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An Empire Of US Military Bases?

February 16, 2011 Leave a comment

The United States boats hundreds of military bases around the world, perhaps even thousands. But, no one knows for sure because even the Pentagon does not bother to keep track.

Historian and journalist Nick Turse explained, “What I’m relatively sure of is that there are no less than 1,077 US bases or sites in foreign countries….and likely there are many more than that, we just can’t be sure.”

What is known is that the US Defense budget is now about the equal to military spending in all other countries combined, and since 9/11, military and security expenditures have soared 119 percent.

Some of these bases are on tiny islands, and some, like Guantanamo Bay, serve dual purposes.

A great deal of money goes towards maintaining those bases, but once again, taxpayers and the military do not know exactly how much is allocated towards construction and maintenance at each.

Experts argue the reason for sustaining all these military installations abroad is to “maintain a far flung global empire,” and they point out that in places like Saudi Arabia and Okinawa, US military presence has been denounced by locals.

“Cleary there’s no need from the point of view of self defense for the US to have military installations all over the world. It’s really part of maintaining a far flung global empire, and at the heart of the empire and corporate and banking interests and elites that the US military is defending. Each place that the United States has a military base, the US has political power, economic power, and it’s a matter of coercion,” said Brian Becker of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition.

A local Kyrgyz man told RT, “We are living here and raising our children. Why do we need this US Air base?”

In Okinawa, locals are forced to give up ten to twenty percent of the island to the US military for a base that they associate with noise, crime, and pollution. Some say the US plays under a double standard when it comes to this.

Becker argued, “The United States would never tolerate China having military bases in Canada, in Mexico, in Haiti, in the DR, in other words in countries that ring the United States. It’s not a question of law, it’s a question of might makes right. In other words, the United States is the 700 pound gorilla. It sits wherever it chooses to sit.”

While the US chooses to “sit wherever,” those most affected by these bases, both at home and abroad, don’t necessarily have a place at the table.

Jacob Hornberger, the president of The Future of Freedom Foundation said the secrecy of empire leads to the massive number of bases, a number which is not disclosed.

“They call it a Department of Defense, but we all know that’s just a charade,” he said. “This is really just a department of empire and war.”

He explained the extensive military empire combined with foreign aid to dictators generates anger and hate towards the US, which in turn which generates terrorism and the validation the government uses to take away freedoms from Americans in the United States.

“It’s really created nothing but problems for us,” Hornberger added.

David Vine, a professor of anthropology at American University explained the argument the Pentagon uses to justify its military presence across the globe is “self-defense”. Even when it comes to confirmed US allies like Japan, Italy and Germany, as well as various tiny islands through the Pacific and Indian oceans.

“Why does the United States have a military base in the middle of the Indian ocean? Why does the United States need one? Is it protecting the United States in anyway?” asked Vine. “Not to mention, why are we spending tens of millions of dollars on things like golf courses. The Pentagon has somewhere on the order of 230 golf courses around the world. Couldn’t we cut a few of those, close down a few of those, put the money back into Pell Grants or housing programs or homelessness diversion programs?”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai once admitted that with the US military bases established permanently in Afghanistan there’ll be economic prosperity and end to the violence in the country. At the same time, the US economy continues in dire straits yet little is being done to address it.

“We should take the money that we would spend to expend building US bases overseas and invest in real national security needs here at home. Not just the military, but going far beyond,” argued Vine.

An empire of US military bases

Democracy Promotion For Dummies, Or What Is The Color Of Your Revolution?

February 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Just a month ago, a Washington Post editorial shared with us some bad news: freedom is on retreat around the globe. Helping the Post‘s editors arrive at such a sad conclusion was a survey by the Freedom House which claimed that the situation with the world’s human rights has been deteriorating “for the fifth consecutive year.” Did it occur to the clowns from the Freedom House that the timing of their supposed trend conspicuously coincided with the George W. Bush administration’s policy of advancing democracy at a gunpoint? (Incidentally, supervising these clowns is a David Kramer, the Freedom House’s executive director, who served in the Bush administration as an assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. For democracy and human rights! One can be sure that in this capacity, Kramer did his best to sharpen the administration’s favorite democracy promotion tools, such as Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, CIA secret prisons and waterboarding.)

It is therefore quite understandable that the eruption of street protests in Egypt has lifted the spirit of thousands of professional democracy promoters in Washington, DC. And rightfully so: it’s not every day that a “pro-democracy” crowd is challenging the rule of a bloody Middle Eastern tyrant.

Yet, at the risk of sounding obstructive, I have a couple of clarifying questions for the folks who’re more versed than me in the science and art of democracy promotion. (Actually, I’d love to start with this one: if Egypt is on its way to democracy, then why did many countries, including the United States, begin evacuating their citizens? But I won’t let this technical question distract us from the more fundamental.) The first question: what kind of proof do we have that the mob regularly gathering at the Tahrir Square in Cairo represents a bona fide “pro-democracy” movement? Now, there is no question that this movement is antiMoubarak, but history provides us with enough examples of anti-movements — the 1789 French Revolution, the 1917 Russian Revolution, and 1979 Iranian Revolution come to mind immediately — that resulted in regimes that were arguably more brutal than the ones they replaced. What exactly did the Tahrir Square protesters do or say to pursuade us that they were not simply anti-Mubarak, but pro-democracy?

And this leads me to my second question. In democracy, the voice of majority rules. Do we have any evidence that the protesters’ demand for Moubarak’s resignation reflects the opinion of the majority of Egyptians — and not of a particular minority faction, however large, organized and determined? This is not a fancy question. We all remember mass protests that engulfed the streets of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, in the fall of 2007. Many, myself included, believed that the days of Georgia’s embattled president Mikheil Saakashvili were numbered. But Saakashvili held on, and the protests have gradually stopped. Why? Because as much as Saakashvili was hated by the Georgian intellectuals running the show in Tbilisi, he was equally popular in the countryside where the majority of Georgians live.

I’m not an expert on the Middle East: I don’t speak Arabic and my only personal experience with the region is restricted to a short tourist trip to Morocco. (Yes, I know that a similar lack of knowledge of the Middle East doesn’t prevent U.S. democracy promoters from comfortably issuing labels like “dictator”, “pro-democracy”, “moderate”, “radical”, etc. But I can only speak for myself.) I didn’t plan to write about the Egypt protests and I changed my mind only in response to repeated attempts to bring parallels between the crisis in Egypt and the situation in Russia.

This, of course, shouldn’t come as a surprise. Ever since the glorious times of the Orange Revolution in Kyiv in November 2004, every case of mass disturbances in the post-Soviet space — and now even in the Middle East! — has been exploited as an excuse to stick the proverbial Mirror of the Russian Revolution into Russia’s face. My only wonder is which term will be chosen to describe the “revolution” that is supposed to bring a “pro-democracy” change to Russia. Somehow, I suspect that this isn’t going to be a color, but, rather, a plant — pretty much in line with the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, or the Date Palm Revolution in Tunisia. The Birch Revolution? The Daisy Revolution? Or, perhaps, something completely unorthodox: say, The Samovar Party Movement?

To assess whether Russia is ready for a “revolution”, I turned to a man with an impressive track record of launching Russian revolutions. Obviously, I’m speaking about Vladimit Ilyich Ulyanov-Lenin whose definition of the “revolutionary situation” — presented in the 1915 article “The Collapse of the 2-nd International” — still remains the golden standard in the field.

Lenin describes three major conditions characterizing a “pre-revolutionary” situation in a given country. The first is the inability of the ruling class to execute its authority (“the top can’t rule in the old way”). It is plain clear that with the approval ratings of Russia’s top two leaders oscillating around 60%, the Russian ruling class remains in full control of the country. President Medvedev‘s attempts at “modernizing” Russia’s economic and political institutions, however clumsy at times, still reflect the ability of the Russian elites to adjust to the changing conditions on the ground.

The second condition identified by Lenin is the sharply increased (“beyond the usual level”) impoverishment of ordinary citizens (“the bottom doesn’t want to live in the old way”). True, the economic crisis has decreased the living standards of ordinary Russians and further widened the already large gap between the wealthy and the poor. Yet, at the average per-capita income of about $14,000, it’s a huge stretch to call Russians impoverished “beyond the usual level.” Characteristically, over the past couple of years, only two significant mass protests, in Vladivostok and Kalinigrad, have been marked by economic demands, and Vladivstok was obviously a special case. At least for now, the authorities have enough financial resources to prevent “economic” grievances from reaching the boiling point — by increasing the pensions and salaries of state workers.

The third condition is the dramatic increase in political activity of ordinary people, their “readiness for spontaneous revolutionary actions”, as Lenin called it. This is definitely something that deserves consideration. There is no question that mass political activity is on the rise in Russia. However, so far, the most prominent anti-government movements, such as, for example, the Defenders of the Khimki Forest, have been alternating their protest actions with clever PR campaigning and occasional talks with the authorities. And Medvedev is somewhat decreasing the likelyhood of “spontaneous” mass actions by holding well-publitized meetings with his Council on Civil Society and Human Rights, where “hot” topics are allowed to be at least publicly articulated.

The close attention the West is paying to the regular episodes of a reality show mistakenly called “the rallies of the Russian opposition” is actually purely self-serving, as it allows the democracy promotion crowd to justify its own existence. The spectacular clashes between wooden-headed “strategists-31” with equally wooden-headed omonovtsy may make great news in the Western media, but they can’t hide this simple math: 1,500 of protesters gathering for such meetings represent less than a two-hundredth of a percent of the 10-million population of Moscow. This is not something that the Kremlin should worry about.

What the Kremlin must worry about is the repeat of the demonstration that took place on the Manezhnaya Square on December 11, when a few thousand youngsters showed up out of the blue (or so it seemed) with the banners “Russia for Russians, Moscow for Muscowites!” and “Moscow is not the Caucasus!” No efforts should be spared to prevent converting this, so far, one-off episode into another reality show. For the genre of this show won’t be Russia’s “democratization.” It will be Russia’s disintegration, something that even the evil Lenin didn’t want happening to Russia.

Democracy Promotion For Dummies, Or What Is The Color Of Your Revolution?