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The Changing Face of American Empire

How the empire has changed its face, but not its nature.

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And these were just the offshore efforts that made it into the news.  Many other U.S. military actions abroad remain largely below the radar.  Several weeks ago, for instance, U.S. personnel were quietly deployed to Burundi to carry out training efforts in that small, landlocked, desperately poor East African nation.  Another contingent of U.S. Army and Air Force trainers headed to the similarly landlocked and poor West African nation of Burkina Faso to instruct indigenous forces. 

At Camp Arifjan, an American base in Kuwait, U.S. and local troops donned gas masks and protective suits to conduct joint chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear training.  In Guatemala, 200 Marines from Detachment Martillo completed a months-long deployment to assist indigenous naval forces and law enforcement agencies in drug interdiction efforts. 

Across the globe, in the forbidding tropical forests of the Philippines, Marines joined elite Filipino troops to train for combat operations in jungle environments and to help enhance their skills as snipers.  Marines from both nations also leapt from airplanes, 10,000 feet above the island archipelago, in an effort to further the “interoperability” of their forces.  Meanwhile, in the Southeast Asian nation of Timor-Leste, Marines trained embassy guards and military police in crippling “compliance techniques” like pain holds and pressure point manipulation, as well as soldiers in jungle warfare as part of Exercise Crocodilo 2012.

The idea behind Dempsey’s “strategic seminars” was to plan for the future, to figure out how to properly respond to developments in far-flung corners of the globe.  And in the real world, U.S. forces are regularly putting preemptive pins in that giant map -- from Africa to Asia, Latin America to the Middle East. On the surface, global engagement, training missions, and joint operations appear rational enough.  And Dempsey’s big picture planning seems like a sensible way to think through solutions to future national security threats.

But when you consider how the Pentagon really operates, such war-gaming undoubtedly has an absurdist quality to it. After all, global threats turn out to come in every size imaginable, from fringe Islamic movements in Africa to Mexican drug gangs. How exactly they truly threaten U.S. “national security” is often unclear -- beyond some White House adviser’s or general’s say-so. And whatever alternatives come up in such Quantico seminars, the “sensible” response invariably turns out to be sending in the Marines, or the SEALs, or the drones, or some local proxies. In truth, there is no need to spend a day shuffling around a giant map in blue booties to figure it all out.

In one way or another, the U.S. military is now involved with most of the nations on Earth. Its soldiers, commandos, trainers, base builders, drone jockeys, spies, and arms dealers, as well as associated hired guns and corporate contractors, can now be found just about everywhere on the planet. The sun never sets on American troops conducting operations, training allies, arming surrogates, schooling its own personnel, purchasing new weapons and equipment, developing fresh doctrine, implementing novel tactics, and refining their martial arts. The U.S. has submarines trolling the briny deep and aircraft carrier task forces traversing the oceans and seas, robotic drones flying constant missions and manned aircraft patrolling the skies, while above them, spy satellites circle, peering down on friend and foe alike.

Since 2001, the U.S. military has thrown everything in its arsenal, short of nuclear weapons, including untold billions of dollars in weaponry, technology, bribes, you name it, at a remarkably weak set of enemies -- relatively small groups of poorly-armed fighters in impoverished nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen -- while decisively defeating none of them. With its deep pockets and long reach, its technology and training acumen, as well as the devastatingly destructive power at its command, the U.S. military should have the planet on lockdown. It should, by all rights, dominate the world just as the neoconservative dreamers of the early Bush years assumed it would.

 
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