The Cost of Empire


Posted by Bob Lord

Post-election euphoria only lasts so long, even for total party hacks. For me, it was more post-election relief — I just can't feel euphoric about today's Democratic Party. But whether it's euphoria or relief, today reality crashed the party.

I wrote earlier today about how the Justice Department's decision not to prosecute HSBC for money laundering was influenced by the possible effect an indictment might have on the banking system. That of course is overshadowed by Michigan, the home of the modern labor movement, becoming a right-to-work state. The AzBlueMeanie has covered that today. It's hard to overstate the significance of this development. On Morning Joe, the gang viewed it as a positive that Volkswagen bullt a plant here and pays its workers $14.90 per hour, because otherwise those jobs would have stayed in Germany. Really? Our workers needed to accept less than German workers so that Volkswagen also could save the cost of shipping finished cars from Germany in order to sell them here? My crude logic tells me that accepting subsistence wages wasn't really necessary to land those jobs.  

Then there's this, from TomDispatch: The True Costs of Empire. In this post, David Vine discusses the cost of maintaining the United States garrison state. The numbers are stunning.

We now have over 1000 military bases strewn all over the globe, in addition to the 4000 or so we have in the US. The cost to operate and maintain our non-US bases is at least $170 Billion annually, and likely much more. Here's Vine's discussion of a new base we're building in Italy:

We were standing in front of a massive 145-acre construction site for a “little America” rising in Vicenza, an architecturally renowned Italian city and UNESCO world heritage site near Venice. This was Dal Molin, the new military base the U.S. Army has been readying for the relocation of as many as 2,000 soldiers from Germany in 2013.

Since 1955, Vicenza has also been home to another major U.S. base, Camp Ederle. They’re among the more than 1,000 bases the United States uses to ring the globe (with about 4,000 more in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.). This complex of military installations, unprecedented in history, has been a major, if little noticed, aspect of U.S. power since World War II.

During the Cold War, such bases became the foundation for a “forward strategy” meant to surround the Soviet Union and push U.S. military power as close to its borders as possible. These days, despite the absence of a superpower rival, the Pentagon has been intent on dotting the globe with scores of relatively small “lily pad” bases, while continuing to build and maintain some large bases like Dal Molin.

Americans rarely think about these bases, let alone how much of their tax money — and debt — is going to build and maintain them. For Dal Molin and related construction nearby, including a brigade headquarters, two sets of barracks, a natural-gas-powered energy plant, a hospital, two schools, a fitness center, dining facilities, and a mini-mall, taxpayers are likely to shell out at least half a billion dollars. (All the while, a majority of locals passionately and vocally oppose the new base.)

What Vine does not discuss directly is the accelaration in base building around the world. I'm a bit familiar with this, because I read up on the subject during my Congressional campaign five years ago. I remember reading Pat Buchanan's book, Day of Reckoning, in which he discussed at length our 702 bases outside the US. In just five years, we've increased that worldwide presence by almost fifty percent. That's stunning.

So, as we discuss how much to slash from our social safety net and decide how severely to renege on our compact with those who paid into the social security and medicare trust funds expecting to receive benefits in their golden years, no mention is made of our garrison state, and the thought of paring back its $170 Billion plus cost is not even considered.  

Fast forward five years, and we'll be talking about our 1500 worldwide bases and their $250 Billion annual cost, as we raise the retirement age to 72.