatives” and “neo-conservatives” contend for positions and advantage in the third Bush Administration. While Bush loyalists boast that “Bush’s foreign policy decisions seem to have been exactly why he won this huge victory,” the Paleolithic Grover Norquist, who is leading the charge on regressive revision of the tax code, the privatization of everything under the sun, and ending what remains of government regulation of industry, complains that “the war in Iraq was a drag on votes, and it is threatening to the Bush coalition.” And, Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, has called for a “serious debate” on foreign policy, echoing Kerry when he said that “The consequences of the neocons’ adventure in Iraq are now all too clear. America is stuck in a guerilla war with no end in sight. Our military is stretched too thin to respond to other threats. And our real enemies, nonstate organizations such as Al Qaeda, are benefiting from the Arab and Islamic backlash against our occupation of an Islamic country. Some in Bush’s camp begin to confront reality.”
Domestically, as Bush and his lieutenants tell us, “Now comes the revolution.” They ran a campaign based on “guns and God.” Exit polls tell us that “moral values” were more important to Bush’s supporters than were the calamitous war in Iraq or the sagging U.S. economy. 75% of Bush voters believe that Saddam Hussein had some responsibility for the September 11 attacks, and 72% believe that there were strong ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda.
How can this be? Bush, Cheney and Rove rule by fear and lies, exploiting the legacies of the white, Christian, racist, colonial settler mentalities that are essential – but hardly exclusive – components of U.S. culture. As one senior Bush adviser put it, liberals and the left are “in what we call the reality-based community…That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”
During the campaign, the Bush Cabal again exploited the 9-11 traumas to frighten people into rallying around the great leader. Consigning the legacy of lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, Osama Bin Laden, Abu Ghraib, and the growing number of terrorists created by U.S. wars to Orwellian memory holes, Bush sought to scare the U.S. public by again insisting that “The biggest threat we face today is having nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terrorists.” As Hannah Arendt, the German political philosopher and refugee from Nazi Germany taught us half a century ago, fear is essential to the creation of a totalitarian system. It is used to fragment and to atomize community and to isolate individuals, creating more easily manipulated “masses.”
Since the overthrow of legally sanctioned racial segregation in the mid-1960s, radical right wing forces in the U.S. have sought to expand and mobilize their base by waging a culture war. Not unlike the Tsars of Russia and Eastern European nobility of the 18th and 19th centuries, they point to liberal, modernizing elites as the source of people’s unhappiness and to distract popular attention from growing structural inequalities and injustice. Thus, as part of the effort to paint Democrats as “pessimistic, weak, indecisive, and effeminate,” certainly not the resolute figures needed for the global “war on terrorism,” the Republican Convention brought us former actor and now governor Arnold Schwartzenegger who derided Kerry’s advisors as “girlie men.” Blacks, other people of color, women and sexual minorities were scapegoated – often in code – in a political war being waged to “shower riches upon the already wealthy and degrade the lives of the very people who are rising up. It is a reaction against mass culture that refuses to call into question the basic institutions of corporate America …It is a revolution that plans to overthrow the aristocrats by cutting their taxes.”
So-called “moral” and “family” values: opposition to abortion, to stem cell research and to the rights of gays and lesbians are the political wedges being used by the right wing in the U.S. to destroy the legacies of the Enlightenment, science, and liberal democracy. Fully one third of all U.S. voters describe themselves as “evangelical Christians.” 96% of these fundamentalists voted for Bush. He was also able to add conservative Catholics to this base, the vast majority of whom oppose women’s rights to abortions, the legality of stem-cell research, and people’s right to love who they will.
The historian Garry Wills got it right when he asked “Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth [of Jesus] than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?…Where else” Wills asks, “do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy…We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists.” The U.S. is now ruled by an alliance of the “cowboy” sector of U.S. financial and industrial capital and of the U.S. Christian version of the Taliban.
Fortunately for me, but not for Jimmy and Jackie Massey, these forces are concentrated in the South. Those of us in the Northeast U.S. and on the Pacific coast are, for the moment, somewhat insulated from the most dangerous of these forces, and it is our responsibility to make the most of the opportunities that this provides.
Needless to say, this is a dangerous period. The domestic side of the Bush-Cheney-Norquist agenda is to engineer a massive transfer of wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich. Their assault on essential public services and the constitution’s guarantee of separation of church and state will be compounded by funds being diverted to agencies controlled by religious fundamentalists. And, we do not know yet how many more of our democratic rights and civil liberties will be repressed or disappear. In the 1980s, the Israeli peace movement taught us that what the empire does abroad cannot long be kept outside the empire’s walls. What is practiced abroad, will be practiced – with devastating consequences – at home. Malcom X put it a little differently decades ago: “The chickens have come home to roost.” The silver lining to these dark clouds is that the U.S. is more divided now than at any time since our civil war 140 years ago. More people voted for Kerry than have ever voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in U.S. history. An unprecedented and largely informal coalition of national and community based organizations managed to turn out 48% of U.S. voters to oppose Bush. That opposition will not melt away, but one of our biggest challenges is to consolidate the coalition for the longer term. We are regrouping, learning the lessons of the past four years and of this election, and we are sorting out how to better engage the best in U.S. culture and values to challenge our militarized and increasingly fascist state.
The other relatively “good” news – as awful as it may be in terms of lives lost and maimed – is that the U.S. is bogged down in Iraq. This certainly limits (but will not prevent) the Bush-Cheney government’s ability to wreak destruction and havoc elsewhere. Despite its brave talk and rhetoric, the social physics of people’s power and Realpolitik will place very real limits on the Bush-Cheney Mafia-style practice of Empire.
The biggest challenge they face is objective reality. As the economist Paul Krugman reminded us, things that look like they can’t last, do not. While many will suffer, the U.S. will lose the war in Iraq. Its aggressions and robber baron economy will ultimately limit and undermine U.S. power. Our responsibility is to do what we can to stop the killing, to end the suffering, and to prepare for the future. Iraq and the Campaign to Expand and Consolidate Empire
The Bush Administration may be the most imperially ambitious and dangerous government in U.S. history. Its agenda preceded the September 11 attacks, but the Administration has callously exploited the losses of that day in order to provide political cover for wars that the U.S. people would not otherwise tolerate. As we experience with the repeated (non-Chilean) references to 9-11, with the near-constant terrorist alerts, and with the lies about Iraq, the Administration is steadfastly working to impose what Vice-President Cheney described in the spring of 2001 – before 9-11 – as “the arrangement for the 21st century” to guarantee that the U.S. remains the world’s dominant economic, political and military power for generations to come. As my friend Zia Main explains, the Bush Administration seeks to colonize not only space (most of the world,) but time (the 21st century.)
Before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, planners in Washington and at the elite Council on Foreign Relations expected that the U.S. would emerge from World War II as the world’s unchallenged military and economic power, dominating a global “Grand Area” with a single global market system. Unexpectedly, the Soviet Union emerged as a rival power, and for forty-five years the fulfillment of the U.S. imperial project was stymied by the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, first Clinton and now the neocons have been making the most of the opportunity to finally create that “Grand Area.”
The invasion of Iraq and the threats of unilateral attacks against Iran and North Korea are only incidentally about these nations. They are not, ultimately, about terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. Instead they are the continuation of Bush the Elder’s campaign to create a “New World Order” in which “What we (the U.S.) say goes!” In Afghanistan and Iraq, shock, awe, devastation, conquest, “regime change,” and occupations were designed not only to remove ostensible enemies, but to send a message to the world. Assistant Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz put it succinctly when he said the war in Afghanistan had succeeded because other nations now “fear us.” The Pentagon’s spending to develop and deploy new first-strike nuclear weapons and so-called “missile defenses”, the host of new high-tech weapons systems, and the expansion of the global infrastructure of bases are all designed to convey the warning “Don’t even think about challenging us.” The audiences are Beijing and Berlin, Pyongyang and Paris, Moscow, Riyadh, and Teheran. In addition to disregarding treaties and international law as so many scraps of paper, the Bush Administration is militarizing not only U.S. foreign policy but the U.S. political system and society itself. In the past three years, the already gargantuan U.S. military budget has grown by more than 30% to the incomprehensible sum of nearly $500 billion – roughly equal to the rest of the world’s military spending – combined!
In Iraq, Humpty Dumpty has been broken and will not easily be put back together. The recent US National Intelligence Estimate predicts that 2005 Iraq will be defined by one of three possibilities: 1) the chaos of a failed state in which forces like Al Qaeda will find sanctuaries and have relative freedom of action, 2) civil war, or 3) tenuous stability in a militarized and increasingly fundamentalist Shia society. As the U.N. is now warning, the promised Iraqi elections in January will be yet another corrupted exercise in the creation of Bush’s deadly fantasy world.
One of the tragic aspects of the U.S. election was that both Bush and Kerry insisted the U.S. will persevere and prevail in Iraq. Their goal was not only to preserve as much control over the world’s third largest proven oil reserves as possible, but to prevent a humiliating U.S. defeat in Iraq from undermining U.S. hegemony and influence across the oil-rich Middle East – a loss that would have devastating impacts on U.S. global hegemony, as well as on the U.S. economy and the lives of millions of U.S. people. Now, the Democratic party will have to choose whether to continue with the Kerry line of supporting the war but criticizing how the war is fought, or becoming a true opposition party that presses U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, for real alternatives to dependence on Middle East oil monarchies and dictatorships, and for a foreign policy based on common security instead of Empire. We all know that the Iraq war is about oil. Paul Wolfowitz, put it bluntly when he said that, “we had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil….for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the issue that everyone could agree on: weapons of mass destruction.”
Since the introduction of the internal combustion machine a century ago, petroleum has been “The Prize” of empire. It was the embargo on oil sales to Japan after its invasion of Indochina that led Japan’s most reckless militarists to attack on Pearl Harbor. In the wake of the Second World War, the State Department advised that having won control over Middle East oil, the U.S. had won “one of the greatest material prizes in the history of warfare.” Since then the first priority of U.S. foreign and military policy has been to ensure that neither Washington’s “enemies nor its allies” gain independent access to Middle East oil. With control over Europe and Japan’ – now also China’s and Korea’s – primary sources of fuel, the U.S. has had its hand on the “jugular vein of [global] capitalism.” And, with oil traded in Petrodollars – not Petro Euros or Asian currencies – that are deposited in U.S. banks, U.S. dominance over the world’s oil supplies has also provided artificial subsidies for the U.S. economy.
The two Bush wars against Iraq have sought to consolidate these U.S. advantages as part of the “the arrangement for the 21st century.” The current war is also about Saudi Arabia. The Saudi monarchy is becoming increasingly brittle and thus vulnerable. This raises fears in Washington that the Saudis may go the way of the Shah of Iran and Marcos of the Philippines, jeopardizing the U.S. grasp on global capitalism’s jugular vein. U.S. control over Iraqi oil could, if necessary during a period of instability, serve as a temporary alternative to Saudi oil. And, and with Iraq’s strategic location, Cheney and Rumsfeld plan to use Iraq as a new home for fourteen permanent U.S. military bases to dominate the region as a whole.
Just as Nixon’s “Vietnamization” strategy and the campaign to subjugate Palestine are were doomed from the beginning, so too is the sham transfer of sovereignty to an already failing puppet government, led by a former Baathist thug turned acknowledged CIA asset. What kind of legitimacy could any nation have while occupied by 160,000 foreign troops? When its laws have been set by a foreign proconsul? When its economy has been privatized and transformed to serve the occupier? When the occupier’s ambassador wields the corrupting power of controlling the allocation of $18 billion for reconstruction of a devastated society? Or when the Christian commander in chief of the military occupying a predominantly Islamic nation speaks in terms of a “crusade?”
From Discriminate Deterrence to Unilateral Wars
Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has adopted a succession of strategic doctrines to ensure its long-term global dominance. The Reagan Administration’s 1987 “Discriminate Deterrence” envisioned such dominance “for the long-term” through U.S. control of three regions of the world: the Pacific Ocean and thus the Asia-Pacific region, the Mediterranean and thus Europe, and the Persian Gulf and thus the Middle East and the global economy.
Under the direction of then Secretary of War Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz was primarily responsible for drafting Bush the Elder’s strategic doctrine which established the primary U.S. strategic priority as preventing the emergence of any regional or global rival. The doctrine was put into practice with the 1991 Desert Storm war. As important as removing a potential Iraqi threat to U.S. privileged access to and control over Middle East oil, that war was also designed to discipline U.S. allies from Germany to Japan and Seoul to Saudi Arabia. It was also a demonstration war. By bombing Baghdad into what U.N. observers described as “the pre-industrial age,” the US provided a stark warning to China, Iran, and other potential rivals.
Bill Clinton’s “Full Spectrum Dominance,” took us still closer to what has become Bush II’s “National Security Statement.” It was and remains a Pentagon commitment to dominate any nation, at any time, in any dimension of power. Its corollaries included counterterrorism – including preemptive attacks, the undermining the U.N. order and international law with the unauthorized U.S. led NATO war against Serbia, and an icy refusal to abide by the provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Now, with the most militarist elements of the Reagan and first Bush I governments in the most senior leadership positions for the past four years, the Bush cabal has integrated and extended the worst and most dangerous of its predecessors doctrines. Their doctrine is clear that the U.S. will unilaterally initiate pre-emptive war –including first strike nuclear war – to prevent the emergence of regional rivals. This is not “pre-emption” but
“prevention.” As in the case of Iraq, a nation need not threaten the U.S. in order to be destroyed with a first strike attack. The policy is clear that nations can be attacked in order to prevent their “emergence” as a rival. This has been popularly understood to mean Iraq, Iran and North Korea, but over the longer term it also applies to China and potentially to the European Union. Remember, we are talking about “the arrangement for the 21st century.”
And, of course, the Bush Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review reiterated the first strike nuclear war fighting doctrine and called for the development and deployment of a new generation of usable first strike nuclear weapons. Resumption of nuclear weapons tests is expected in 2007, and the Review audaciously named Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, China and Russia as targeted nations. This can only encourage nuclear weapons proliferation and greatly increase the dangers of nuclear war.
An empire of Bases
Let me turn now to our prime concern here, the “abuses and ursurpations” of U.S. military bases that make what even the New York Times calls an “empire” possible. Without the global infrastructure of foreign military bases, the Bush Administration’s calamitous invasion and occupation of Iraq would never have been possible, nor would the U.S. have provided Osama Bin Laden one of the primary causes for launching his lesser Jihad – the U.S. military presence in Arabia which reinforced corrupt Saudi rule and which, from the perspective of many Moslems, sullied the sanctity of sacred Mecca and Medina.
Last year, when this conference was held in Okinawa, one of the most striking images I carried was from a school yard in Kin Town on the day that baseball practice resumed in schools across the prefecture. Just a nature’s rhythms continued with the nurturing of sugar cane and animals caring for their young, little tykes and older ones began taking their turns fielding balls hit to them by their coach. As they played and developed their skills and strength, the hillsides around us began to echo with the sound of gunfire: U.S. Marines practicing and developing their skills of killing people. What I found most disturbing was the school children and coaches continued their baseball practice as if nothing unusual or dangerous was happening. Marine gunfire had become a part of Kin Town’s natural environment.
Several months earlier in a conversation with Takazato Suzuyo who recently ran for mayor of Naha, found ourselves talking about the colonial dimensions of U.S. bases in East Asia more clearly than we had in the past. A century ago, we remembered, European powers and the U.S. consolidated their power over the nations of East Asia through series of “unequal treaties” dictated to Japan, Korea, China and Indochina. How similar this was, we rued, to the unequal treaties and Status of Forces Agreements that have provided the “legal” foundations for the U.S. military presence and dominance in many of these same countries for the past six decades.
We also talked about food, cultural tastes and markets – how the inexpensive and plentiful food and goods on and around U.S. military bases have permeated Okinawan culture, changing tastes – especially for the young – and developing long-term markets for companies like McDonalds, Calvin Klein, and Mattel Toys. Several months later, the New York Times confirmed our insights, reporting that Okinawa no longer leads Japan in terms of life expectancy, which was long attributed to the Okinawan diet. With the western fast foods that came with the bases, Okinawans increasingly suffer obesity and other health problems, and they are dying younger.
In August, returning from the World Conference via Hawaii, I was struck by the continuing military colonialism there in a nation conquered and annexed by the U.S. more than a century ago for the strategic role it could play in U.S. domination of the Asia-Pacific. With one quarter of Oahu, the main island, already occupied with U.S. military bases – much of it on Native Hawaiian sacred lands — the army is trying to take more to train its new Stryker brigades. The site they are lusting after includes slopes of the sacred mountains that served as the Hawaiian calendar and the sacred plain below them to which pregnant women journeyed in times past to give birth to the island’s nobility.
Earlier this fall, in Scandinavia, I was impressed by young activists who have discovered new illegal intelligence bases in Norway and a spy base in Sweden that violates Stockholm’s long honored neutrality, and who are organizing to force their withdrawal. And, of course, the dangers of U.S. military bases apply as well to those within the U.S. Just two weeks ago, in the state of New Jersey – not far from New York city, an F-16 “on a nighttime training mission strafed an elementary school with 25 rounds of ammunition” Fortunately, no children were in the building, but the community was reeling from what might have happened.
Others here will describe the range of abuses and usurpations you suffer with the U.S. bases and their threatened expansion. Every base brings insecurity: the loss of self-determination, human rights, and sovereignty. Bases degrade the culture, values, health and environment of host communities and nations – and of the United States. Let me also use this occasion to communicate the profound regret and anger that those of us in the U.S. who are conscious felt when we learned of the crash of the Futemna-based helicopter on the grounds of a university campus and at the banning of Okinawan police from the scene of the accident. We feel similar anger when we read of the crimes committed in Japan and other countries by U.S. troops, when we think about the campaign to build a new base at Haneko in Okinawa, and about the terror people experience as they reel from low altitude and night-landing exercises, live fire exercises, and the destruction of property. At the moment, our thoughts and solidarity are with the people of Haneko, as they resist the construction of the new airbase which will assault their community, the ocean reef on which the base is to be built, and which will deepen Japan’s integration into the U.S. war machine.
Missions of Bases
The Bush Administration’s “National Security Strategy” tells us that reasons the U.S. maintains its global network of more than 725 foreign military bases and installations in more than 40 countries are “To contend with uncertainty and to meet the many security challenges we face,” The U.S. it continues “will require bases and stations within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia, as well as temporary access arrangements for the long-distance deployment of U.S. forces.” Condoleeza Rice, our Secretary of State Designate, put it more succinctly a year ago when she said. “The centerpiece of the President’s strategy” she said, “is our strong forward presence…”
At root, the entire system of U.S. military bases and installations is an integrated global infrastructure for imperial domination. As we meet, roughly 400,000 U.S. troops are deployed at or supported by more than 725 bases: 100,000 in Europe, 100,000 in East Asia, 140,000 in Iraq, and the remainder elsewhere in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Central Asia and at sea. Not even Genghis Khan or Benjamin Disraeli had such a host of mighty fortresses. Pentagon spokesmen tell us today, “the purpose of military units is to fight and win the nation’s wars,” and Rumsfeld has been clear that “It’s time to adjust those locations from static defense to a more agile and more capable and more 21st century posture.”
U.S. military bases exist to: to reinforce the status quo, to encircle strategic rivals like China, to serve and reinforce U.S. warships; to serve as training centers for U.S. forces and as jumping off points for U.S. foreign military interventions. They facilitate C3I: command, control, communications and intelligence including essential roles in nuclear war fighting. They secure and protect oil and gas pipelines, and they control the governments and politically dynamics of host nations, with Japan, Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and today’s Iraq beginning the list. They serve as a way to “show the U.S. flag”, demonstrating the U.S. commitment to be taken seriously as a power in a particular country or region. And, while it is too soon to call them military bases, U.S. military power is moving to dominate space. Today “Rover” is on the moon. Tomorrow we may see a base there for war fighting on earth, to control the “space well” between the moon and earth, and for the colonization of the solar system.
The Current Context
Rumsfeld’s campaign to revitalize U.S. forward military deployments is best understood within the context of the Administration’s megalomaniacal ambitions which require fighting offensive wars. It is one of the more ambitious tactics in the fifteen-year campaign to expand and consolidate the U.S. empire into the power vacuums left in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet empire.
With the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. established new bases in the heart of the oil-rich Middle East – especially in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. NATO was turned toward “out of area” operations. And, the U.S. traumatized and re-disciplined Japanese political culture, the results of which we have seen with the dispatch of Japanese troops to help fight the Afghan and Iraq wars. U.S. military bases from Sasebo and Yokuska to Britain and Belgium, Holland, where U.S. nuclear weapons are stored, and where U.S. Nuclear-capable ships are based or make port calls, and which host nuclear war fighting C3I functions were again used to back up Washington’s nuclear threats.
Clinton built on this foundation in the 1990s, consolidating and expanding the U.S. imperial reach and infrastructure of bases. The centerpiece in East Asia was the 1996 Clinton-Hashimoto and the SACO accords. In Europe the focus was re-dividing and containing the continent, as they worked for the inclusion of Eastern Europe into an enlarged NATO to augment U.S. interventionary power against the Middle East and the successor states of the Soviet Union and to counter French and Germany ambitions. In the aftermath of the illegal “Kosovo” war, the U.S. emerged with a massive new military base, Camp Bondsteel, the first of what Washington hopes will become a new system of U.S. military bases extending into and beyond those bastions of democracy Rumania and Bulgaria.
Bush II and Cheney came to power with the commitment to the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs,” the increased application of information and other high technologies to weapons development and war fighting. It applies to more than weapons. As Deputy Assistant of Defense Andrew Hoehm put it, “Transformation is more than just new capabilities, inherent in transformation is a physical change of the global military posture.”
As we see in the reports that two Army divisions are to be withdrawn from Germany, and 12,000 troops from South Korea, plans are moving ahead with plans are moving ahead to achieve “maximum flexibility in sending forces to the Middle East, Central Asia and other potential battlegrounds.” Some bases will be closed. Some will be merged. But, all of this will all be done in ways designed to facilitate war fighting. The goals are to better encircle China, to reduce the likely number of U.S. casualties in a second Korean war, to intimidate Iran, to fight the so-called “War on Terrorism,” and to more completely control the sea lanes over which Persian Gulf oil – the life of East Asia’s economies – must travel.
In the Asia-Pacific, the news is that “all of the Pentagon road maps lead to Guam,” which is to “become one of two or three major hubs of U.S. activity in the world.” South Korea will be expected to assume greater “burden sharing.” Japan, the keystone of U.S. Asia-Pacific power, will also have an augmented role which is being negotiated as we meet. As you know, some troops based in Okinawa are to be moved to the main islands, as part of the last decade’s ongoing pacification project. More planes and command functions will be transferred from Guam to Tokyo. And, if Washington and Tokyo can find new ways to define “the Far East” or to shatter the commitments of your Peace Constitution, they plan to move U.S. Army troops and naval forces from the U.S. to Japan in order to be closer to North Korea and China, the South China Sea, and the Persian Gulf.
U.S. bases in Australia are being augmented. Access agreements with the Philippines, and Singapore, are being expanded, and the way is being opened for U.S. forces to return to Thailand. The Philippine press reports, U.S. military officials are privately exploring the possibility of reestablishing its bases in the former colony.
The invasion of Afghanistan opened the way in Central Asia, where dictatorships in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan were forced to surrender sovereignty and to invite the Pentagon to establish what are becoming permanent U.S. military bases. Africa is to have an augmented role with a “family” of military bases across the continent for both surgical and more “robust” use. And, Washington hasn’t forgotten its own “backyard,” Latin America with new military bases sprouting across Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia.
In the Middle East, under cover of the Iraq war, Bush and company removed one of the precipitating causes of the 9-11 attacks by moving most of its bases in Saudi Arabia to Qatar, Kuwait, Djibouti and Bahrain. And, with bases like Camp Victory and thirteen other permanent bases the U.S. is building, Washington looks to Iraq as a bastion of U.S. military power for decades to come. This “diversified” infrastructure is being built on several conceptual pillars.
First is flexibility. The Pentagon wants total freedom of action. If, Germany, Japan, or another “vassal” state hesitates to permit U.S. military bases and installations to be used in future U.S. or Anglo-Saxon wars, they want to use bases in other countries without delay. Similarly, the plan for South Korea, which is bearing the brunt of the reconfiguration in Asia, is to make the U.S. military infrastructure to be flexible, able to serve multiple military functions: to deter Pyongyang while being available for “regime change” war, to influence Korean foreign and domestic policy, and to assist U.S. military interventions across East Asia and as far away as the Persian Gulf. Second is speed. New “lily pad” bases are to be used as jumping off points for military interventions, making it possible to strike before the target of U.S. attack can prepare its defenses or a long term strategy of resistance.
U.S. forward deployed forces are to be organized along a three-tiered integrated structure: 1) major hub bases like Britain, Japan, Okinawa, Guam, and Qatar 2) smaller centers or “Forward Operating bases” like Spain, South Korea, Diego Garcia, and Kuwait; and 3) “lily pads” in countries ranging from Tajikistan to Peru.
Ending Abuses, Usurpations, and the U.S. Wars
How do we end the “abuses and usurpations” and imperial wars resulting from and reinforced by the oppressive infrastructure of U.S. foreign military bases? There are no easy answers, but I find wisdom in words of the U.S. abolitionist leader Fredrick Douglas who taught that power yields nothing without a struggle. And struggle takes place at many levels: politically, intellectually culturally, economically, and spiritually in addition to what are usually the pyrrhic victories of armed resistance.
In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. election and on the eve of the renewed invasion of Falluja, leading U.S. peace and justice activists and organizations are working to restore a sense of hope and to chart our future courses. In the first week after the election, we reminded people that 48% of the U.S. electorate had voted against Bush and Cheney, and that demoralization is an oppressor’s weapon. Spontaneously, and with encouragement, people came together in communities and across the internet, to remind ourselves of the power that is inherent in our humanity and, moreso, in our collective efforts.
Beginning on November 3, people organized peace vigils, participated in conferences, and planned protests against the bloodbath in Fallujah. In retreats and small meetings, we have begun to explore where we see political openings and opportunities, and what our priorities should be. In Vermont, activists are pressing their governor to prevent the deployment of National Guard troops to Iraq. Elsewhere, people are calling for the creation of “the mother of all coalitions” to stop the killing, to defend what remains of our democracy, and to prevent the destruction of what remains of the social safety net.
For the short term, the movement will be organizing massive demonstrations to protest Bush’s inauguration. Plans are beginning to fall in place for a major national demonstration, with smaller protests in communities across the U.S. The World Social Forum in Porto Allegre will provide an important forum for international discussions and planning, and in late February, United for Peace and Justice – the largest peace coalition in the U.S. – will hold its national conference.
And, between now and the spring, in addition to working to end the war, many of us are educating and mobilizing for the NPT Review Conference – primarily through the Mayors for Peace campaign and organizing the May 1 demonstration.
We also need to remember that we live within historical time, and that power concedes nothing without a struggle. Roman, Spanish, Japanese, and most British and French legions returned home with the decline and collapse of their empires. It is thus remains essential to understand our anti-bases organizing as part of wider anti-imperialist, anti-militarist, and pro-democracy struggles. Because our actions take place within a wider context, we also do well to remember that the U.S. is increasingly an isolated and pariah nation that depends on European, Asian, and oil-rich Middle Eastern nations to subsidize its growing national and trade debts. At some point, as the former head of the Dutch Foreign Ministry told me, and as we see in the growing unity of Europe, some of you will conclude that you have had enough and will bring down the U.S. house of cards – and much of its military infrastructure – by divesting from U.S. bonds and by pulling out of selected U.S. companies, much as we did to help end apartheid in South Africa.
To say that we have been pre-occupied with organizing to end the Iraq war and to affect regime change at home would be an understatement. I feel badly that those of us in the anti-bases movement have not been able to do more in recent months, but we are doing what we can do. Three weeks ago a new and still informal network of U.S. and international network anti-bases scholars and activists from across the U.S., Asia and Latin America met at Brown University in Rhode Island to exchange information and to explore what have been the most successful strategies for social movements resisting U.S. bases. (Roots in nationalism, anti-imperialism, and with strong international ties and the ability to be economically pragmatic were high on the list.) Because the foundation of any political movement is knowledge that touches our moral imaginations, contributes to our analyses, and supports or leads to action, I am hopeful that what we did there and will do in the future will help to lay the foundations for U.S. Americans to better fulfill our responsibilities in working to bring our troops, bases, and war machines home. Among the small steps that we took was the adoption of a statement opposing the construction of a new base at Haneko and pledging our support and solidarity to the resistance movement there.
As Herbert Docena can describe at least as well as I can, the past two years have witnessed a growing wave of anti-bases organizing around the world. Most impressive is the global anti-bases network that began in East Asia under the tutelage of Focus on Global South. Meeting in Seoul five years ago, anti-bases activists from the Asia-Pacific and the U.S. began sharing information and exploring possible collaborations. Subsequent meetings were held in Jakarta and Seoul, and the “No Bases” network was launched at the anti-bases conference held within the World Social Forum in Mumbai last January.
The network’s e-mail network now serves hundreds of people and organizations across the world. A web page with detailed information about bases and resistance campaigns is about to go on line, and we are slowly exploring a number of ways that we collaborate in actions and solidarity.
Resistance to bases in the Asia-Pacific – the occupation at Haneko, the candle light vigils in Korea, the resistance of Filipinos to the return of U.S. troops and bases, and the courageous ways that Native Hawaiians are turning to their traditional religion and culture to prevent base expansions and to win back their sacred lands, and further west, the determination of the disposed people of Diego to return to their homes and culture are inspiring models for all of us in the anti-bases movement.
In Latin America, communities are resisting the construction of a new network of bases in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia which are being built to support the growing U.S. war in Colombia. And in Europe, activists are committing civil disobedience at U.S. and NATO nuclear weapons bases. In addition to the British Campaign Against Bases, OFOG – a lively group of young Scandinavians, is doing important work in scouting out and protesting at secret bases in Norway and Sweden. These and other groups are meeting, sharing information, and coordinating their activities within the European Network for Peace and Human Rights and more recently within the European Social Forum.
Reality is dynamic. Catastrophes and the routine operations of militarized systems will continue to provide significant openings to us as they have in the past. Hegel’s moment of history will make itself felt when we are least expecting it. Recall the global outrage that followed the 1995 kidnapping and rape of the twelve year old school girl in Okinawa. “Life” John Lennon told us “is what happens when you are planning to do other things.” The unexpected synthesis of competition for the growing Latino vote in the United States reinforced decades of courageous Puerto Rican organizing and made closure of the base at “Vieques” a mainstream issue in the U.S.. And it was Marcos’ murder of Aquino that sparked the EDSA revolution and fueled the resistance that led to the withdrawal of the U.S. bases from the Philippines.
In closing, I want to quote from Speak Truth to Power, a Quaker statement developed early in the Cold War. It speaks as eloquently today as it did then: “Military power in today’s world is incompatible with freedom. It is incompatible with providing security, and ineffective in dealing with evil.” With persistence and imagination, we in the U.S. will act in solidarity with movements to achieve the withdrawal of U.S. bases.
*Dr. Joseph Gerson is the Director of Programs of the American Friends Service Committee in New England. He is deeply involved in the U.S. peace and anti-war movement and participated in the founding conferences of United for Peace and Justice, The Asia Peace Assembly, and the European Network for Peace and Human Rights. His books include: The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases, With Hiroshima Eyes: Atomic War, Nuclear Extortion and Moral Imagination , and The Deadly Connection: Nuclear War and U.S. Intervention . For more information, write JGerson@afsc.org, see www.afsc.org/pes.htm, or phone 617-661-6130.
CLOSE DIEGO GARCIA, BRING BACK THE CHAGOSSIANS
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The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on 12/07/2004