The San Francisco Chronicle March 21, 2004
After 9/11, U.S. policy built on world bases
By James Sterngold
Government officials have been searching for suitable memorials to the thousands killed in the terrorist strikes of Sept. 11, but the most telling monument, which best illustrates the historic turn America's approach to global problems has taken since the attacks, may turn out to be an obscure American air base in the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan.
The Bush administration honored the memory of Chief Peter J. Ganci Jr., the most senior New York City Fire Department official killed in the collapse of the World Trade Center, by naming the new military base there for him.
It was a fitting choice because the facility is just one in a string of new overseas military deployments, beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, that have become a defining characteristic of President Bush's tough style of foreign engagement.
One year after U.S. tanks rolled through Iraq and more than two years after the United States bombed the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, the administration has instituted what some experts describe as the most militarized foreign policy machine in modern history.
The policy has involved not just resorting to military action, or the threat of action, but constructing an arc of new facilities in such places as Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Qatar and Djibouti that the Pentagon calls "lily pads." They are seen not merely as a means of defending the host countries -- the traditional Cold War role of such installations -- but as jumping-off points for future "preventive wars" and military missions.
In a major policy statement issued in September 2002 and titled the National Security Strategy, the president declared, "It is time to reaffirm the essential role of American military strength," and he detailed two significant new uses of that might: pre-emptively attacking would-be enemies, as in Iraq, and preventing rivals from even considering matching U.S. strength. It was a new assertion of U.S. primacy, not through diplomacy or economics but through unquestioned military domination.
This sharp turn in U.S. policy has ignited a passionate debate -- well beyond the dispute over the wisdom of the war in Iraq -- over the proper role of U.S. power and whether the focus on the projection of military force has taken attention away from such other critical issues as economics and trade, the stunning rise of China as an economic power and the need to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"There's clearly been a militarization of foreign policy, initially justified on the basis of the events of 9/11," said Charlene Barshefsky, the United States trade representative under President Bill Clinton. "Unfortunately, the military portion of the policy has now defined our entire policy."
Under the Bush administration's plans, some older deployments in areas such as South Korea, Japan and Germany may be reduced, but more troops are being shifted to the most volatile and dangerous regions of the globe. It is, experts say, the most extensive realignment of U.S. power in the past half century.
Writing last year in the normally dry journal Foreign Affairs, Kurt Campbell and Celeste Johnson Ward of the Center for Strategic and International Studies found the sheer scale of the shift so profound that they reached for a cosmic analogy, calling it "a sort of military 'big bang.' "
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, an architect of the Iraq war, articulated some of the thinking behind the new posture in an interview with the New York Times in 2002, saying the function of the string of new bases in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa "may be more political than actually military."
The new installations, he added, would "send a message to everybody, including strategically important countries like Uzbekistan, that we have a capacity to come back in and will come back in -- we're not just going to forget about them."
The administration has argued that the policy is needed to remove regimes that support terrorists and to confront the new threats of a terrorist enemy that operates globally, preys on weak governments and targets civilians. In a commencement address at West Point in 2002, the president declared: "In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action. And this nation will act."
More recently, the Bush administration appears to have accepted that it needs to pursue a variety of approaches to solving some problems -- a reflection, perhaps, of the difficulties it has encountered in Iraq. For instance, the United States has invited the United Nations to play a larger role in holding elections and restoring services in Iraq.
Rather than unilaterally confronting the other two nations named in the "axis of evil," the United States is working jointly with China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to try to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. And the White House, at least for now, is allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to negotiate an end to Iran's nuclear program.
In each of these instances, though, the administration has hinted that it is prepared to take military action if negotiation does not produce results, and it has put bases in place to undertake those missions.
But, some experts warn, the military emphasis may have made the United States less safe by placing troops in harm's way and by inflaming anti-American sentiment abroad. In their Foreign Affairs essay, Campbell and Ward warned that the expansion of America's military reach "could well increase foreign anxiety about and distrust of the United States."
Other policy analysts and former government officials express concern that the military emphasis is coming at the expense of equally pressing issues.
"The apparently overwhelming emphasis on the security issues to the near total exclusion of economic issues is short-sighted," said C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Institute for International Economics in Washington and a former senior Treasury Department official.
A report last year by a bipartisan commission of Middle East experts appointed by Congress favored the administration's policy of seeking democratic change in the region, but concluded that the singular focus on armed might rather than diplomacy and aid threatened the program with failure.
"In this time of peril, public diplomacy is absurdly and dangerously underfunded," the commission said.
"The real issue is we've lost the capability to be a good listener," said Ellen Laipson, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a national security research institute in Washington, and a former senior intelligence official under Republican and Democratic administrations. "We don't have to negotiate. We don't have to compromise. The sheer ambition of the policy is what's causing the resentment."
She added, "We are lagging behind badly in using the kind of power that will predominate in the 21st century."
She said that so-called "soft power" included economic strength, working through multilateral organizations, diplomatic arm-twisting where necessary and, when confronted with issues of force, working through international alliances such as NATO.
Chalmers Johnson, a professor emeritus at UC San Diego and an Asia expert, says he believes that few Americans are even aware of the extent of the military's reach and the profound influence it is having on policymaking in this country and public opinion abroad. Johnson says the Pentagon's calculation that it owns or rents 702 bases in about 130 countries -- over and above the 6,000 bases in the United States -- is a gross underestimate because it fails to include installations in such places as Kosovo and Bosnia, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, and secret installations in Israel, Australia and England, among others.
"As distinct from other peoples, most Americans do not recognize -- or do not want to recognize -- that the United States dominates the world through its military power," Johnson wrote in a recent book, "The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic."
Niall Ferguson, a historian at New York University and a senior research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and at Oxford University, generally supports the use of U.S. force in a dangerous world. But in a recent book, "Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power," he describes the United States as "an empire in denial" because it hasn't acknowledged the immensity of its globe-girdling base system.
According to the Pentagon and GlobalSecurity.org, a think tank that tracks military data, the United States has constructed a big new base, Camp Stronghold Freedom, in Uzbekistan to serve as a logistical hub that could supply military missions anywhere in oil-rich Central Asia or the Middle East.
In Kyrgyzstan, the military has airlifted in such equipment as fire trucks, cargo loaders and tractors. "We're establishing a mini Air Force base from which we can fly a variety of military missions, mainly airlift, aerial refueling and tactical air," Brig. Gen. Christopher Kelly told the New York Times in an interview.
Much of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan was conducted from bases in Pakistan.
Roughly 153,000 troops are in Iraq and another 11,000 in Afghanistan, many of them positioned in what experts say are large permanent bases.
New facilities have been constructed at Camp Le Monier, in Djibouti, at the mouth of the Red Sea. The installation, with about 1,600 troops, is regarded as critical to controlling the entryway to the sea, which runs up the western flank of Saudi Arabia, and for gathering intelligence on terrorist groups in the Horn of Africa.
An important new base with about 1,600 troops has been put in place in Qatar. With the U.S. military having withdrawn from its bases in Saudi Arabia, the new installation in Qatar and the new bases in Iraq are regarded as key to protecting U.S. interests in the Middle East.
There are still 5,000 troops in Kosovo and 3,000 in Bosnia from earlier peacekeeping operations. The U.S.-led international peacekeeping force sent to Haiti earlier this month includes 1,600 Marines.
Teams of American special forces have been sent to Georgia, in the former Soviet Union, to train the local military and, the nation's president has said, to help protect oil pipelines, according to Johnson.
There are also clusters of special forces in Colombia, where they train local troops to fight leftist guerrillas and police narcotics trafficking -- and also to provide a way to gather intelligence in South America. In the Philippines, more than 1,000 troops are working with the Philippine military to combat terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, about 75,000 soldiers are still in Germany; 47,000 in Japan, where the United States maintains 73 bases; 37,000 in South Korea; 13,000 in Italy; and 12,000 in England -- all left from the Cold War. The military also maintains major air and submarine bases in Guam and Diego Garcia.
According to the Pentagon's Manpower Report, before Sept. 11, 2001, there were 255,000 U.S. military personnel in 153 countries. According to GlobalSecurity.org, that number was closer to 350,000 as of early February. Johnson calculates that if civilians and dependents are added in, the number is 531,000. What worries some experts is that other important global trends, especially the growing economic competitiveness of Asia, are passing the United States by. For instance, China has surpassed Japan to become the world's third-largest trading power, and soon it will overtake Germany to capture the No. 2 position, behind the United States, Bergsten said.
That development does not seem to have gotten much attention from the Bush administration. For example, in October China's leaders launched what has been called a charm offensive throughout Asia, using several important regional meetings to strike business deals, offer improved trade terms and coordinate economic policies. At the same meetings, Bush spoke almost exclusively about the war on terror, in spite of the fact that the U.S. trade deficit exploded last year to a record $549.4 billion, largely because of imports from Asia.
"The U.S. seems to be sort of missing in action" on economic issues in Asia, said Michael Armacost, a former ambassador to Japan and now a professor at Stanford.
Jeffrey Garten, the dean of Yale's School of Management and an international policy official in Republican and Democratic administrations, said that by failing to take charge of important economic and trade discussions, particularly in Asia, U.S. power was actually declining, even as the military's reach has been extended.
"Before, we wanted to be seen as the world economic leader," Garten said. "That is not the case now. You just don't hear it. In the trade arena, economic policy is subordinate to our security policies. We use it to buy friends."
Even supporters of the administration's ambitious efforts in the Middle East say the military focus, without equally energetic efforts on diplomacy and programs to open up economies and create jobs for young Arabs, could produce a disaster. The administration has put forward three programs for political and economic reforms in the Middle East but hasn't developed them.
"We have a moment of opportunity to create something important, but it must be done comprehensively," said Edward Djerejian, director of the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel. "You have to do it all at once, or it won't succeed, and that is not happening yet."
U.S. troops around the globe
Approximately 350,000 U.S. troops were stationed around the world as of early February, according to GlobalSecurity.org. About 250,000 were deployed in combat, peacekeeping and counterterrorism operations, and an additional 100,000 in Germany, Japan, Italy and England were serving routine tours of duty.
Bosnia and Kosovo: About 8,000 U.S. troops are part of NATO's peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Georgia: Approximately 75 Marines are training four Georgian battalions in counterterrorism.
Haiti: A multinational peacekeeping force, including 1,600 U.S. Marines, was sent earlier this month.
South Korea: Approximately 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed here, some within a few miles of the demilitarized zone.
Colombia: Clusters of special forces soldiers train Colombian troops to fight leftist guerrillas and police narcotics trafficking.
Yemen: U.S. special operations forces trained 200 Yemeni soldiers in counterterrorism tactics last year.
Djibouti: A task force of 1,600 provides support for counterterrorism activities in the Horn of Africa region and monitors the southern entry to the Red Sea.
Iraq: Approximately 153,000 troops.
Afghanistan: Many of the 11,000 troops are positioned in what experts say are large, permanent bases.
Philippines: More than 1,000 troops are working with the Philippine military to combat terrorism.
Qatar: Since the American military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, an important new installation in Qatar with about 1,600 troops is regarded as critical to U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
© Copyright 2004, The Chronicle Publishing Co.