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Imperial Overstretch?

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The occupation of Iraq and 'Operation Enduring Freedom' in Central Asia have drained US troop reserves. At the end of 2005, the US had deployed 227,400 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the Department of Defense. US military manpower is markedly down from Cold War levels and a draft seems very improbable. To increase the number of recruits, the US army has eased its enlistment restrictions.

Also, the US is hiring increasing numbers of Private Military and Security Companies. Exact figures are not available, but in April 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) compiled a list of 60 different firms employing a total of 20,000 personnel in occupied Iraq alone. This shortage of troops has significant ramifications on US foreign policy. Even hardliners admit that another major operation - such as an invasion of Iran - is unfeasible with this 'overstretch.'


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America Can't Afford its Empire (July 21, 2010)

Although Americans are only 4% of the world's population, they consume 25% of its resources and produce 25% of its unsustainable pollution.  The US has 865 foreign bases and a military and CIA presence in every corner of the globe.  The country enjoys such a privileged position, this author writes, because it has made itself an imperial power.  But the United States' ability to afford the cost of maintaining its empire is waning.  Sooner or later, the deficit will force Washington to limit its imperial overstretch and bring its troops home. (AlterNet)


Neocon Fantasies of Empire Crushed: the New Global Reality (April 21, 2009)

The US has entered a period of serious economic downturn that raises questions about the viability of US hegemony. For more than thirty years, US governments have run large budget deficits and have been living beyond their means. The capacity of the US to survive economically depends largely on foreign countries’ willingness to accept and support the US political order. The US still holds economic power as long as the US dollar serves as the reserve currency. But if other countries decide to change economic strategies and turn to a new reserve currency, this could hamper US design to sustain overseas influence. (Foreign Policy In Focus)

An American Foreign Legion: Is the US Military Now an Imperial Police Force? (February 15, 2009)

US lieutenant colonel William J. Astore examines the US military and compares it to the French Foreign Legion. The US military has strayed from its original purpose of protecting the country and has instead overstretched its forces overseas to police the world and protect vested interests; similar to the original design of the French Legion. The US army has become a facsimile of the French Foreign Legion, with ranks and files recruited “in ‘foreign’ places like South Central Los Angeles and Appalachia,� undermining the social diversity of its ranks and subcontracting private security companies. (Tom Dispatch)

The Looming Crisis at The Pentagon (February 2, 2009)

Author Chalmers Johnson highlights the way career officers and defense industries have jeopardized the economic stability of the US by building “the most expensive [military] to maintain.� For years, the Pentagon, backed by the military-industrial complex, has compelled Congress to vote in favor of building financially unsustainable weaponry, in order to make huge profits, over more affordable conventional weaponry. Johnson warns that the government can no longer afford to use tax-payer money to enrich defense contractors without facing bankruptcy. (TomDispatch)



US Costs of Iraq, Afghan Wars Top $900 Billion: Report (December 16, 2008)

US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost US$904 billion in direct budgetary outlays. The US$687 billion spent on Iraq exceeds alone the costs of any other US war except World War II. A CSBA study says that, even if the US reduced its troop deployment by half, the Iraq conflict could cost US taxpayers up to an additional US$817 billion over the next decade. This would result in a total of US$1.72 trillion spent on Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2018. (Commondreams)

Use It or Lose It? (October 16, 2008)

In this article, NYU scholar Aziz Huq proposes that a US economic breakdown may lead to “a crisis of national security.� Dwindling financial resources will thwart US military projects and force the new administration to reassess its priorities to keep a leading role in world affairs. Drawing a parallel with mid-20th Century Great-Britain, Huq asserts that a miscalculation of “assets� versus “ambitions� could lead to a military collapse. (Tomdispatch)

Analysis of the FY 2009 Defense Budget Request (April 2008)

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has released its analysis of the 2009 defense budget. The Department of Defense (DoD) has requested USD$518.3 billion for the “base� defense budget, an additional USD$70 billion to cover costs related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a further USD$22.8 billion for military/nuclear weapons costs in the budget of the Department of Energy. As colossal as this budget looks, the analysis demonstrates that this projected budget will barely be sufficient to cover the DoD’s long term modernization of equipment, recruitment, military personal salary and pension.



Two Losers, No Winners (November 2007)

This preface to Tom Engelhardt’s book “The End of Victory Culture� describes the decline of the US empire as a result of the country’s aim for global “victory.� The War on Terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left the US “standing in the rubble of its own imperial project.� Engelhardt says that the US and the USSR both lost the Cold War - though at a different pace. (TomDispatch)

Apocalypse Now? (October 29, 2007)

Chalmer Johnson’s book Nemesis compares the US to the Roman Empire, and says that the US is bound to meet the same fate as its Roman counterpart. Just as Julius Caesar’s imperial adventures and attack on the constitution ultimately caused the fall of the republic, the Bush administration’s expanding military interventions and attack on civil liberties will destroy the “American republic,� Johnson argues. (The Nation)

The Sun Sets Early on the American Century (October 2007)

Le Monde diplomatique argues that the Iraq war has nearly “broken the US army� and damaged the country’s image abroad. Even many neoconservatives seem to think that the US has exhausted itself politically, economically and militarily through the Iraq war. One of the toughest critics, former head of the National Security Council, Zbigniew Brzezinski, describes the war in Iraq as a “historic, strategic and moral calamity.�

The Pentagon's Problem (August 23, 2007)

This editorial discusses how the US military faces a critical problem, which challenges the fundamental foundation of warfare: a lack of willing or enrolled soldiers. Even a US$3.2 billion recruitment campaign with an additional US$20,000 recruitment bonus cannot entice people to enlist in the poorest of neighborhoods. On top of that, the suicide rate among soldiers is the highest in 26 years and many soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan choose dissent over duty. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute proposes to reinstate the draft to overcome the problem. However, this could turn millions of young people from passive and indifferent citizens into engaged opponents of war and intervention.(Workers World)

Army's Recruiting Goal Lags for Second Month in a Row (July 10, 2007)

US military officials announced that the army missed its June “active-duty recruiting goal� by 15 percent. Though the army still exceeds its “year-to-date� goal, June marks the second consecutive month that it failed to recruit its target number of soldiers. Officials claim that the Iraq War’s unpopularity caused the inadequate recruitment. (Washington Post)

Should More US Troops Be Kept in Europe? (April 24, 2007)

Army General Bantz Craddock – the new head of the US European Command – is rethinking a 2002 US Department of Defense proposal to reduce the number of troops stationed in Western Europe, reports this Christian Science Monitor piece. Craddock claims that most of the US troops stationed in Europe are deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, which makes traditional training operations difficult to conduct. However, the author argues that Washington seeks to maintain US troops in Europe in order to continue sending a “forceful message to allies and potential foes alike.�

To Keep Recruiting Up, US Military Spends More (April 12, 2007)

Since the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the US military has faced difficulties in maintaining recruitment levels, reports this Christian Science Monitor article. The author argues that these enlistment problems have led the US Army to increase its advertising spending to US$216 million in 2005 from US$140million in 2001. Moreover, the total cost per recruit has more than doubled over the past 20 years to US$16,000 in 2005.

US Is Extending Tours of Army (April 11, 2007)

In an attempt to maintain the level of US forces deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan the US Department of Defense extended all troops’ tours of duty by three months. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that such a step is necessary as US “forces are stretched.� Congressional leaders opposed to the plan said that it will only contribute to the problems facing the already “overstretched� military as it will negatively impact “recruiting, retention and readiness.� (New York Times)

Empire Vs. Democracy (January 31, 2007)

This TomDispatch article argues that the US has engaged in illegal actions throughout the world which range from initiating the overthrow of governments to rigging foreign elections to invading countries. The author argues that if Washington continues its “imperial� policies then the US will run into the same problems that have confronted empires throughout history – overstretch, bankruptcy and a unified global opposition – and ultimately lose its democracy.

Burdened US Military Cuts Role in Drug War (January 22, 2007)

The US military, overwhelmed by its commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, has cut efforts targeted at stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the US by more than half since 2002. The Pentagon has stated that it puts more emphasis on funding troops engaged in US operations in the Middle East than on anti-narcotics efforts. The author reveals that the US Armed Forces have reduced drug surveillance flights over Caribbean and Pacific smuggling routes by 62 percent since 2002 due to lack of resources. (Los Angeles Times)

Empire Marches On (January 18, 2007)

The Bush administration continually attempts to expand the “US Empire� with its sights set on the Horn of Africa, argues this Other News article. The author cites the US-backed invasion of Somalia, saying that it demonstrates the government’s quest for oil. However, the article concludes that US military actions – both its continued presence in Iraq and intervention in Somalia – will not be sustainable for much longer. If massive deficit spending continues, an economic crisis is imminent.



Military Considers Recruiting Foreigners (December 26, 2006)

The US military considers a proposal to establish recruiting stations overseas and allow foreigners to “fast-track� their application for US citizenship if they volunteer to serve in the US armed forces. This proposal follows the passage of a US law that gives the Pentagon such authority as a way to cope with its overstretched forces. This Boston Globe article cites officials within the US Army who believe that a push to attract immigrants would “smack of the decline of the American empire.�

The More-Than-$2-Trillion War (December 2006)

This Milken Institute Review article estimates the “true costs� of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, putting the figure at over US$2 trillion. The authors detail the budgetary, social and macroeconomic costs of the Iraq war in their analysis. However, they point out that, although their analysis is more comprehensive than the US government’s, it still does not take into account the costs borne by other countries contributing to the war. Furthermore, the estimate does not take into account intangible costs such as the decline of US influence on issues from “trade negotiations to global warming� due to the widespread disapproval of its policies in Iraq.

Rising Price of the War on Terror (November 21, 2006)

The US Congressional Research Service estimates that the total cost of combat in Iraq alone has reached US$300 billion. With the US military’s continued presence in Afghanistan, the total expenditure of the “global war on terror� now stands at US$500 billion, “making it one of the most monetarily costly conflicts in which the nation has ever engaged.� The author of this Christian Science Monitor article reveals that each individual soldier deployed in Iraq currently costs US$275,000 a year, but expenditures could rise substantially if troop levels increase or military equipment and facilities are upgraded.

The Meaning of Gates: From Imperial Offense to Imperial Defense (November 14, 2006)

The nomination of Robert Gates for the position of US Secretary of Defense signals a shift in the logic of the Bush administration from “imperial offense� to “imperial defense,� argues this TomDispatch article. Heavily influenced by neo-conservatives such as former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, the Bush administration adopted an “offensive� or expansionist approach to US foreign policy, notable for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. However, widespread domestic opposition to US policies, led President George Bush to replace Rumsfeld and nominate Gates. The new Pentagon chief recognizes the limits of the US “empire� and he may advocate a “defensive� approach to preserve rather than expand its superpower status.

Army Warns Rumsfeld It's Billions Short (September, 25 2006)

The US expansion of the global “war on terror� in the Middle East increases the financial constraints on its armed forces. With rising equipment and personnel costs in Iraq, Afghanistan and in other military operations throughout the world, the US Army alone has asked for a 2008 budget increase of US$25 billion on top of the US$114 billion budget the Pentagon expected. Moreover, the inability of the US military to control the violence and resistance movements in Iraq adds to budget expenditure for prolonged troop deployments. (Los Angeles Times)

The Iraq War: Mission Impossible (September 12, 2006)

This Der Spiegel piece suggests that, by ousting Saddam Hussein and invading Iraq, the US has exposed its vulnerabilities as a military force. Its failure to maintain stability and subdue violence in Iraq reveals the limits of the world’s only “superpower.� The author also points out that US occupation in Iraq has already outlasted US involvement in both the Korean War and World War II, and threatens to rival the military and moral quagmire of Vietnam.

Too Late for Empire (August 14, 2006)

Many journalists and policy analysts have compared the US occupation of Iraq with the US role in Vietnam. In both conflicts, the US used a similar rhetoric to justify its interventions, such as the “communist threat� and the “war on terror.� This article says that for the last thirty years, different administrations have been repeating the same policies. The US will not advance as a nation before it drastically changes its foreign policy by limiting the use of force. (The Nation)

Graham Fuller and Superpower Fatigue (Summer 2006)

President George Bush’s time in office exhibits a change from implicit aspirations for unipolar global command to explicit ones. Nearing five years into an unending global war on terror, outsourced jobs, military losses, massive budget and trade deficits, and a growing disparity in domestic socio-economic classes signal the decline of the US Empire. (National Interest)

War Costs Approach $10 Billion a Month (April 20, 2006)

The costs of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are rising dramatically. Even though expenditures on personnel will drop by 14 percent, overall costs will skyrocket to US$ 100 billion in 2006. The three years of combat have strained the equipment, therefore repairing, rebuilding and replacing it gets increasingly expensive. The annual costs of the occupation of Iraq are “easily outpacing the $61 billion a year that the US spent in Vietnam between 1964 and 1972, in today's dollars.� Costs both in Iraq and Afghanistan are rising now, because Bush administration officials postponed procurement and maintenance to keep the war price tag down, according to this San Francisco Chronicle article.

Army Faces a Major Officer Shortage (April 8, 2006)

According to this Express News article, the US Army will face a severe shortage of captains and majors in the coming years. Many commanding officers want to quit the Army because of straining, multiple deployments due to the ongoing occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The US Army tries to stop this development by offering large bonuses for re-enlistments and by promoting young officers faster. This shows that the US forces are already stretched thin.

It's Time for an American Foreign Legion (March 1, 2006)

The US armed forces are stretched thin because of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Washington currently does not plan to introduce a draft, as that would cause massive opposition from the US population. Defending US imperial ambitions, a retired military officer claims in this International Herald Tribune article “all superpowers from ancient times turned to mercenaries to defend their interests.�

US War Spending to Rise 44% to $9.8 Bn a Month, Report Says (March 17, 2006)

US military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan will rise to nearly ten billion dollars per month, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service claims. This shows how problematic and costly the ongoing wars are for the US. Congress has approved about US$337 billion for the wars since Sept. 11, 2001 and a pulling back of the troops is not in sight. (Bloomberg News)

Army Guard Refilling Its Ranks (March 12, 2006)

The US Army National Guard has set up a new initiative that pays Guard members US$2,000 for each person they enlist. This new scheme seeks to counter the overstretch of the US National Guard, which supplied as much as 40 percent of the troops in Iraq and also dispatched tens of thousands of members to domestic disasters. (Washington Post)

Struggling for Recruits, Army Relaxes its Rules (February 20, 2006)

According to this Boston Globe article, the US army drastically eased its recruitment restrictions to attract more people. Several criteria on fitness and weight have been relaxed. The army has raised enlistment age for active-duty Army recruits from 35 to 40. High school dropouts have been allowed to enroll in an Army-sponsored program to help them earn their equivalency degree, which candidates need to join the US army.



Energy Trends and Their Implications for US Army Installations (September 2005)

This report by the US Army Corps of Engineers offers a grim view of the future US energy supply, and its implications for the military. The period of cheap, convenient and abundant energy sources is ending. Unless the US army takes major steps to increase energy efficiency and expands the use of renewable energy sources, it will face serious operational strains.


The Costs of Empire Part 1: Starting With a Solid Base (February 12, 2004)

The author re-examines Paul Kennedy's theory of "imperial overstretch" in light of the Bush administration's plans to radically reconfigure the posture and capabilities of overseas US military installations. (Asia Times)

The Costs of Empire Part 2: Counting the Dollars and Cents (February 13, 2004)

Having examined US plans for radical reconfiguration of its overseas military installations in Part 1, the author now focuses on the true monetary and human costs of US military deployment and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Asia Times)



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