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War, American-style, in the twenty-first century hasn’t exactly been a sterling success story. (How did the Brits ever manage to run that empire of theirs for so many years with such modest numbers of troops?) Take Afghanistan, for example. We now know something of Washington’s latest plans for pursuing the war in that country well into its 16th year. They are, according to media reports, just landing on President Trump’s desk with the enthusiastic support of his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, the Pentagon, the intelligence services, and General John Nicholson, the U.S. Afghan commander. Pushback seems to be coming only from the administration’s Bannonite wing. Basically, those plans seem to boil down to sending in more U.S. troops and more Special Operations forces, putting them in more combat-like situations, and supporting them with more U.S. air power — or put another way, more of exactly what there has regularly been more of for the last 15 years. Call it a mini-surge. All of this, in turn, is supposed to “break the Afghan deadlock,” shift the war in the favor of the U.S.-backed government, and lead to successful peace negotiations. Oh, and it’s grounded in the conviction that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is capable of weeding corrupt and ineffective commanders out of his military.
It might cross your mind that all of the above could only have been dreamt up by “strategists” who had been on another planet for the last decade and a half. However, the generals who came up with this brilliant plan (for a president who, in 2013, tweeted, “We have wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan. Their government has zero appreciation. Let’s get out!”) have been deeply involved in America’s wars across the Greater Middle East in those years. And since it’s hard to believe that they meant to create a failing strategy, the only alternative is to assume that they’ve been involved in this sort of war-making for so long that they are no longer capable of imagining anything else. In other words, what we’re witnessing is a brain-dead version of strategizing that will leave another set of officials in Washington wondering what to do next somewhere down the line.
In the face of such “planning,” woefully typical of Washington’s war on terror, it’s always good to look for some bright spot and there does happen to be one area where the U.S. military remains the undisputed global champ: military bases. As TomDispatch regular David Vine has shown in his essential book, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World, the U.S. garrisons the globe without competitors and in a fashion previously unimaginable. That “rising power” China, for instance, is only now building its first base outside its own territory — in the small African country of Djibouti, just miles from a large U.S. base, leaving it approximately 799 global garrisons short of Washington. Britain and France each still have some bases, generally left over from their days of imperial glory, and the Russians also have a handful, including two particularly active ones in Syria and another, just unveiled, in its own far northern territories near the Arctic Circle. That’s its second base in the melting north. About such moves, Washington is already raising the alarm. (Secretary of Defense James Mattis at his confirmation hearings typically said, “The U.S. must ensure that Russia doesn’t expand those efforts to dominate the region.”)
Still, at the moment, the U.S. stands alone when it comes to garrisoning Planet Earth, a success story that, strangely enough, never seems to impress the mainstream media enough to consider it a subject worthy of coverage, which is why it’s so useful to have David Vine on hand at moments like this.