We usually don't pay attention to a little detail when we hear on the news that American troops are being transported from a base in Saudi Arabia to another in Germany with a hospital, or that a soldier in Okinawa is being accused by the Japanese of raping a young girl, or that an aircraft carrier group is spending some time on R&R in Diego Garcia. The US has military bases virtually everywhere. The sun never sets on the American empire.

According to the Defense Department's annual 'Base Structure Report' for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries. Why do we need 18 military bases in Belgium when we already have 12 more in the Netherlands and 3 in Luxembourg? Surely the 77 thousand troops in hundreds of bases in Germany would more than suffice, given that our worst enemy in Europe is now France.

We should not be surprised that our military presence around the world causes other nations to resent us. Imagine if Turkey operated a military base north of Monterey. We would not be surprised if every once in a while a young American patriot to tried to pick off a Turk or two with a hunting rifle. Imagine if Cuba operated a base outside of Miami.

The reality is that it is impossible to really imagine a foriegn power operating a piece of US real estate as a military base. The US spends more on the military than the next five countries combined. No one else is even close.

One reason is that these bases are enormously profitable to military contractors. This amazing "footprint" of bases is serviced by an equally staggering array of military contractors who have taken over all the functions from mail call to KP to laundry to sometimes even base security. Most of these functions are provided by familiar names like Kellog, Brown and Root and Halliburton. Fully a third of the budget for overseas bases goes to non military contractors and supplies. In 2003 the military ordered 273,000 bottles of Native Tan sunblock.

Chalmers Johnson, the author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, argues that the reason the Bush administration seems unconcerned about an exit strategy from Iraq is that there is none. The plan is to establish a network of military bases in Iraq that dominate the middle East and funnel money from US taxpayers into military contractors.

Is this how we want to spend a quarter to a third of our federal budget? Is this the vision we have for our nation? Is this the way we want to be viewed by the rest of the world?

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