Monday, August 2, 2010

Xenophobia I Can Believe In

Not too long ago I attempt a little piece of research. I wanted to know how many military bases the United States maintained overseas. Answer?


Suffice it to say that the number runs well into the many dozens if not several hundreds. They range from the venerable and infamous, like Guantanamo Bay, to the much more recent and volatile, like the staging areas in several of the 'Stans that the military has used for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bulk are left over from the Cold War when the United States established this global military presence to counter the Soviet threat.

Last time I checked, however, the Cold War is over. In fact, the college students I now teach were all born after the end of the Cold War. For them it might as well be ancient history, like the Victorians, or the War of 1812. And yet we remain saddled with this Cold War military infrastructure. Tens of thousands of soldiers in places all over the world, costing us hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

The bloated Pentagon budget has been the budgetary elephant in the room as Congress frets about deficits, debt and spending cuts. Nor is that obese budget liable to be put on a serious diet, given how geographically spread out military spending is, and how important it is to the economy of the those red states whose politicians complain loudest about government spending.

Yet surely the vast number of overseas installations is an easy place to start the slashing. What possible justification can there be, after all, for keeping 65,000 troops in Germany?! Or even in South Korea, whose own military is now one of the most advanced in the world?

Surely there must be a way to tap into the nativism and xenophobia currently abroad in the land and turn it toward a movement to bring our troops home from these far flung places. Americans are famously suspicious of foreign places and we don't like foreigners. So can't we put those forces to work for good instead of evil and use it to shrink the American military presence around the world?

PS. After I wrote this little essay I picked up the NY Times Magazine and found Deborah Solomon's interview with Barney Frank. It seems that he and Ron Paul have found some common ground on this very issue!