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From Draft NOtices, July-August 2002

Bases Provide Clues to Understanding "War on Terror"

- Molly Morgan

From May 31 to June 2 I attended the Radfest conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where I heard Zoltan Grossman speak. Grossman, a long-time peace activist who recently received his doctorate in geography, shared with conference participants his insights about a largely ignored consequence of U.S. military interventions in the last decade. The information he presented strongly suggests that the installation of new U.S. military bases has been one of the primary purposes of these wars.

Grossman explained that as a result of the increasing economic strength of the European Union and the East Asian economic bloc since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has been making geopolitical decisions to counter the possibility of being excluded from much of the Eurasian land mass. This explanation helps to make it clear that the choices of U.S. military interventions were based not on the official explanations, let alone the needs of the local people, but on whether there was an opportunity to develop a U.S. sphere of influence in the strategic area bounded by Europe, Russia, and China.

Regularly deploying its undisputed military strength under various guises such as stopping "ethnic cleansing" and responding to Islamist militancy, the U.S. has been installing bases in new strategic regions as a future counterweight to its economic competitors. Planners for each intervention focused on building new U.S. military installations or securing basing rights at foreign facilities in order to support the coming war. But once the war ended and the media spotlight shifted to other events, the U.S. forces were not withdrawn, even when the U.S. was breaking promises by doing so.

To make his points, Grossman reviewed each of the military interventions of the last decade, showing maps of the bases installed each time: the Gulf War, Somalia, the wars in the Balkans, and Afghanistan. Before September 11, the U.S. had more than 60,000 troops operating in more than 100 countries. Since then it has deployed troops in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Georgia, as well as in the Philippines and Colombia. Everywhere there are U.S. bases, the local population resents the presence of the troops, increasing possibilities for future blowback. The cover story for each of these interventions varies according to the situation. Often they don't make much sense upon any kind of serious investigation, but they apparently have been good enough for the majority of people in the U.S., who generally have very little knowledge about the rest of the world in general and U.S. foreign policy in particular.

After supplying Iraq with arms for years, the U.S. diplomatically winked that it would not object to an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. When it happened, however, the U.S. used the invasion as an excuse to build large bases in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and obtain basing rights in the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. Grossman explained that the Gulf War was about oil, but noted that the U.S. only imports about five percent of its oil from the Gulf (most of our imported oil comes from Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador). Most Gulf oil goes to Europe and Japan. So the U.S. permanently stationed bases around the Gulf not only to counter Saddam Hussein, continue bombing Iraq, and quell potential internal dissent in the oil-rich monarchies, but also to secure control over European and East Asian oil sources.

One of the proxy wars of the 1970s and '80s was between U.S.-backed Somalia and Soviet Union-backed Ethiopia. In exchange, the U.S. received the right to use Somali ports, strategically located at the southern end of the Red Sea, linking the Suez Canal to the Indian Ocean. When the Somalian dictator was overthrown, the U.S. used the chaos and famine as an excuse to try to move in, with the disastrous battle at Mogadishu as a result. After the U.S. withdrew, it was able to obtain basing rights just across the Red Sea in Yemen.

Although the U.S. has ignored, and even supported, "ethnic cleansings" in various places around the world, the Serbs were fingered as the demons to justify interventions in Bosnia in 1995 and Kosovo in 1999. As a result, there are new military bases in Hungary, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo. In the event that European efforts to build an independent military force outside the U.S.-commanded NATO eventually succeed, the U.S. now has a massive military presence in Eastern Europe.

Afghanistan has long been identified as a geopolitically strategic location, and it also happens to be part of the route for a planned Unocal pipeline. When the Taliban proved insufficiently cooperative to get the Caspian Sea oil project moving, the U.S. used the September 11 attacks as an excuse to bomb one of the world's poorest countries. New bases and basing rights in Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan enabled the war on Afghanistan, and remain as the security system for the new Caspian Sea oil infrastructure.

Grossman also mentioned the "war on terror" being used as an excuse to deploy troops in the Philippines and re-establish a military base there, and the "war on drugs" as the justification for the military escalation in Colombia. In all of these interventions, the U.S. did not go to war as a last resort, despite propaganda reports to the contrary in the U.S. corporate media. War just presented a convenient opportunity to further larger economic goals. This also sheds light on what otherwise seems like strange behavior:

Geopolitical politics may also help explain the reluctance of the U.S. to declare victory in these wars. If the U.S. had ousted Saddam from power in 1991, his Gulf allies would have demanded the withdrawal of U.S. bases, but his continued hold onto power justified intensive U.S. bombing of Iraq and a continued hold over the Gulf oil region. The fact that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar have not been captured in [nine] months of war also provides convenient justification for the permanent stationing of U.S. bases in Central and Southern Asia. All three men are more useful to U.S. plans if they are alive and free, at least for the time being.

Grossman's analysis provides an important piece of the puzzle for peace activists trying to strategize against the current war juggernaut and provide public education to help people understand how the economic motivations fit into the current crisis:

Whether we look at the U.S. wars of the past decade in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, the Balkans, or Afghanistan, or at the possible new wars in Yemen, the Philippines, or Colombia/Venezuela, or even at Bush's new "axis of evil" of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, the same common themes arise. The U.S. military interventions cannot all be tied to the insatiable U.S. thirst for oil (or rather for oil profits), even though many of the recent wars do have their roots in oil politics. They can nearly all be tied to the U.S. desire to build or rebuild military bases. The new U.S. military bases, and increasing control over oil supplies, can in turn be tied to the historical shift taking place since the 1980s: the rise of European and East Asian blocs that have the potential to replace the United States and Soviet Union as the world's economic superpowers.

Much as the Roman Empire tried to use its military power to buttress its weakening economic and political hold over its colonies, the United States is aggressively inserting itself into new regions of the world to prevent its competitors from doing the same. The goal is not to end "terror" or encourage "democracy," and Bush will not accomplish either of these claimed goals. The short-term goal is to station U.S. military forces in regions where local nationalists had evicted them. The long-term goal is to increase U.S. corporate control over the oil needed by Europe and East Asia, whether the oil is around the Caspian or the Caribbean seas. The ultimate goal is to establish new American spheres of influence and eliminate any obstacles -- religious, militants, secular nationalists, enemy governments, or even allies -- who stand in the way.

Information sources: presentation at Radfest, May 31, 2002; "New U.S. Military Bases: Side Effects or Causes of War?" by Zoltan Grossman,; "How to Reduce Terrorism: Bring American Troops Home," by Thomas Gale Moore, San Jose Mercury News, June 11, 2002; "Oil Rigged," by Thad Dunning and Leslie Wirpsa,

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (


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