As a candidate, George W. Bush criticized President Clinton for
overextending the military. Bush promised that, if elected, he would
review US commitments around the world, with an eye towards bringing
as many troops home as possible.
Yet today the US global military presence is perhaps more
pervasive than ever before.
In part this is due to the war on terrorism. US units are
settling into new bases in and around Afghanistan on a semi-
permanent basis. Hundreds of other US soldiers will soon arrive in
the Philippines to help fight local terrorists linked to Al Qaeda.
But it also stems from the fact that a generation of Washington
policymakers has come to see the US as an indispensable force in
many troubled regions. Thus Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo, today still
houses thousands of US troops. Ten years after the Gulf War, US
bases still dot Southwest Asia.
"It makes me nervous that, like the British, we've acquired an
empire in a fit of absent-mindedness," says John Pike, a national
security expert at GlobalSecurity.org.
The key aspects of today's US military deployments, according to
Pike, are their scope, and their durability.
During World War II, the US shipped many more uniformed personnel
around the world than it has today. But that was clearly a temporary
situation. The vast majority came home when Japan and Germany were
During the Cold War, the US deployed large numbers of troops on
open-ended missions to contain communism. But most were concentrated
in western Europe. Many of those bases were shut since the fall of
the Berlin Wall.
In 2002, US forces are spread from Kosovo to Kuwait to Korea. In
many of these places, they are permanently integrated into the local
"They're not just a bunch of guys passing through," says Pike.
Take the case of Afghanistan. US forces in the region will surely
be reduced in months ahead as the last remnants of the Taliban are
rounded up. But the military is unlikely to leave altogether. The
Pentagon is creating an infrastructure of bases and political
agreements that could lead to a US presence in the region that lasts
One key installation is the Manas airfield, near Bishkek, the
capital of the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. US engineers
are transforming it into a transportation hub capable of housing and
handling thousands of troops -- yet it is only 200 miles from China.
The US is pouring concrete for runways, installing communications
equipment and rough housing, or doing some other sort of improvement
work at some 13 locations in nine countries in the central Asian
region, including Uzbekistan and Pakistan. …