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David Vine: The Pentagon’s Italian Spending Spree

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Aerial Photo

The Pentagon, launching tomorrow’s wars today.

This may be a propitious moment to offer an up-to-date version of a classic riddle: Which came first, the chicken or the terrorist?  For many in this country, the Kenyan mall horror arrived out of the blue, out of nowhere, out of a place and a time without context. Next thing you know, it’s all 24/7-ing on your TV set. You can’t avoid it. The grim news, the slaughter, the four-day stand-off, the “exclusive” video of destruction and death, the teary faces, the dramatic tales, the cruelty and the killing, the collapse of part of the building and scenes of utter desolation, the shifting casualty counts, and suddenly, scores of FBI agents — from what once upon a time was a U.S. domestic law enforcement agency — on the ground in distant Nairobi checking out biometric data in the rubble, and you’re being told about a “direct threat” to “the homeland” from a scary Somali terror group called al-Shabab whose killers in Kenya may (or may not) have included recruited Somali-Americans and even a British woman known as “the white widow.”

The idea that there was some history to all of this, that it involved Washington and the U.S. military, secret CIA prisons and covert drone strikes, the funding, supplying, and organizing of proxy African troops, and the thorough destabilizing of Somalia because Washington feared an Islamic group that was actually unifying the country — out of which al-Shabab (“the youth”) emerged — seems unbelievable, though it is simple fact.  And here’s a reality that you won’t see on your TV screen 24/7: if al-Shabab is a nightmare, history has joined it to Washington at the hip.  The particular kind of destabilization that gripped Somalia in the post-9/11 years, including a U.S.-inspired Ethiopian invasion and years later a Kenyan version of the same, has now spread to Kenya itself.  As Nick Turse has argued at this site, this sort of destabilization is now happening across the African continent.  The U.S. military, along with the CIA and U.S. intelligence, is moving more deeply into Africa, and in the process, from Libya to the Central African Republic, it is helping to turn the continent into Terror Central.

Those scores of FBI agents combing the ruins in Nairobi (as well as the beefed up CIA contingent now dealing with the situation) aren’t the answer to a sudden crisis.  They are signs of a long-term problem; they are the chicken to the terrorist egg — and which came first almost doesn’t matter anymore.  If you decide that anyone, anywhere, on Earth can be an imminent “danger” to the homeland and you’ve already transformed the very idea of “national” defense into international defense, and nowhere is too far to go to “defend” yourself, then you are always going to be stirring things up in distant places in ways you don’t understand and with a hatful of unintended consequences.

And don’t think that all of this is just so much seat-of-the-pants happenstance either.  The planning for America’s militarized African presence has been going on for years, even if beyond the sight of most Americans, as this site has repeatedly reported.  Today, TomDispatch regular David Vine explores another previously unnoted aspect of Washington’s preparations for future wars in a destabilizing Africa: a startling traffic jam of U.S. military bases in Italy.  Someday, in some unexpected way, the Italian base story will suddenly break big-time in the mainstream and, once again, it will seem to arrive out of the blue, out of nowhere, without any context, and everyone will be shocked, shocked (unless, of course, you read it first at TomDispatch). Tom

The Italian Job
How the Pentagon Is Using Your Tax Dollars to Turn Italy into a Launching Pad for the Wars of Today and Tomorrow
By David Vine

The Pentagon has spent the last two decades plowing hundreds of millions of tax dollars into military bases in Italy, turning the country into an increasingly important center for U.S. military power. Especially since the start of the Global War on Terror in 2001, the military has been shifting its European center of gravity south from Germany, where the overwhelming majority of U.S. forces in the region have been stationed since the end of World War II. In the process, the Pentagon has turned the Italian peninsula into a launching pad for future wars in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond.

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Dumb and Dumber: A Secret CIA Drone Base, a Blowback World, and Why Washington Has No Learning Curve

8:24 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Dumb and Dumber
A Secret CIA Drone Base, a Blowback World, and Why Washington Has No Learning Curve
By Tom Engelhardt

Saudi Airbase

An air base in Saudi Arabia. Why did mainstream media agree to suppress reports of our secret drone base?

You could, of course, sit there, slack-jawed, thinking about how mindlessly repetitive American foreign and military policy is these days. Or you could wield all sorts of fancy analytic words to explain it.  Or you could just settle for a few simple, all-American ones.  Like dumb. Stupid. Dimwitted. Thick-headed. Or you could speak about the second administration in a row that wanted to leave no child behind, but was itself incapable of learning, or reasonably assessing its situation in the world.

Or you could simply wonder what’s in Washington’s water supply. Last week, after all, there was a perfect drone storm of a story, only a year or so late — and no, it wasn’t that leaked “white paper” justifying the White House-directed assassination of an American citizen; and no, it wasn’t the two secret Justice Department “legal” memos on the same subject that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were allowed to “view,” but in such secrecy that they couldn’t even ask John O. Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism tsar and choice for CIA director, questions about them at his public nomination hearings; and no, it wasn’t anything that Brennan, the man who oversaw the White House “kill list” and those presidentially chosen drone strikes, said at the hearings. And here’s the most striking thing: it should have set everyone’s teeth on edge, yet next to nobody even noticed.

Last Tuesday, the Washington Post published a piece by Greg Miller and Karen DeYoung about a reportorial discovery which that paper, along with other news outlets (including the New York Times), had by “an informal arrangement” agreed to suppress (and not even very well) at the request of the Obama administration. More than a year later, and only because the Times was breaking the story on the same day (buried in a long investigative piece on drone strikes), the Post finally put the news on record.  It was half-buried in a piece about the then-upcoming Brennan hearings. Until that moment, its editors had done their patriotic duty, urged on by the CIA and the White House, and kept the news from the public. Never mind, that the project was so outright loony, given our history, that they should have felt the obligation to publish it instantly with screaming front-page headlines and a lead editorial demanding an explanation.

On the other hand, you can understand just why the Obama administration and the CIA preferred that the story not come out. Among other things, it had the possibility of making them look like so many horses’ asses and, again based on a historical record that any numbskull or government bureaucrat or intelligence analyst should recall, it couldn’t have been a more dangerous thing to do. It’s just the sort of Washington project that brings the word “blowback” instantly and chillingly to mind.  It’s just the sort of story that should make Americans wonder why we pay billions of dollars to the CIA to think up ideas so lame that you have to wonder what the last two CIA directors, Leon Panetta and David Petraeus, were thinking. (Or if anyone was thinking at all.)

“Agitated Muslims” and the “100 Hour War”

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Nick Turse: The Pentagon’s Bases of Confusion

6:48 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

An Afghani police officer holds an assault rifle.

Afghan police officer (United States Marine Corps / Flickr)

One of the jokes of our era is the Republican Party’s claim that it favors “small government.”  An accurate description might go more like this: the present-day Republican Party (libertarians excepted) has never seen an oppressive power of the national security state it didn’t want to bolster or grow.  And it loves big government — the bigger the better — as long as we’re talking about the military-industrial complex.  Mitt Romney, for instance, is eager to build ever more naval vessels, increase the size of U.S. ground forces, and up by an extra $2 trillion or more over the next decade the Pentagon’s already staggering budget.  As the Bush administration proved and the Obama administration emphasized, stimulus packages, including massive infrastructural projects, are fine and dandy when pursued in Baghdad (biggest embassy on Earth) or Afghanistan (most bases ever).  Consider it an irony, that even undocumented aliens are a Republican “go,” if they happen to be part of the semi-slave labor force that helps to build and service American bases in war zones abroad. 

And lest anyone claim that we’re now a can’t-do nation with a can’t-do government, it’s simply not true.  Increasingly true, however, is that governmental “doing” only happens these days when the U.S. military is doing it.  This is, of course, the definition of a militarizing society.  And yet, let’s face it, the Pentagon’s ability to create infrastructure remains impressive — and something Americans know remarkably little about.

Take today’s piece by TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse: to build untold hundreds of bases, some humongous, in a poverty-stricken, landlocked country (with few building resources of its own) thousands of miles from ours is little short of stunning.  In fact, thought of a certain way, the whole American way of war has the same quality.  Take the largest base built in Iraq, the ill-named Camp Victory with a 27-mile perimeter.  Housing 40,000 military personnel and 20,000 contractors, it had, among the usual brand-name fast-food restaurants, Internet cafes, and PXes, “a reverse osmosis water plant that could generate 1.85 million gallons a day, an ice plant, a 50-megawatt power generating station, stadium-sized chow halls, and a laundromat with 3,000 machines able to do 36,000 loads a day.”

Since any style of warfare emerges from the society that spawns it, we shouldn’t be surprised that we carry our particular version of a consumer society to war with us.  Think, for instance, of the final withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, when the U.S. military shipped out much of what we had brought in with us.  That turned out to be an estimated three million objects, ranging from tanks and laptop computers to toilets and tables (with at least another four million objects turned over to the Iraqis, “including 89,000 air conditioners worth $18.5 million”). 

Now, as if to remind us of the profligate nature of the American way of war, comes the news that to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the U.S. military may have to send in extra troops to sort through the more than $60 billion worth of equipment and materiel that needs to leave with them.  Think of it not as an urge but a surge to depart, and a part of the general madness of war, American-style, in these last years.  Those extra troops will, by the way, be sending out at least 200,000 shipping containers and vehicles.

Big government?  It couldn’t get bigger.  Can-do, you bet.  Successful?  Not for a second.  Maybe the next time Washington wants to build the biggest embassy on Earth and hundreds of bases, large and small, it should do so here and create a few of the fantasy 12 million jobs Mitt Romney is promising Americans.  Tom 

Afghanistan’s Base Bonanza
Total Tops Iraq at That War’s Height
By Nick Turse

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U.S. Africa Command Debates TomDispatch

7:08 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

US Army Soldiers in a dusty, scrub-filled African desert.

Soliders create a perimeter in Djibouti. (Photo: U.S. Army photo by Specialist Michelle C. Lawrence / Flickr)

On July 12th, TomDispatch posted the latest piece in Nick Turse’s “changing face of empire” series: “Obama’s Scramble for Africa.” It laid out in some detail the way in which the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has, in recent years, spread its influence across that continent, establishing bases and outposts, sending in special operations forces and drones, funding proxy forces on the continent, and so on. As last week ended, TomDispatch received a “letter to the editor” from Colonel Tom Davis, director of the U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, disputing in some detail a number of Turse’s points. (Colonel Davis also sent a copy of the letter to the Nation Institute, which supports this website.)

As readers know, it’s quite possible to write this editor. I read everything that arrives at TomDispatch with appreciation and answer when I can. There is, however, no “comments” section, nor a place for letters to the editor at TD.  In this case, however, I found the obvious time and effort AFRICOM took to respond to the Turse piece of interest and so, today, we’re posting Colonel Davis’s full letter, and a response from Turse. After all, whatever highlights the changing U.S. military position in Africa, about which Americans know remarkably little, seems well worth the time and space.

Two things remain to be said: first, beneath the detailed critique and response that follows lies an obvious difference of opinion that seems worth highlighting. Like a number of other TomDispatch writers, I believe that the U.S. military should not be responsible for Planet Earth; that it is not in our interest for the Pentagon to be dividing the globe, like a giant pie, into six “slices” covering almost every inch of the planet: U.S. European Command, or EUCOM (for Europe and Russia), the U.S. Pacific Command, or PACOM (Asia), CENTCOM (the Greater Middle East and a touch of North Africa), NORTHCOM (North America), SOUTHCOM (South America and most of the Caribbean), and AFRICOM (almost all of Africa).  Nor should the U.S. military be garrisoning the planet in the historically unprecedented way it does.  This imperial role of ours has little or nothing to do with “defense” and creates many possibilities for future blowback. Instead, it seems far more sensible to begin to shut down or cut back radically on our vast array of global bases and outposts (rather than, as in Africa, expanding them), and downsize our global mission in a major way.  AFRICOM would obviously disagree, as would the Pentagon and the Obama administration, and the results of that basic disagreement about the role of the U.S. military in the world can be seen in what follows.

Second, one of Colonel Davis’s criticisms below is of a passage in my introduction to Turse’s piece. “[O]nly the other day,” I wrote, “it was revealed that three U.S. Army commandos in a Toyota Land Cruiser had skidded off a bridge in Mali in April. They died, all three, along with three women identified as ‘Moroccan prostitutes.’”  The Colonel questions the accuracy of that word “revealed,” since his command had issued a brief press release on April 20th stating: “Three U.S. military members and three civilians died in a vehicle accident in Bamako, Mali today.”

In the Washington Post piece I linked to, however, reporter Craig Whitlock identified the three “military members” as “U.S. Army Commandos” and those three “civilians” as “Moroccan prostitutes” and raised the following questions: “What the men were doing in the impoverished country of Mali, and why they were still there a month after the United States suspended military relations with its government, is at the crux of a mystery that officials have not fully explained even 10 weeks later.” It seems to me that, if you compare the press release to the later article, “revealed” is not too strong a word.  With that, let me turn the proceedings over to Colonel Davis and Nick Turse. Tom

The Nature of the U.S. Military Presence in Africa:
An Exchange between Colonel Tom Davis and Nick Turse

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David Vine: U.S. Empire of Bases Grows

6:19 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Soldiers on a base

A US Army Base in Iraq (Photo: The US Army / Flickr)

It was January 15, 2004, and TomDispatch had only been in existence for a year when Chalmers Johnson, author of the prophetic book Blowback (published in 2000 and a bestseller after the 9/11 attacks), did a piece for this site entitled “America’s Empire of Bases.”  He wrote then: “Due to government secrecy, our citizens are often ignorant of the fact that our garrisons encircle the planet. This vast network of American bases on every continent except Antarctica actually constitutes a new form of empire — an empire of bases with its own geography not likely to be taught in any high school geography class. Without grasping the dimensions of this globe-girdling Baseworld, one can’t begin to understand the size and nature of our imperial aspirations or the degree to which a new kind of militarism is undermining our constitutional order.”

It was a benchmark essay for TomDispatch and a theme — the unprecedented way Washington was garrisoning the planet — that Johnson would return to repeatedly and that others of us would take up.  This mattered because, despite the crucial role that Washington’s empire of bases played in the American way of war and its dreams of global dominance, bases were then, and remain today, a phenomenon largely ignored in the mainstream media.

In 2004, the Pentagon was, for instance, already building the first of its 505 bases, the biggest among them meant to be “enduring,” in Iraq — American ziggurats, I called them at the time.  Some of these were large enough to qualify as full-scale American towns, with PXs, fire departments, bus routes, the usual range of fast-food joints, internet cafes, and the like — and yet it was the rare American reporter who saw a story of any sort in them, even when visiting one of them.  The same was true in Afghanistan, where the U.S. was building (and is still upgrading) 400 or more bases.  No one even bothered to try to count them up until Nick Turse did so in February 2010 for this site.  (Ann Jones took TomDispatch readers onto one of them in August of that same year.)

In his books and at TomDispatch, Johnson put significant effort into trying to come up with a number for the bases the Pentagon garrisoned outside the United States.  In January 2011, Turse returned to that task and found that number to be well over 1,100.  Again, it’s not a figure you normally see reported in the mainstream.  In March 2010, John Feffer reminded TD readers of just how far the Pentagon would go to hang onto a single major base, among so many, on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

One of the last essays Chalmers Johnson published at this site before his death in 2010 was entitled “Dismantling the Empire” and it was concerned with just how the U.S. could downsize its global mission and end its empire of bases.  David Vine, anthropologist and author of Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia, has been touring American bases for the past three years.  In a major survey of the changing shape of our Baseworld, he suggests that unfortunately it isn’t shrinking at all, and that “dismantling” isn’t yet on the American horizon.  This means that — until the mainstream finally stumbles upon the import of this story — TomDispatch has little choice but to stay on the bases beat for the foreseeable future. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Vine discusses his experiences with the Pentagon’s empire of bases, click here or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

The Lily-Pad Strategy:
How the Pentagon Is Quietly Transforming Its Overseas Base Empire and Creating a Dangerous New Way of War

By David Vine

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