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Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab

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  • Ed Pearl
    http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175627/tomgram%3A_david_vine%2C_the_true_cos ts_of_empire/?utm_source=TomDispatch
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2012
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      How U.S. Taxpayers Are Paying the Pentagon to Occupy the Planet
      By David <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/davidvine> Vine

      TomDispatch: 12/11/12

      Mars? Venus? Earth-like bodies elsewhere in the galaxy? Who knows? But here,
      at least, no great power, no superpower, no hyperpower, not the Romans, nor
      imperial China, nor the British, nor the Soviet Union has ever garrisoned
      the globe quite the way we have: Asia to Latin America, Europe to the
      Greater Middle East
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175617/nick_turse_america's_secret_building
      _boom> , and increasingly Africa
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175567/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_america%27s_s
      hadow_wars_in_africa_> as well.

      Build we must. If someday Washington took to the couch for therapy, the
      shrink would undoubtedly categorize what we’ve done as a compulsion, the
      base-building equivalent of a hoarding disorder
      <http://unclutterer.com/2010/02/18/hoarding-disorder-a-new-disorder-in-the-d
      raft-of-the-dsm-v/> .

      And you know what else is unprecedented? Hundreds of thousands of Americans
      cycle annually through our various global garrisons, ranging from small
      American towns with all the attendant amenities, including fast-food joints,
      PXes, and Internet cafes to the most spartan of forward outposts, and yet
      our “Baseworld,” as the late Chalmers Johnson used to call it
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/1181/chalmers_johnson_on_garrisoning_the_pl
      anet> , is hardly noticed in this country and seldom considered worthy of
      attention.

      We built, for example, 505 bases
      <http://www.centcom.mil/news/u-s-forces-have-met-all-obligations-in-iraq-gen
      eral-says> at the cost of billions of dollars in Iraq (without a single
      reporter uncovering <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175583/> anything
      close to that number until we abandoned all of them in 2011). Over the
      years, millions of soldiers, private contractors, spies, civilian employees
      of the U.S. government, special ops types, and who knows who else spent time
      on them, as undoubtedly did hundreds of reporters, and yet news of those
      American ziggurats
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174944/why_we_can_t_see_america_s_ziggurats
      _in_iraq> was rare to vanishing. On the whole, reporters on bases so large
      that one had a 27-mile
      <http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/camp-victory-the-us-militar
      y-headquarters-in-iraq-getting-ready-to-close/2011/09/01/gIQA4tb5NK_print.ht
      ml> fortified perimeter, multiple bus lines, and its own electricity grid
      and water-bottling plant generally looked elsewhere for their “news.”

      Our latest base-building mania: Washington’s expanding "empire of bases"
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175454/nick_turse_mapping_America's_shadowy
      _drone_wars> for its secret CIA and Special Forces drone wars in the
      Greater Middle East goes almost unnoticed (except at sites like this). We
      now, for instance, have a drone base in the Seychelles, an archipelago that
      evidently needs an infusion of money. Unless you had the dough for a
      high-end wedding in the middle of the Indian Ocean or a vacation in
      “paradise,” you’ve probably never heard of the place.

      No matter. You’re still paying for the deployment of 82 people
      <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/checkpoint-washington/post/in-tropical-
      paradise-us-drones-add-up-to-revenue/2011/09/22/gIQAkqRSnK_blog.html> to
      those islands to fly and land crash-prone
      <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/checkpoint-washington/post/drone-crashe
      s-in-seychelles/2011/12/13/gIQAQ3PsrO_blog.html> drones in our now endless
      “covert” robotic air wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa. With the
      so-called fiscal cliff
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175615/tomgram%3A_kramer_and_hellman,_it%27
      s_the_politics,_stupid/> now eternally on the media horizon, there’s been
      reporting recently on how your tax dollars are being spent, but do you have
      the faintest idea what it actually costs you to garrison the globe? No? Then
      you’re in good company, and the Pentagon certainly isn’t interested in
      telling you either.

      Fortunately, basing expert and TomDispatch regular
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175568/david_vine_u.s._empire_of_bases_grow
      s> David Vine decided to make sense of what garrisoning the planet means to
      our pocketbooks. Read this piece and you’ll know what it costs all of us to
      build and support that Baseworld and more generally the American global
      military presence. Think about it: at the cost of possibly $2 trillion since
      9/11, it should be one of the stories of the century. If it were, maybe by
      now we would be starting to pull back from the “military cliff.” Tom

      Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab
      How U.S. Taxpayers Are Paying the Pentagon to Occupy the Planet
      By David <http://www.tomdispatch.com/authors/davidvine> Vine

      “Are you monitoring the construction?” asked the middle-aged man on a bike
      accompanied by his dog.

      “Ah, sì,” I replied in my barely passable Italian.

      “Bene,” he answered. Good.

      In front of us, a backhoe’s guttural engine whined into action and empty
      dump trucks rattled along a dirt track. The shouts of men vied for attention
      with the metallic whirring of drills and saws ringing in the distance.
      Nineteen immense cranes spread across the landscape, with the foothills of
      Italy’s Southern Alps in the background. More than 100 pieces of earthmoving
      equipment, 250 workers, and grids of scaffolding wrapped around what soon
      would be 34 new buildings.

      We were standing in front of a massive 145-acre construction site for a
      “little America” rising in Vicenza <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/712> , an
      architecturally renowned Italian city and UNESCO world heritage site near
      Venice. This was Dal Molin
      <http://www.stripes.com/news/construction-booming-at-vicenza-1.96914> , the
      new military base the U.S. Army has been readying for the relocation of as
      many as 2,000 soldiers from Germany in 2013.

      Since 1955, Vicenza has also been home to another major U.S. base, Camp
      <http://www.usag.vicenza.army.mil/sites/local/> Ederle. They’re among the
      more than <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175338/> 1,000 bases the United
      States uses to ring the globe (with about 4,000 more
      <http://www.acq.osd.mil/ie/download/bsr/BSR2012Baseline.pdf> in the 50
      states and Washington, D.C.). This complex of military installations,
      unprecedented in history, has been a major, if little noticed, aspect of
      U.S. power since World War II.

      During the Cold War, such bases became the foundation for a “forward
      strategy” meant to surround the Soviet Union and push U.S. military power as
      close to its borders as possible. These days, despite the absence of a
      superpower rival, the Pentagon has been intent on dotting the globe with
      scores of relatively small “lily pad” bases
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175568/> , while continuing to build and
      maintain some large bases like Dal Molin.

      Americans rarely think about these bases, let alone how much of their tax
      money -- and debt -- is going to build and maintain them. For Dal Molin and
      related construction nearby, including a brigade headquarters, two sets of
      barracks, a natural-gas-powered energy plant, a hospital, two schools, a
      fitness center, dining facilities, and a mini-mall, taxpayers are likely to
      shell out at least half a billion dollars. (All the while, a majority
      <http://warisacrime.org/node/36712> of locals passionately and vocally
      oppose <http://www.nodalmolin.it/spip.php?article123> the new base.)

      How much does the United States spend each year occupying the planet with
      its bases and troops? How much does it spend on its global presence? Forced
      by Congress to account for its spending overseas, the Pentagon has put that
      figure at $22.1 billion a year. It turns out that even a conservative
      estimate of the true costs of garrisoning the globe comes to an annual total
      of about $170 billion. In fact, it may be considerably higher. Since the
      onset of “the Global War on Terror” in 2001, the total cost for our
      garrisoning policies, for our presence abroad, has probably reached $1.8
      trillion to $2.1 trillion.

      How Much Do We Spend?

      By law <http://comptroller.defense.gov/fmr/02b/02b_15.pdf> , the Pentagon
      must produce an annual “Overseas Cost Summary
      <http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/fy2013_OM_Overview.pdf> ”
      (OCS) putting a price on the military’s activities abroad, from bases to
      embassies and beyond. This means calculating all the costs of military
      construction <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175617/> , regular facility
      repairs, and maintenance, plus the costs of maintaining one million
      <http://2010.census.gov/2010census/pdf/2010%20Census%20Federally%20Affiliate
      d%20Overseas%20Count%20Operation%20Assessment%20Report.pdf> U.S. military
      and Defense Department personnel and their families abroad -- the pay
      checks, housing, schools, vehicles, equipment, and the transportation of
      personnel and materials overseas and back, and far, far more.

      The latest OCS, for the 2012 fiscal year ending September 30th, documented
      $22.1 billion in spending, although, at Congress’s direction, this doesn’t
      include any of the more than $118 billion
      <http://costofwar.com/about/counters/> spent that year on the wars in
      Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe.

      While $22.1 billion is a considerable sum, representing about as much as the
      budgets <http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget> for the Departments of
      Justice and Agriculture and about half the State Department’s 2012 budget,
      it contrasts sharply with economist Anita Dancs’s estimate of $250 billion
      <http://www.fpif.org/reports/the_cost_of_the_global_us_military_presence> .
      She included war spending in her total, but even without it, her figure
      comes to around $140 billion -- still $120 billion more than the Pentagon
      suggests.

      Wanting to figure out the real costs of garrisoning the planet myself, for
      more than three years, as part of a global investigation of bases abroad,
      I’ve talked to budget experts, current and former Pentagon officials, and
      base budget officers. Many politely suggested that this was a fool’s errand
      given the number of bases involved, the complexity of distinguishing
      overseas from domestic spending, the secrecy of Pentagon budgets, and the
      “frequently fictional”
      <http://www.publicintegrity.org/2011/10/13/7063/pentagons-accounting-shamble
      s-may-cost-additional-1-billion> nature of Pentagon figures. (The
      Department of Defense remains the only federal agency
      <http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/10/25/1150275/-Audit-the-Pentagon>
      unable to pass a financial audit <http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/585351.pdf>
      .)

      Ever the fool and armed only with the power of searchable PDFs, I
      nonetheless plunged into the bizarro world of Pentagon accounting, where
      ledgers are sometimes still handwritten
      <http://www.publicintegrity.org/2011/10/13/7063/pentagons-accounting-shamble
      s-may-cost-additional-1-billion> and $1 billion can be a rounding error. I
      reviewed thousands of pages of budget documents, government and independent
      reports, and hundreds of line items for everything from shopping malls to
      military intelligence to postal subsidies.

      Wanting to err on the conservative side, I decided to follow the methodology
      <http://comptroller.defense.gov/fmr/02b/02b_15.pdf> Congress mandated for
      the OCS, while also looking for overseas costs the Pentagon or Congress
      might have ignored. It hardly made sense to exclude, for example, the
      health-care costs the Department of Defense pays for troops on overseas
      bases, spending for personnel in Kosovo, or the price tag for supporting the
      550 bases <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175588/> we have in Afghanistan.

      In the spirit of “monitoring the construction,” let me lead you on an
      abbreviated account of my quest to come up with the real costs of occupying
      planet Earth.

      Missing Costs

      Although the Overseas Cost Summary initially might seem quite thorough,
      you’ll soon notice that countries well known to host U.S. bases have gone
      missing-in-action. In fact, at least 18 countries and foreign territories on
      the Pentagon’s own list of overseas bases go unnamed.

      Particularly surprising is the absence of Kosovo and Bosnia. The military
      has had large bases and hundreds of troops there for more than a decade,
      with another Pentagon report
      <http://comptroller.defense.gov/defbudget/fy2013/FY2013_OCOTF.pdf> showing
      2012 costs of $313.8 million. According to that report, the OCS also
      understates costs for bases in Honduras and Guantánamo Bay by about a third
      or $85 million.

      And then other oddities appear: in places like Australia and Qatar, the
      Pentagon says it has funds to pay troops but no money for “operations and
      maintenance” to turn the lights on, feed people, or do regular repairs.
      Adjusting for these costs adds an estimated $36 million. As a start, I
      found:

      $436 million for missing countries and costs.

      That’s not much compared to $22 billion and chump change in the context of
      the whole Pentagon budget, but it’s just a beginning.

      Click
      <http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828
      c73&id=c6444fc64c&e=314cd9806d> here to read more of this dispatch

      David Vine, a
      <http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175568/david_vine_u.s._empire_of_bases_grow
      s> Tom Dispatch regular, is assistant professor of anthropology at American
      University, in Washington, DC. He is the author of Island of Shame: The
      Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on
      <http://www.amazon.com/dp/0691149836/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20> Diego
      Garcia (Princeton University Press, 2009). He has written for the New York
      Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, and Mother Jones, among other
      places. He is currently completing a book about the more than 1,000 U.S.
      military bases located outside the United States. To read a detailed
      description of the calculations described in this article and view a chart
      of the costs of the U.S. military presence abroad, visit
      <http://www.davidvine.net/> www.davidvine.net.

      _____

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