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America's Forever War: The New York Times Acknowledges US' Global Empire


October 31, 2017
Sheldon Richman /AntiWar.com & New York Times Editorial

One big advantage the war party has is the public's ignorance about the activities of the far-flung American empire. Most people are too busy with their lives, families, and communities to pay the close attention required to know that the empire exists and what it is up to. But now the New York Times had printed an editorial that admits: "The US has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories" around the globe.

http://original.antiwar.com/srichman/2017/10/29/new-york-times-acknowledges-us-global-empire/

New York Times Acknowledges US Global Empire
Sheldon Richman /AntiWar.com

(October 30, 2017 ) -- One big advantage the war party has is the public's ignorance about the activities of the far-flung American empire. Although frustrating, that ignorance is easy to understand and has been explained countless times by writers in the public choice tradition. Most people are too busy with their lives, families, and communities to pay the close attention required to know that the empire exists and what it is up to.

The opportunity cost of paying attention is huge, considering that the payoff is so small: even a well-informed individual could not take decisive action to rein in the out-of-control national security state.

One vote means nothing, and being knowledgeable about the US government's nefarious foreign policy is more likely to alienate friends and other people than influence them. Why give up time with family and friends just so one can be accused of "hating America"?

In light of this systemic rational ignorance, we must be grateful when a prominent institution acknowledges how much the government intervenes around the world. Such an acknowledgment came from the New York Times editorial board this week. The editorial drips with irony since the Times has done so much to gin up public support for America's imperial wars. (See, for example, its 2001-02 coverage of Iraq and its phantom WMD.) Still, the piece is noteworthy.

The Oct. 22 editorial, "America's Forever Wars," began:
The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. [See the full editorial below -- EAW]

That alone ought to come as a shock to nearly all Americans. The UN has 193 member states -- and the US government has a military presence in at least 89 percent of them! The Times does not mention that the government also maintains at least 800 military bases and installations around the world. That's a big government we're talking about. And empires are bloody expensive.

The Times went on:
While the number of men and women deployed overseas has shrunk considerably over the past 60 years, the military's reach has not. American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere.

The editorial writer might have mentioned that the US government has been bombing seven Muslim countries for years when you count Pakistan and Libya. Civilian casualties were high under Barack Obama and are growing under Donald Trump. Having an alleged isolationist in the White House hasn't done much for the long-suffering Muslims in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.

The Times then provided this useful tidbit: "An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as 'unknown.' The Pentagon provided no further explanation."

Unknown, that is, to the people whom in theory the government is of, by, and for. Under the government's actual operating principle, no explanation is required. Who the hell do the people think they are anyway?

To its credit, the Times reminded us "there are traditional deployments in Japan (39,980 troops) and South Korea (23,591) . . . along with 36,034 troops in Germany, 8,286 in Britain and 1,364 in Turkey -- all NATO allies. There are 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases."

The writer suggested these are defensive deployments. I guess it's too much to expect the Times to acknowledge that the US government has a knack for creating the threats it then claims it must defend against.

The editorial writer pointed out that:
America's operations in conflict zones like those in Africa are expanding: 400 American Special Forces personnel in Somalia train local troops fighting the Shabab Islamist group, providing intelligence and sometimes going into battle with them.

One member of the Navy SEALs was killed there in a mission in May. On Oct. 14, a massive attack widely attributed to the Shabab on a Mogadishu street killed more than 270 people, which would show the group's increased reach. About 800 troops are based in Niger, where four Green Berets died on Oct. 4.


The US presence in Niger was surely news to most people -- it certainly was to senior members of the US Senate. One of them, warhawk Lindsey Graham, anticipates that Africa will be America's next major battlefield.

A few members of Congress object that the post-9/11 authorization for military force has become a blank check for US operations anywhere and everywhere, but rather than passing a new AUMF, Congress should stop all overseas operations. They endanger Americans, not to mention the people who live in the targeted societies (For the US role in the horrors wracking in Somalia, see this. Regarding Niger, see this and the links therein.)

Many of these forces are engaged in counterterrorism operations -- against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance . . . .

Hold on there, New York Times editorial writer. The Taliban is a terrorist organization? They ruled Afghanistan when Osama bin Laden and his then-small al-Qaeda organization operated there, but that does not make the Taliban a terrorist organization, no matter what other bad things you may justly say about them. Resistance to an invading army (America's) falls outside the definition of terrorism. When the same people resisted the Soviets, Americans labeled them "freedom fighters."

. . . against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; against an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen.

Here the writer fails his readers miserably. The US bombing of al-Qaeda in Yemen is mentioned, but not America's complicity in Saudi Arabia's genocidal bombing and blockade of Yemen -- a war (against alleged by not actual Iranian proxies) that helps al-Qaeda by creating violent chaos like that in Libya. (Some members of Congress are trying to stop Trump from waging this war. Let's help them succeed.)

Summing up, the Times is right: "it's time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists." Or, I'd add, whether the strategy is really about killing terrorists at all when even top military people acknowledge that US actions in the Muslim world create terrorists.

Yet we have little cause for optimism:
The Pentagon . . . thrives. After some belt-tightening during the financial crisis, it has a receptive audience in Congress and the White House as it pushes for more money to improve readiness and modernize weapons. Senators . . . approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.

Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.


We can hope against hope that the Times and other high-profile media outlets will finally begin to put the US empire under a microscope.

Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute, senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society, and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies, former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education, and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest book is America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited.



America's Forever Wars
The Editorial Board of the New York Times

(October 22, 2017) -- The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. While the number of men and women deployed overseas has shrunk considerably over the past 60 years, the military's reach has not.

American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere.

An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as "unknown." The Pentagon provided no further explanation.

There are traditional deployments in Japan (39,980 troops) and South Korea (23,591) to defend against North Korea and China, if needed, along with 36,034 troops in Germany, 8,286 in Britain and 1,364 in Turkey -- all NATO allies. There are 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases.



Note: As of June 30, 2017. Source: Defense Manpower Data Center. By The New York Times.Scroll to right to see entire graphic

America's operations in conflict zones like those in Africa are expanding: 400 American Special Forces personnel in Somalia train local troops fighting the Shabab Islamist group, providing intelligence and sometimes going into battle with them. One member of the Navy SEALs was killed there in a mission in May.

On Oct. 14, a massive attack widely attributed to the Shabab on a Mogadishu street killed more than 270 people, which would show the group's increased reach. About 800 troops are based in Niger, where four Green Berets died on Oct. 4.

Many of these forces are engaged in counterterrorism operations -- against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance; against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; against an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen. So far, Americans seem to accept that these missions and the deployments they require will continue indefinitely.

Still, it's a very real question whether, in addition to endorsing these commitments, which have cost trillions of dollars and many lives over 16 years, they will embrace new entanglements of the sort President Trump has seemed to portend with his rash threats and questionable decisions on North Korea and Iran.

For that reason alone, it's time to take stock of how broadly American forces are already committed to far-flung regions and to begin thinking hard about how much of that investment is necessary, how long it should continue and whether there is a strategy beyond just killing terrorists. Which Congress, lamentably, has not done.

If the public is quiet, that is partly because so few families bear so much of this military burden, and partly because America is not involved in anything comparable to the Vietnam War, when huge American casualties produced sustained public protest. It is also because Congress has spent little time considering such issues in a comprehensive way or debating why all these deployments are needed.

Congress has repeatedly ducked efforts by Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, and others to put the war against the Islamic State, which has broad popular support but no specific congressional authorization, on a firm legal footing.

President Trump, like his predecessor, insists that legislation passed in 2001 to authorize the war against Al Qaeda is sufficient. It isn't. After the Niger tragedy, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, has agreed to at least hold a hearing on the authorization issue. It is scheduled for Oct. 30.

Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that "a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America." The idea that Americans could be inured to war and all its horrors is chilling, and it's a recipe for dangerous decisions with far-reaching ramifications. There are many factors contributing to this trend:

During earlier wars, including Vietnam, the draft put most families at risk of having a loved one go to war, but now America has all-volunteer armed forces. Less than 1 percent of the population now serves in the military, compared with more than 12 percent in World War II. Most people simply do not have a family member in harm's way.

American casualty rates have been relatively low, especially in more recent years after the bulk of American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, the United States has shifted to a strategy in which Americans provide air power and intelligence, and train and assist local troops who then do most of the fighting and most of the dying. T

his year, for instance, 11 American service members died in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq. By comparison, 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments.

Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.

Since 9/11, American leaders have defined the fight against terrorism as a permanent struggle against a permanent threat. Mr. Obama withdrew significant forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. But the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan led to renewed engagement, though at lower troop levels. Terror attacks here and in Europe, and Mr. Trump's scaremongering, have reinforced the public's sense of siege.

The military is essential to national security, but it is not the only thing keeping America safe. So do robust diplomacy and America's engagement in multilateral institutions, both of which we have faulted Mr. Trump for ignoring or undercutting. The Pentagon, by contrast, thrives.

After some belt-tightening during the financial crisis, it has a receptive audience in Congress and the White House as it pushes for more money to improve readiness and modernize weapons. Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.

Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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