US sailors and Marines salute a flag at the Naval Support Activity Bahrain in Manama, Bahrain. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class D. Keith Simmons / US Navy)
President Obama and House Republicans are out with their budget plans for the next fiscal year. Economist Jeffrey Sachs described it thus: President Obama wants to bleed the patient. House Republicans want to cut the patient's arm off. As Sachs pointed out, it's only possible in our "Mubarak Egypt" political terrain - both party leaderships catering to the super rich, largely ignoring the interests of the vast majority of Americans who must work or scrounge to earn their daily bread - that we can have a debate premised on the absurd notion that the budget deficit is an urgent crisis while we have 10 percent measured unemployment and many Americans - disproportionately veterans - don't have a decent place to sleep.
But if that weren't outrageous enough, amid all the blather about "shared sacrifice," there is another group of powerful people that are largely escaping budget pain, in the plans of leaders of both parties, besides the super rich: the partisans of the Empire.
The quagmire in Afghanistan grinds on, even as more and more of its former cheerleaders lose interest and conviction. Our Afghanistan policy is living in denial, postponing acceptance of the inevitable - that we need to make a plausible accommodation with the Afghan Taliban and get out - a denial that imposes a tremendous cost in human life and national resources.
Meanwhile, leaders of both political parties, purportedly seized with the alleged urgency of cutting spending, are silent on our huge network of foreign military bases, despite the facts that
1) they are tremendously expensive;
2) no one is even bothering to argue that maintaining a huge network of foreign military bases has anything to do with our "security" in the sense of making American citizens safer, as opposed to "security" in the sense of allowing Pentagon leaders to have more places to moves their pieces in their global game of "Risk";
3) many of these military bases are tremendously unpopular - hated - in the countries in which they are located.
Example: people in Okinawa are demanding that the Futenma Air Base be closed and not replaced in Okinawa. Rasmussen reports that a plurality of likely US voters think that the US should "remove its troops from Japan." The Okinawan and American publics agree. But the partisans of Empire do not agree; they'd rather cut nutritional support to poor children in America, or public broadcasting, or wages and jobs of public employees - anything but the Empire.
4) to maintain this network of military bases, our government often supports brutal regimes that violently smash efforts by their citizens to air legitimate grievances.
Example: The New York Times reported Monday that in Bahrain, a promise by US-backed King Khalifa that peaceful protests would be tolerated turned out to be a lie:
... all over this island nation on Monday ... police attacked peaceful protesters, men, women and children, chasing them down, firing at them with rubber bullets and overwhelming them with tear gas ... From early in the morning until well past sundown, police attacked without warning any group that dared gather in the street.
What do Bahrainis have to protest about?
The principal tension is between the royal family under King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and ruling elites, who are mostly Sunnis, and the approximately 70 percent of the local population that is Shiite. Occupying mostly rundown villages with cinder block buildings and little else, many Shiites charge systemic discrimination in employment, housing, education and governance.
The New York Times didn't hold back in describing the brutality of the Bahraini security forces, nor in describing the bitter injustice that the majority of Bahraini citizens are prevented by state violence from peacefully raising their voices in protest concerning their legitimate grievances, and I strongly commend the New York Times article for its straightforward and compelling reporting of this injustice.
But - especially in writing for an American audience - The New York Times made a spectacular omission: what does Bahrain have to do with the United States? The Associated Press (AP), reporting on the attempted protests in Bahrain and the killing of a protester, put this "detail" in the second paragraph:
home to the U.S. Navy's Fifth fleet.
Recall that one of the ostensible goals and claimed outcomes of the US invasion of Iraq was replacing Sunni minority rule with Shia majority rule. But minority Sunni rule over a Shia majority is the status quo in Bahrain today, and Washington has been silent. Why? Maybe because we have a military base there. That's part of the human cost of the huge US network of foreign military bases.
Some members of Congress are taking steps today to put some empire spending on the table for cuts. They are introducing amendments that would cut empire spending in the current fiscal year from the "Continuing Resolution" - HR 1 - currently before the House. These amendments can be seen in the list of amendments to HR 1.
There are many worthy proposed amendments that would cut the military budget. But there are two which deserve particular attention:
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York) is proposing in amendment 232 to cut $90 billion from the war in Afghanistan, leaving about $10 billion to fund the withdrawal of troops.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) is proposing in amendment 46 to limit the number of troops stationed in Europe to 35,000 and to cut force levels by 7,500 troops in the next six months. Polis says this should be the beginning of reductions to cut force levels by 30,000 troops in two years. This is in line with the recommendations of the Sustainable Defense Task Force report sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).
If you think your representative should be supporting amendments to cut the empire budget - in particular, amendments to cut funding for the Afghanistan war and foreign military bases - you can reach her or him through the Capitol Switchboard: 202-225-3121.