Commentary: U.S.'s empire stress disorder
By William A. Collins
Keep those Stars
And Stripes unfurled;
Wave them high and
Rule the world.
It's a lot of work being an empire. Expensive, but well worth it. Americans make up only 4 percent of the world's population, but we get to use up 25 percent of its resources. That's pretty high living and you don't get to pull it off by being a wimpy socialist nonentity. We also get to spew 25 percent of the earth's unsustainable pollution. Sure, this all has to come to an end eventually, but no matter; it's been a great ride.
And at least it won't come to an end militarily. Our army puts Rome to shame. We have 865 foreign bases, and blanket every continent with soldiers and CIA nests. ESPN World Cup announcers "welcome our men and women in uniform serving in over 175 countries and territories." Japan hosts 47,000 of our troops, paying $2 billion for the privilege and annoying its own citizens no end. It just ousted a prime minister over that spat.
South Korea, even closer to the front lines, harbors 37,000 U.S. troops. It's also a serious local annoyance, but nonetheless an irresistible international insurance policy. Now our navy wants an additional Korean base on Jeju Island, jutting out into the sea toward China. This would be yet another means of menacing our biggest economic competitor should it ever display dangerous military rumblings. Much of its incoming oil passes near Jeju. Also in the Pacific we're vastly upgrading our Command Headquarters in Hawaii. Just in case.
Europe doesn't really mind all this military posturing either. It gives them a cheap umbrella against any Russian or Chinese expansionism. On the other hand, they're impatient with our fixation on starting wars. The Netherlands recently lost a government over sending its troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, and Tony Blair's toadying up to George W. Bush was no small part of Labor's dramatic demise in Britain. Military shield? Yes. Wars? No.
Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just rebuked Europe for being too peaceful. What a putdown.
Plainly the U.S. is not shy like the European Union. Our military and CIA now have virtual carte blanche to go ahead and assassinate our enemies of the moment, wherever. Drones in Asia have long been doing this regularly and now special forces are similarly authorized to murder, at least in many parts of the Muslim world. The Israelis are old hands and presumably give us pointers. Yemen and Somalia are our current James Bond hotspots.
In addition to military bases, any empire needs management infrastructure. Thus the Mothership of World Domination is now moored in Baghdad. It's the largest embassy on earth, covering 104 acres. In true Iraq War fashion it was shoddily built by corrupt contractors, but will henceforth serve as our Middle East and Central Asia nerve center. Presently it's busy insinuating U.S. corporations into Iraq's juicy, if decayed, oil fields.
There's more too. Iraq is now viewed as Asia's rail gateway to Europe, with deepwater harbor plans being drawn for Basra and rights-of-way being organized for trains all the way from there to Germany.
But such domination can be messy. There is always stuff like having to bribe the rulers of Kyrgyzstan to keep our air base, supporting coup plotters in Honduras so as to hang onto our base there, paying Ethiopia to occupy Somalia, etc. Plus the wars. It's all so terribly expensive.
Indeed, it's the cost that will probably take our empire down one day. We have built this global fortress on financial sand. Despite our momentary debt reprieve when Europe went bust, our deficit can't keep mounting forever. One day it will force us to bring all those troops home, like it or not.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.