Indeed, it’s time for the US to withdraw its occupying troops from everywhere and not just Syria, because garrisoning the globe is bad policy and bad ethics. America’s empire of military bases destabilizes the entire planet; the focus of the US military operations on the ground is not to fight terrorist groups; they just transition to new military goals, including regime change, that has gotten nothing except death and destruction to show for host nations and targeted countries.
It is questionable that the US still has over 800 military bases spread through more than 70 countries. Of the roughly 150,000 troops stationed overseas, 49,000 are in Japan, 28,000 in South Korea and 38,000 in Germany – a legacy of American occupation after the second world war. The total cost to the American government, with war zones excluded, is up to $100 billion a year. However, the empire of bases is yet to pay enough dividends when it comes to core international interests, such as peace and stability. Here are just some of the reasons why it’s time to close them.
A- US military bases don’t protect the world from terror attacks. US leaders often argue that bases are the centerpiece of a liberal, rules-based world order. They claim that bases in the Middle East protect host nations from terrorists, ensure the free flow of oil, and contain Iranian influence. And that US bases in Asia defend Asian allies from a rising China and an unstable North Korea. But stationing thousands of troops across the Persian Gulf failed to stop the rise of ISIS which went on to capture large swathes of lands in both Iraq and Syria and destabilize the entire planet.
B- The same goes for the more than 154,000 active-duty US personnel based throughout Asia where the standoff between the US and North Korea could easily trigger a nuclear war. And the argument that maintaining a forward-deployed military posture in the Middle East protects the free flow of oil is supported by pitifully sparse empirical evidence, much less containing Iran which is at the forefront of the war on terror in Iraq and Syria with some significant results thus far.
C- On top of that, the region is a safer place these days. The allied forces of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Russia, Hezbollah and Popular Mobilization Units defeated the terrorist group of ISIS. As a consequence, terrorist attacks have declined dramatically in recent months and soon will be on a path to obsolescence for reasons that have little to do with all those American military bases.
D- The deterrence value of bases is frequently exaggerated. Even without American forces deployed in the Persian Gulf, an Iranian attack is extremely unlikely. The country has never attacked any country in 200 years. According to international relations experts, Iran has no plans for unprovoked aggression against its Arab neighbors, not to mention a first strike on Israel. Base deterrence has in fact had the opposite of the intended effect. For example, many see the US military presence in the Middle East as the main source of profound anxiety, regional tensions, and lingering sectarian conflicts that arguably makes things less stable, not more.
E- Another core argument is that the US’s forward presence prevents arms races, particularly nuclear proliferation, by reassuring allies. The record on that score is straightforward. While the US government continues to sell weapons worth hundreds of billions of dollars to its Arab allies, it is also directly involved in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. The same policy, including security guarantees, has also failed to dissuade them from developing nuclear weapons. Quite the opposite and admittedly, those same guarantees provoke nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia and Israel – despite the protection of in-country or nearby US bases.
F- Last but not the least, US bases in the Persian Gulf are there to support brutal dictatorships. In Bahrain, the unelected regime is famous for human rights violations and widespread torture of its citizens, yet nevertheless receives US military and diplomatic backing in exchange for basing rights. During the Arab uprisings, in Bahrain, where the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is stationed, the regime with help from Saudi Arabia cracked down on peaceful dissent with gross human rights violations. But Washington kept largely silent because the base is considered so geopolitically important.
All the reason why the world is better off and a safer place if the US administration faces these facts; stops garrisoning Muslim heartlands, abandons the foreign policy of militarism and imperial fantasies, closes hundreds of military bases, and withdraws hundreds of thousands of US troops not just from Syria but the entire planet. The evidence is on view from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria to Yemen, Bahrain to Libya.