Whether it’s 3.1 million items of equipment, or 3 million, 2.8 million, or 1.5 million, whether 341 “facilities” (not including perhaps ten mega-bases which will still be operating in 2011 with tens of thousands of American soldiers, civilians, and private contractors working and living on them), or more than 350 forward operating facilities, or 290 bases are to be shut down, the numbers from Iraq are simply out of this world.
Those sorts of figures define the U.S. military in the Bush era — and now Obama’s — as the most materiel-profligate war-making machine ever. Where armies once had baggage trains and camp followers, our camp followers now help plant our military in foreign soil, build its housing and defenses, and then supply it with vast quantities of food, water, fuel, and god knows what else. In this way, our troops carry not just packs on their backs, but a total, transplantable society right down to the PXs, massage parlors, food courts, and miniature golf courses. At Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan, there was until recently a “boardwalk” that typically included a “Burger King, a Subway sandwich shop, three cafes, several general stores, a Cold Mountain Creamery, [and an] Oakley sunglasses outlet.” Atypically enough, however, a TGI Friday’s, which had just joined the line-up, was recently ordered shut down along with some of the other stores by Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal as inimical to the war effort.
The extraordinary statistics stacked up in this article are of course a testament to the massive imperial footprint imposed by the United States when it goes to war. But they are also a reflection of something else: the extraordinary impunity with which America engages in war.
The fact that the US military can be so extravagant in situating itself in its theaters of engagement is only possible because the enemy it faces has, relatively speaking, such minuscule resources with which it can strike back. There are no enemy air forces that bombard these vast American bases. There is no artillery fire.
So-called asymmetric threats may pose the enduring challenge in this environment yet they also provide a license for every imaginable excess.