Why in heck's name is the US such a dangerously over-militarized state?
1. A New Network Forms to Close U.S. Overseas Military Bases -- by Medea Benjamin
In a new surge of energy for the global struggle against militarism, some 400 activists from 40 countries came together in Ecuador from March 5-9 to form a network to fight against foreign military bases. The conference began in Quito, then participants traveled in an 8-bus caravan across the country, culminating in a spirited protest at the city of Manta, site of a U.S. base.
While a few other countries such as England, Russia, China, Italy and France have bases outside their territory, the United States is responsible for 95% of foreign bases. According to U.S. government figures, the U.S. military maintains some 737 bases in 130 countries, although many estimate the true number to be over 1,000.
A network of local groups fighting the huge U.S. military complex is indeed an “asymmetrical struggle,” but communities have been trying for decades to close U.S. military bases on their soil. Their concerns range from the destruction of the environment, the confiscation of farmlands, the abuse of women, the repression of local struggles, the control of resources and a broader concern about military and economic domination.
The Ecuadorian groups who agreed the host the international meeting had been fighting against a U.S. base in the town of Manta. The U.S. and Ecuadorian governments had signed a base agreement in 1999, renewable after 10 years. The purpose of the base was supposed to be drug interdiction, but instead it has provided logistical support for the counterinsurgency war in Colombia, placing Ecuador in a dangerous position of interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbor. The base has also affected the livelihoods of local fishermen and farmers and brought an increase in sex workers, while the promised surge in economic development has not materialized.
During Ecuador’s presidential race in November 2006, candidate Rafael Correa criticized the base and after winning the election he quipped, “We can negotiate with the U.S. about a base in Manta, if they let us put a military base in Miami.” His comment displayed the stunning hypocrisy of the U.S. government, a government that would never deign to have a foreign base on its soil but expects over 100 countries to host U.S. bases.
In a great boost to the newly-formed network to close foreign bases, President Correa sent high-level representatives to the conference to express support, and he himself, together with the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Relations, met with delegates from the network to express their commitment to closing the Manta base when it comes up for renewal in 2009.
But the Ecuadorian government’s courageous stand is unfortunately not echoed in most countries, where anti-bases activists usually find themselves fighting against both the U.S. bases and their government’s collusion.
Indigenous representatives attending the conference talked about the destruction of indigenous lands to make way for bases. In the island of Diego Garcia, the indigenous Chagossian people have been driven off their lands, as have the Chamorros from Guam and the Inuit from Greenland. Kyle Kajihiro, director of the organization Area Hawaii, explained that the U.S. military occupies vast areas of Hawaiian territory, territory which was once public land used for indigenous reserves, agricultural production, schools and public parks.
The delegation from Okinawa, Japan, has been trying to dismantle the U.S. bases for the past 50 years. One of their main complaints has been the violence against women. Suzuyo Takazato, the director of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, has compiled a chilling chronology of sexual abuse against Okinawan women by U.S. soldiers, including the rape of a nine-month old baby and a six-year-old girl. “We publish these horrible crimes to break the silence and impunity of U.S. soldiers who, according to the base treaty, cannot be judged in Okinawa.” Even when groups are not successful in closing the bases, at least they are pushing for U.S. soldiers to be subject to the laws of the host country.
The representative from Guam talked about the environmental devastation—the dumping of PCBs, Agent Orange, DDT, heavy metals and munitions, as well as fallout from the detonation of 168 nuclear bombs in the North western Pacific between 1946 and 1958, leading to high rates of radiation-linked cancers on his island. Activists who have been successful in closing bases warned that it is critical to force the U.S. to clean up before leaving. The Filipinos who won the closure of the Subic and Clark bases in 1992 after years of popular pressure are still fighting to force the U.S. military to clean the site and compensate the affected population.
One of the most compelling success stories came from Vieques, Puerto Rico, where a U.S. base was installed in 1948 in this island paradise of lagoons and sand beaches. The military used the base to build, store and test bombs and chemical substances, like cancer-causing Agent Orange. For decades the local people, especially the fisherman, protested the base, but the anti-base struggle was catalyzed in 1999 when a bomb killed a local civilian, David, Sanes. Activist Nilda Medina spoke with great passion about how they set up permanent protest camps, thousands performed acts of civil disobedience, and others went on hunger strikes. After residents occupied the test area for 13 months, the Navy finally agreed to close the base in May 1, 2003. Now the local people, as in so many other sites, are fighting to clean up the land and treat those who have been exposed to harmful chemicals.” We’re so proud of what we accomplished and want to tell our story to encourage others,” said Nilda Medina. “We understand that this is part of a worldwide struggle against the militarization of our planet.”
Post-9/11, this militarization has become even more entrenched as part of the “war on terror.” Representatives from Cuba at the conference complained bitterly about the use of the Guantanamo base as a center for illegal detention and abuse of prisoners. Activists from Japan, Turkey, Italy and Germany said their countries had been used to facilitate the invasions and ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Delegates from Germany said they have 81 U.S. bases, more than anywhere in the world, and that Germany had became a central rotation point for U.S. soldiers on their way to and from Iraq. They complained that the use of U.S. bases as a launching pad for hostile military operations makes their country vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
This is why over 100,000 people came out for a demonstration in February 2007 in the Italian town of Vicenza against a proposed new military base. “We don’t want the noise, the pollution, the taxing of our infrastructure,” said local organized Cinzia Bottene. “But most of all, we don’t want to be accomplices to Bush’s war and a target for reprisals.”
Many U.S. groups sent representatives to the conference, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, AFSC, United for Peace and Justice, Southwest Workers Union, WILPF, Global Exchange, CODEPINK and the Marin Interfaith Task Force. U.S. delegates said that the bases did not make them more secure; just the contrary. “One of the reasons the U.S. was attacked on September 11 was because of U.S. foreign bases in Saudi Arabia,” explained Joe Gerson of AFSC. “But while the U.S. military has since abandoned the bases in Saudi Arabia, it has replaced them with even more bases throughout the region, creating more animosity towards Americans.” The U.S. delegates made it clear that the network to close U.S. foreign bases was in line with the efforts of the U.S. peace movement, which would like to see our military used for defensive, not offensive purposes. U.S. delegates also emphasized how the billions of dollars now being spent to maintain this empire of bases would be better invested in people’s needs for health, education and housing.
The new global network will help local groups share experiences, learn from one another, and provide support for the local efforts. It will conduct research, maintain a global website (no-bases.org), publish an e-newsletter, and convoke regular international meetings to assess progress.
Luis Angel Saavedra, head of one of the Ecuadorian organizations sponsoring the conference, was thrilled with the outcome. “We’ve been working against the base in Manta for the past seven years, and this conference feels like the culmination of this entire campaign,” he said. “It will strengthen President Correa’s position to close the base. Our people are better educated after all the publicity we’ve received. And we now have a network to exchange strategies and experiences with people all over the world. I’d call that a great success.”
(Medea Benjamin is cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace . To learn more about the Network to Abolish Foreign Military Bases, go to www.no-bases.org.)
2. 60 Years of Faulty Logic -- by James Carroll/. Boston Globe
SIXTY YEARS AGO today, Harry Truman went before a joint session of Congress to announce what became known as the Truman Doctrine. "At the present moment in world history, nearly every nation must choose between alternative ways of life." With that, an era of bipolarity was inaugurated, dividing the world between forces of good and evil.
The speech amounted, as one of Truman's advisers characterized it, to a declaration of religious war. In the transcendent struggle between Moscow and Washington, "nonalignment" was not an option. Truman declared that the United States would actively support "free" people anywhere who were resisting either internal or external threats to that freedom. The "free world" was born, but so, eventually, were disastrous wars in Korea and Vietnam.
The occasion of Truman's pronouncement was his decision to militarily support one side in the civil war in Greece, and with that, the deadly precedent of American intervention in foreign civil wars was set. Fear of communism became a driving force of politics and a justification for vast military expenditures.
Nine days after announcing the Truman Doctrine, the president issued an executive order mandating loyalty oaths and security checks for federal employees, the start of the domestic red scare. The "paranoid style" of American life, in Richard Hofstadter's phrase, was set.
That style lives. Democrats are lining up to attack the Bush administration's catastrophe in Iraq -- not because that war was wrong to start with, but because it has turned out so badly. The administration, meanwhile, has repudiated its go-it-alone militarism in favor of nascent diplomatic initiatives with North Korea, Syria, and Iran -- not because the virtues of diplomacy are suddenly so evident, but because everything else it tried led to disaster. Bush's failures are prompting important shifts, both by his critics and advisers. But no one is asking basic questions about the assumptions on which US policies have been based for 60 years.
More than adjustments in tactics and strategy are needed. What must be criticized, and even dismantled, is nothing less than the national security state that Truman inaugurated on this date in 1947. The habits of mind that defined American attitudes during the Cold War still provide consoling and profitable structures of meaning, even as dread of communism has been replaced by fear of terrorism. Thus, Truman's "every nation must choose " became Bush's "You are with us or against us." America's political paranoia still projects its worst fears onto the enemy, paradoxically strengthening its most paranoid elements. The monstrous dynamic feeds itself.
The United States has obviously, and accidentally, been reinforcing the most belligerent elements in Iran and North Korea, but it is also doing so in Russia and China. Last week, for example, alarms went off in Washington with the news that China is increasing its military spending by nearly 18 percent this year, bringing its officially acknowledged military budget to $45 billion. Yet who was raising questions about massive American military sales (including missiles) to Taiwan, whose defense build up stimulates Beijing's? Speaking of budgets, who questions the recently unveiled Pentagon total for 2008 of more than $620 billion? (Under Bill Clinton, the defense budget went from $260 billion to about $300 billion.) Even allowing for Iraq and Afghanistan, how can such an astronomical figure be justified?
When the United States announces plans to station elements of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, why are Russian complaints dismissed as evidence of Vladimir Putin's megalomania? On this date in 1999, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic were admitted to NATO, in violation of American assurances to Moscow that NATO would not move east from the unified Germany. Now NATO looks further east still, toward Georgia and Ukraine. And Putin is the paranoid?
Last week, the Bush administration announced plans for the first new nuclear weapon in more than 20 years, a program of ultimately replacing all American warheads. So much for the nuclear elimination toward which the United States is legally bound to work by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Washington simultaneously assured Russia and China that this renewal of the nuclear arsenal was no cause for them to feel threatened. Hello? Russia and China have no choice but to follow the US lead, inevitably gearing up another arms race. It is 1947 all over again. A precious opportunity to turn the world away from nuclear weapons, and away from war, is once more being squandered -- by America. And what candidate running for president makes anything of this?
(James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.)
3. Mandating America to Treatment - A Counselor's Perspective -- by Shirin Shokouhi
The American psyche, as it were, and its perpetual wars and honeymoons with various peoples of the world, remind me of the cases of domestic violence I see in my work as a psychotherapist. Current understanding of domestic violence underscores the centrality of the perpetrator's need for power and control, with a familiar pattern of a tension building phase, an outbreak of violence, followed by a period of remorse or honeymoon, to be repeated again and again.
In the lead up to the Iraq attack, many in America came to feel that Iraq was an enemy, an imminent threat, and war a justifiable response to Saddam's provocations. Now that the violent urge vis a vis Iraq has been spent, we hear of concern for the hapless Iraqis, that the U.S. will allow in more Iraqi refugees, and it's hard to find Americans feeling visceral enmity towards Iraqis. A well-known standup comedian said before the war, "soon my friend Scott's going to date only Iraqi girls," referring to the shifting lines of love and hate seen in the wake of past conflicts. The same pattern can be observed in previous wars, hot and cold, overt and covert - Japan, Vietnam, the Native Americans - to name a few from a shockingly long list of former enemies.
Predictably, we are once again being swept up in the tension-building phase, this time against Iran. Even the timid discussions of why a military attack against Iran is not a good idea, take for granted that Iran is an enemy and a dangerous threat that needs to be brought in line. Rarely, if ever, do such discussions include any sense of compassion or horror for what an attack would do to the actual flesh and blood human beings under the bombs. At best, their suffering remains a philosophical abstraction about other people's lives, at worst, an alluring target for racist and islamophobic rage.
Of course, conflict and disagreements are a part of any relationship, as are making up and compromising. It is when actual or threatened violence and the need for absolute power and control are involved in these conflicts that a relationship is deemed dysfunctional and dangerous. America is by no means the only perpetrator of violence in the world, and of course Iran is no so-called angel. As in some domestic violence cases, the battered partner can also resort to physical violence or verbal attacks, but the key difference is that the violence the more powerful party can mete out is on such a greater and more dangerous scale that it aptly receives the bulk of the attention from intervening parties.
American military prowess can easily destroy Iran, a land with an irreplaceable 5000-year history. Iran can goad and irritate America and may even leave a scratch mark here or there, but the power difference is undeniable. Most tragically, caught in the middle are the innocent lives of ordinary Iranians and young American GIs, like the children who get hurt when caught in the middle of fights between parents.
In domestic violence cases, the only demonstrated way to see an end to the pattern of violence is when the perpetrator understands and internalizes that physical aggression is unacceptable, no matter what. So long as America accepts violence as a legitimate means of resolving conflicts, this pattern will continue. Every American who feels a visceral threat from Iran these days, owing in no small part to a mainstream media which is ever ready to demonize the "other," must come to see that Iran also has certain rights, including the right to exist without the constant threat of force and that if there is a disagreement, it can not be resolved through violence. As any domestic violence victim can attest, when the tension builds up high enough, it no longer matters how careful and compliant she is. Inevitably, he will find a reason and strike out. America is again on the verge of making victims of yet another population of the world. This urge to strike out at perceived enemies must be owned and diffused peacefully. On this planet, there are no national divorces. We are stuck together, when we like each other and when we don't. It is precisely at such a time that we must focus on all that we have in common, shifting our gaze to others' humanity and our own flaws.
(Shirin Shokouhi is a NYC based Iranian-American psychotherapist.)