Saturday, June 09, 2007

Imperial Prostration?

From a New York Review of Books article about a new book, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic by Chalmers Johnson.

Johnson is deadly earnest when he draws a parallel with Rome. He swats aside the conventional objection that, in contrast with both Romans and Britons, Americans have never constructed colonies abroad. Oh, but they have, he says; it's just that Americans are blind to them. America is an "empire of bases," he writes, with a network of vast, hardened military encampments across the earth, each one a match for any Roman or Raj outpost. Official figures speak of 737 US military bases in foreign countries, adding up to an armed American presence, whether large or small, in 132 of the 190 member states of the United Nations.

Johnson reckons the number is actually higher, if one includes those bases about which the Pentagon is coy. The 2005 Base Structure Report (177 page pdf) omits to mention, for example, garrisons in Kosovo, as well as bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, even though it is well known that the US established a vast presence in both the Persian Gulf and Central Asia after September 11. (Admittedly, the US was evicted from its base in Uzbekistan in 2005.) Nor does the Pentagon ledger include the extensive military and espionage installations it maintains in Britain, estimated to be worth some $5 billion, since these are nominally facilities of the Royal Air Force. "If there were an honest account, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no-one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure," writes Johnson. Intriguingly, he notes that the thirty-eight large and medium-sized US facilities around the world, mostly air and naval bases, match almost exactly both the thirty-six naval bases and army garrisons Britain maintained at its imperial peak in 1898 and the thirty-seven major sites used by the Romans to police the empire from Britannia to Egypt, Hispania to Armenia in 117 AD. "Perhaps," muses Johnson, "the optimum number of major citadels and fortresses for an imperialist aspiring to dominate the world is somewhere between thirty-five and forty."

I have Johnson's book in front of me, and must say I was a bit taken aback when -- as early as the bottom of page two -- clownishness reared it's distracting head. On that page, the author writes that on the morning of September 11, 2001, he and his "friends and colleagues" were searching their "blowback"-obsessed minds for a likely culprit.

They agreed that it had to be Chileans because it was the anniversary of the 1973 overthrow of Salvador Allende.

I put the book aside at that point. This was a number of days ago. Since the rest of the book looks promising, I do plan to go ahead and finish reading it.



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