Operation Endless Deployment
The Bush Administration's march toward war in Iraq is dangerous in its own right, and should be opposed as such. But the preparations for "Gulf War II" are also part of a larger plan to promote the most significant expansion of US global military presence since the end of the cold war. The Pentagon is determined to maintain access to the rapidly growing network of military facilities it has built or refurbished in the Caucasus, South Asia and the Persian Gulf for decades to come, long after George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein have passed from the global stage.
In the fall of 1999, in his first major campaign speech on foreign policy, Bush criticized the Clinton Administration for sending US troops off on "aimless and endless deployments" that allegedly detracted from their core mission of fighting and winning wars. Bush was primarily referring to US peacekeeping missions in places like Kosovo, but he gave the impression that he was planning to reduce the overall US military presence overseas as well. Three years later, Bush's pledge to seek a more streamlined US global military presence has been cast aside under the guise of fighting "terrorists and tyrants" of Washington's choosing.
Since September 2001 US forces have built, upgraded or expanded military facilities in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Turkey, Bulgaria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan; authorized extended training missions or open-ended troop deployments in Djibouti, the Philippines and the former Soviet republic of Georgia; negotiated access to airfields in Kazakhstan; and engaged in major military exercises, involving thousands of US personnel, in Jordan, Kuwait and India. Thousands of tons of military equipment have been added to stockpiles already pre-positioned in Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf states, including Israel, Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar. And discussions are still under way with Yemen about increasing American access to facilities there and establishing an intelligence-gathering installation aimed at monitoring activities in Sudan and Somalia.
These forward bases, many of which have been arranged through secretive, ad hoc arrangements, currently house an estimated 60,000 US military personnel. This includes 20,000-25,000 troops in the Persian Gulf, poised to serve as the opening wave of a US invasion of Iraq.
Funds for training and military aid, which are often used to grease the wheels of US access to overseas military facilities, have been increased substantially since the start of the Administration's war on terrorism. The budget request for training foreign military personnel is up by 27 percent in the fiscal-year 2003 budget, while funding for the government's largest military aid program, Foreign Military Financing, is slated to top $4 billion. The bulk of this additional funding is going to countries like Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India, which had previously been under restrictions on what they could receive from the United States because of records of systematic human rights abuses, antidemocratic practices or development of nuclear weapons. Now these same nations are viewed as indispensable allies in the Administration's war on terrorism.
The new global buildup represents not so much a return to the cold war, when the United States had many more troops stationed overseas than it does today, but rather an elaboration of a new, more flexible infrastructure for intervening in--or initiating--"hot wars" from the Middle East to the Caucasus to East Asia.
Military analyst William Arkin has noted that in the first four months after the September 11 attacks, thirteen military tent cities were hastily assembled to shelter US personnel in nine different countries. Many of the sites include "expeditionary airfields" that were built or upgraded on short notice to facilitate their use by US combat and transport planes.
Despite protestations to the contrary by Pentagon officials, there are questions about how many of the new US forward bases will in fact be temporary. The US Central Command has long been seeking alternatives to Saudi Arabia to use as springboards for future interventions in the Persian Gulf, as well as access to facilities in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. While Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been purposely vague about the length of the US stay at any of the new facilities, Air Force Col. Billy Montgomery, who headed a team that expanded an air base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, for use by US and allied forces in Afghanistan, told the Washington Post, "I think it's fair to say there will be a long-term presence here well beyond the end of hostilities."
In a mid-August briefing, Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the Central Command, suggested that the length of the US military presence in Afghanistan could end up rivaling the fifty-year US presence in South Korea. And if the Bush Administration is not dissuaded from moving full-speed ahead with its plans to invade Iraq, several independent military experts have suggested that an occupying force of 75,000-100,000 troops may be needed to stabilize that country, giving rise to the need for additional formal or informal bases to house US troops.