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Evolving Empire: Chalmers Johnson on Bush’s Major Troop Realignment

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President Bush announced plans Monday to recall as many as 70,000 troops from military bases in Europe and Asia–not Iraq and Afghanistan–as part of a global rearrangement of forces. We speak with scholar and author Chalmers Johnson, his latest book is Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush announced plans Monday to recall as many as 70,000 troops from military bases in Europe and Asia as part of a global rearrangement of forces.

  • President Bush, speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 16, 2004

President Bush speaking yesterday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in the battleground state of Ohio.

In one of the biggest shifts of US forces since the Cold War, the repositioning is to unfold gradually over seven to 10 years and cut the 230,000 overseas U.S. service members by one-third.

The general outlines of the redeployment plan have been known for months–namely pulling troops out of Germany and South Korea, bringing most of them home, and establishing a series of forward operating posts in Central Asia.

The administration would build training camps and smaller bases mainly in the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe that could be used for rapid deployments to the Middle East in a bid to make the military more flexible. The realignment drew criticism from former NATO commander Wesley Clark who said the plan “will significantly undermine U.S. national security.”

The realignment is expected to have the greatest impact in Germany where 30,000 troops will be withdrawn along with the thousands of local jobs that depend on US forces.

Bush said his goal was to ease the burden on U.S. troops, but the plan offered no immediate relief to the 125,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq and nearly 20,000 in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the announcement gave the president a chance to talk about bringing troops home at a time when his opponent, Sen. John Kerry, has pledged to substantially reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

  • President Bush, speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio, August 16, 2004
  • Chalmers Johnson, a leading scholar of Asia and US-Asian relations and the founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute. He is author of The “Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic and Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.

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StoryNov 22, 2010Chalmers Johnson, 1931-2010, on the Last Days of the American Republic
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Chalmers Johnson, a leading scholar of Asian and U.S.-Asian relations and a founder of the Japan Policy Research Institute. His latest book is Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic. Chalmers Johnson, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to President Bush’s announcement?

CHALMERS JOHNSON: In talking about our over 700 military bases abroad, the story is in the details, and Bush simply doesn’t tell us the details. He omits to tell us the bases that are being opened as distinct from the ones that are being closed. For all of the endless talk by this administration about our support for democracy, he doesn’t tell us that the new bases are being opened in some of the most autocratic or — military dictatorships that exist around the world, whereas they’re actually withdrawing troops from two of the genuine democracies that did not join the coalition of the consenting, so called, namely South Korea and Germany. There is a very open question of whether this will actually occur despite what he said. Secretary Rumsfeld is in great trouble with the military, and he and above all, Douglas Fife, his assistant who has been in charge of this, seem to have no real knowledge at all of inter-service rivalries and how strong they can be. The ease with which the Pentagon can subvert this action is great. On the other hand, if they really mean it, I’d have to admit we all ought to support them. Just this past weekend, we had a marine corps helicopter crash at the marine corps air station at Futenma in the middle of Okinawa, and crashed into the building of a — on a university there. Fortunately, no one was killed because it’s summer. But this has been an accident waiting to happen for years. And it did just happen, and Rumsfeld has been the first Secretary of Defense to visit Okinawa with our 38 American military bases since Cheney was Secretary of Defense back in the first Bush administration. The democrats simply never paid any attention to it at all. And we understand that Rumsfeld was actually shocked when he flew over Futenma and saw it was bigger than Central Park, and located right in the middle of one of Okinawa’s largest cities and commented that, you know, no ally should treat another allied nation in this manner. It’s an accident waiting to happen. To the extent they really mean it, that’s fine, but most of us don’t believe they really mean it. That they’re moving troops out of Germany also because of the fact that our Status of Forces Agreements with these countries normally stipulate that the United States cannot be held responsible for environmental damage. Germany has recently forced a change in the Status of Forces Agreement, making us responsible for very considerable environmental pollution around our bases, and the Americans are now — want to move to places former communist countries like Romania and Bulgaria, that are so poor they said, “Come here. You can be as dirty as you want to be.” It also is clear, the high command in Europe has said, “Like hell are we going to move to a backwater like Constanta, Romania. We’re staying in Stuttgart, right next door to the Armed Forces Ski Center at Garmisch in the Bavarian Alps.” And none of them seem to realize — I mean, after all, none of them have ever served in the armed forces — how many buildings 70,000 troops in Germany occupy, and how poor a country like Romania or Bulgaria, how poor the infrastructure actually is. So, we will see. At the same time, they don’t say anything about 14 permanent bases being built in Iraq. Four are already built: Tallil Air Base, Baghdad, the one in the north near Mosul and the one over on the border with Syria. They don’t say anything about the bases in Jabuti, in the Saharan Desert, in Mali and places like that in our attempt to get some kind of a military base to control the oil in the Gulf of Guinea and numerous other things like this that simply are not mentioned. What I fear is this doesn’t really come so much either from the Secretary of Defense or even from Bush as it does from Karl Rove. It’s the attempt once again to manipulate the gullible by suggesting that we are all of a sudden turning responsible and careful and concerned about the welfare of families, of people serving in the armed forces or of people forced to live cheek by jowl with military bases around the world. For instance, it’s simply nonsense. If you join the Marine Corps today and happen to have a family, I guarantee you, they give you information on how to apply for food stamps as you join simply because you can’t possibly live on what they’re paid. One of the things that does worry me is in the case of Japan it’s as if these characters are treating Japan as if it were the 51st state, and they can just do anything they want. They don’t seem to understand the politics of the fact that though the Japanese government likes the security treaty with the United States, they know full well that if the troops of the Third Marine Division that are currently in Okinawa were located anywhere near a major mainland city like, say, Yokohama, they would have been thrown out 30 years ago. The Japanese public simply would not tolerate it. Therefore, they’re quarantined down in a Japanese equivalent of Puerto Rico, namely the poorest prefecture in the country, which has distinct cultural differences from Japan, namely Okinawa. Now they are talking about moving some of these marines to new bases in the northern territory or Queensland of Australia — and Prime Minister Howard may not last more than another couple of months, so that may not happen. They’re talking about putting them on the sides of Mt. Fuji at the firing range there. They’re proposing a joint military command between Ft. Lewis, Washington, and Japan that will be located at Camp Zama, near Yokohama. These people, they don’t read Japanese obviously. They don’t know what’s going on. The Japanese press, every locality that’s being designated as soon to receive a few marines is protesting like crazy, “Like hell you’ll put them here.” So that, as I say, this is — it is being treated with too much credulity, notably by The New York Times, which lately seems incapable of critical judgment. We have to see how this comes out. They talk about how it has been planned and discussed by Bush for years. That’s simply nonsense. There’s one other element in it, I think, that ought to be recognized. One of the things that’s coming up next year in 2005 is an absolute firestorm in Congress over base closings domestically, which is already required by law. The two mother hens of the Defense Facility Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee are Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Dianne Feinstein of California. They fight to keep military bases open in their states because a lot of people are employed by the military-industrial complex and by the armed services. It’s part of American militarism. One of the things that Hutchison and Feinstein have done is in the last appropriation, they established a commission opposed by the White House to close foreign military bases and keep them open in America. It always seemed like — that Bush and the Pentagon could get around this, if they wanted to, but it may be that they’re beginning to prepare the ground for a big base closings fight next year by easing off the serious opposition that would come from the states with the largest number of bases, namely Texas and California, and then ganging up on the less politically potent ones elsewhere. That’s just speculation, but it’s certainly something that is well known in the — when the issue of military bases comes up.

AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, author of Sorrows of Empire. We’re going to come back, because I want to ask you about Japan and what is happening with the U.S. pressuring Japan to drop Article IX of the Constitution in just a minute. [break] Big Joe Turner, singing “Battle of the Blues” in 1947, a song that mentions rock 'n' roll seven years before Bill Haley sang “Rock Around the Clock.” This is Democracy Now! Democracynow.org. The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re he talking to Chalmers Johnson. His book is called, Sorrows of Empire, about the massive redeployment that President Bush announced yesterday. Chalmers Johnson, General Colin Powell, Secretary of State, said that if Japan is to join the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. would support that if they were to drop Article IX of the Japanese Constitution. Your response?

CHALMERS JOHNSON: All of a sudden, you just have to say that the people in our government seem to be culturally the most tin-eared human beings on earth. I mean, let me mention one thing, General Powell has made a career in the army. Does he know that we have — that the headquarters of the Eighth Army in South Korea have been in downtown Seoul, that is a city of 11 million people for the last 50 years in the old headquarters of the Japanese colonialists? It doesn’t — you don’t have to be a genius in cultural affairs to realize this has always been an insult to the Koreans. They just finally agreed, finally a couple of years from now to move them out of there. Well, similarly, Article IX of the Japanese Constitution, in which Japan renounces the use of armed force in international relations, was in fact Japan’s form of apology for World War II to the nations of East Asia, that it victimized. We have now had our — Richard Armitage, Powell’s deputy and then Powell himself now come out and say, we regard Article IX, which by the way is in the Constitution that General MacArthur wrote, we regard Article IX as an obstacle to our global strategic imperial plan. And if you want us to back you up in going into the U.N. Security Council, we want you to amend your Constitution and get rid of it. Well, this has produced unbelievable outrage in Japan, even from conservative politicians that say it’s simply flagrant interference in the domestic affairs of Japan, and I hope it will actually energize the defenders of Article IX, who are getting few in number as we get further and further away from people who remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki and World War II. But it certainly was not a pleasant affair, and it reveals, I think, most seriously to the rest of the world, that Japan is simply an open satellite of the United States, that its foreign policy revolves entirely around Washington, D.C., that Prime Minister Koizumi wouldn’t do anything without first consulting the Bush administration, and that that alone will kill its presence in the United Nations. Simply because everybody is going to recognize Japan in the U.N. is simply in the Security Council — is to give the United States another vote, which reminds people of back during the heyday of the Soviet Union when they got votes for Ukraine and Byelorussia, things like that. We all knew these were just further votes for Moscow. So again, you have to think that we need a state department headed by somebody who actually knows what the word diplomacy means.

AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, how do you respond to General Wesley Clark saying that this redeployment will compromise the war on terror?

CHALMERS JOHNSON: Well, I don’t see that it has anything to do with the war on terror. That is to say the war on terror — we have applied wrongly an overly military approach to it from the beginning. There is no question that the situation is worse today than it was on 9/11. That is, between 1993 and 2001, including 9/11, al Qaeda managed to carry out five major bombings internationally. In the three years since 9/11, down to and including the attacks in Riyadh, the suicide bombings in Istanbul, the bombings of the commuter railroads in Madrid, they have carried out well over 20 that — Rumsfeld asked last October, you know, we need a measure of how we’re doing in the war on terrorism. Well, baby, we have got a measure. We’re losing it. We’re losing it rather badly, and it’s because of an excessively military approach to these problems without any real understanding of the needs to alter our foreign policy in order to do the only known way to deal with terrorism. To try and separate the activists who are incorrigible from their passive supporters. The only way so that you can get information from their passive supporters on who the activists are and arrest them in courts of law. The only way to separate the activists from their passive supporters is to recognize the legitimacy of the grievances of their passive supporters, grievances that are easily illustrated in the Middle East by the fact that we have American troops in Iraq, that we are the world’s sole supporters of the Sharon government in Israel, and its extremely militaristic policies toward the essentially defenseless Palestinians. The result is that the entire Islamic world are now passive supporters of al Qaeda. I’ve spent a fair amount of time traveling in Indonesia. It’s the world’s largest Islamic country. And I guarantee you until very recently, Islam was carried very lightly in Indonesia. More or less the way an Italian man carries his Catholicism. Four or five years ago, 80% of the population were pro-American. It was one of the easiest places on earth to visit. Now 80% of the public distrusts the United States and is sympathetic to al Qaeda. T-shirts with pictures of Osama bin Laden are common on any kid in Jakarta today. Only George Bush could have brought about such a disastrous outcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Chalmers Johnson, I want to thank you for being with us. Author of, Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic. His previous book was Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. This is Democracy Now!

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