Amid the distractions of the holiday season, The New York Times revealed that the Obama administration is considering a Pentagon proposal to create a “new” and “enduring” system of military bases around the Middle East. Though this is being presented as a response to the rise of the Islamic State and other militant groups, there’s remarkably little that’s new about the Pentagon plan. For more than 36 years, the US military has been building an unprecedented constellation of bases that stretches from Southern Europe and the Middle East to Africa and Southwest Asia.
The record of these bases is disastrous. They have cost tens of billions of dollars and provided support for a long list of undemocratic host regimes, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and Djibouti. They have enabled a series of US wars and military interventions, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which have helped make the Greater Middle East a cauldron of sectarian-tinged power struggles, failed states, and humanitarian catastrophe. And the bases have fueled radicalism, anti-Americanism, and the growth of the very terrorist organizations now targeted by the supposedly new strategy.
If there is much of anything new about the plan, it’s the public acknowledgement of what some (including TomDispatch) have long suspected: despite years of denials about the existence of any “permanent bases” in the Greater Middle East or desire for the same, the military intends to maintain a collection of bases in the region for decades, if not generations, to come.
Thirty-Six Years of Base Building
According to the Times, the Pentagon wants to build up a string of bases, the largest of which would permanently host 500 to 5,000 U.S. personnel. The system would include four “hubs”—existing bases in Afghanistan, Iraq, Djibouti, and Spain—and smaller “spokes” in locations like Niger and Cameroon. These bases would, in turn, feature Special Operations forces ready to move into action quickly for what Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has called “unilateral crisis response” anywhere in the Greater Middle East or Africa. According to unnamed Pentagon officials quoted by theTimes, this proposed expansion would cost a mere pittance, just “several million dollars a year.”