Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mr. Obama, Tear Down Those Bases: Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman and America's Endless War Machine

Existing installations

US military bases in Germany as of 2008.

These are the American army bases in Germany.

You might ask, Why?

It is true that when American soldiers wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere between the Rock of Gibraltar and India need to be evacuated for the highest level of medical care, it's nice to have that ultra modern hospital in Lansthul as a place they can be swept into an operating room, a sort of Walter Reed East. 

But, if we were not constantly sending our men and women into combat in the Middle East, Asia Minor and all points in between, we might get away with an arrangement with the Brits to set up a hospital in the friendly environs of the British Isles. 

The real question Mad Dog has asked is: Why? Why do we need all those American soldiers in Germany in 2013? Hastings Ismay, the first secretary general of  NATO said we needed American soldiers in Germany to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down. That was circa 1950. 

Do we really need to keep the Germans down in 2013?  Would we not like it better if the Germans sent their own boats to keep the sea lanes open to the oil ports in the Middle East?

We really do need to sit ourselves down and have a serious talk and say: "We really did win the Second World War."  We can bring our soldiers home from Japan now.  The Japanese might have been the Yellow Peril for our parents, but they are the people who make Toyotas for our children now. 

And the Germans, well, the problem for our parents was we could not keep the Germans from making guns and building armies and navies; the problem for us is they don't want to spend any money on defending themselves, trade routes or hunting down terrorists. Let the Yanks do it.

Mad Dog has assumed he was simply being ignorant. There must be a reason we are spending billions to keep those troops abroad. But today Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, writing in the New York Times validates that sneaking suspicion, that idea which seems so obvious there must be a reason it's wrong--the idea that we are still fight a war 70 years after it ended. 

And to keep all those servicemen armed, we need to fund facilities like the Portsmouth Naval Yard, and the Newport News Virginia Naval Yard and a San Diego Naval Yard and a Naval Yard in Hawaii.  And the Army has training camps to help prepare our professional soldiers/ Hessians/mercenaries (depending on your point of view) well conditioned and ready to fight our endless war.

Endless war, that's what Andrew Bacevich calls it. 

Ms. Hoffman is a professor of American foreign relations at San Diego State University and Bacevich is a professor of political science, or something like that, at Boston University.

If there were a compelling reason for America to have these bases in Germany and Japan, you would think these scholars would know about it.

Why, Mad Dog asks, are the Republicans, who have been screaming bloody murder about federal government spending, not apopletic about the billions which support all those American soldiers, sailors and airmen languishing in bases across Germany and Japan?

It may be the defense budget is only 14%-19% of our federal budget. But, as Everett Dirksen once remarked, a million here, a million there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money.

Mad Dog humbly suggests we save some money in Germany and Japan, and here at home at so many war machine facilities and spend that money on Medicare and a National Health system. 

Which is not to say we ought to forget about tracking down terrorists. 

But let us admit, finally, we are not likely to kill terrorists with a tank or a submarine.


  1. Mad Dog,
    That is certainly a lot of bases located in Germany, but it appears about 30% of them are slated to close in the next few years, so does that mean we are already reducing our presence there-or will they be replaced or shifted around? It sure does seem time for other countries to share the cost of the "police work" that benefits them as much as it does us, however, are you suggesting an almost total withdrawal from Germany and Japan? Elizabeth Cobbs Hofffman spoke of sharing the load and that seems the most prudent since our presence has deterred conflict in the past and could conceivably do so in the future. True, our main enemies right now are Al Qaeda, Iran and N. Korea, but our foes are always changing over time. If our continued, albeit reduced, presence in Europe and Asia prevents aggression and conflict isn't that money well spent-the old "ounce of prevention....". Of course I don't have any idea the dollar amount or percent of the overall defense budget this entails( I didn't know that the total defense budget was 14-19% until you posted the pie charts). Maybe a (reduced) military presence is an effective use of defense dollars where the constant production of arms and machinery is not. On the other hand, perhaps the cost is so huge that we'd be better off ramping up the forces back home and then deploying them as needed..In any case, I do agree that there is certainly room for reduction and that putting the savings towards healthcare would be a great use of the funds.

    Your blog on abortion was very thought provoking. Surely as science advances this century, the line for what constitutes viability, and thus the line for when abortion can occur, will move back as I believe it should. Arkansas seems like it's jumping the gun, though, since there is still time after the first trimester when a fetus cannot survive outside the womb. At the risk of sounding like Mr. Spock, can you see a time in the future when an artificial womb could sustain an embryo or fetus at any stage? Would that then render abortion a non-option, or would fetuses be removed from the womb and allowed to develop artificially and then be placed for adoption? Does that sound crazy or possible?

  2. Maud,

    I have not sat through any Brookings Institution seminars on the reasons we need bases in Germany or Japan, but at the risk of sounding as if I am having a Rand Paul moment, I cannot see the reason for having any bases in either place. Germany does not have bases in Hawaii or Africa or Afghanistan. Why should we have over seas bases? China does not have bases in Chile or Brazil. If we need to get soldiers or fire power somewhere, that's why we have an Air Force, a Navy and drones.

    As for abortion: Viability strikes me as a poor test for life, if it is the only test. The Catholic Church did not oppose abortion in early centuries. One problem with discussing abortion is some people insist they are speaking from God, and that really eliminates all possibility of reasonable discussion. I would prefer to discuss this with Jesuits, who tend to be able to listen and to think independently.
    We have no problem taking life if that life is a cow or goat or even a dog. We assign value to human life, and we occasionally decide there are higher values: so we take the life of a murderer or an enemy soldier. We loathe infanticide, but we might respect the slave mother who slits the throat of her new born babe rather than let that child live a life of sexual, mental and physical abuse. She is making a statement about the value of that sort of life. We tell a woman she must bear a child, allow it to grow within her, demand she allow it to draw its needs from her, but can we not grant her the same privilege we give the slave mother?
    I really, after all these years, cannot say I have decided about abortion. I do know that 28 week fetus/conceptus/ baby/incubus looked a lot like a human being to me, just as the 12 week old newt which looked like a rubber mold more than a human being. But appearances are not everything. It's a difficult problem. I am just saying we ought to first decide how we can think about it. I would plead for the religious person to set aside the impulse to claim he has had a private conversation with God and knows God's mind more than I do.

    Mad Dog