By John Pomfret
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Looking to cut billions from the federal budget? Consider closing some of the 1,000 military bases the United States maintains abroad.
That's what Hugh Gusterson, a professor of anthropology and sociology at George Mason University, suggests in an online column for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Closing some of the bases would save billions, Gusterson argues, citing none other than former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who in 2004 estimated a savings of $12 billion if the U.S. shut 200 foreign bases. Gusterson says that most foreign bases were built during the Cold War and serve an outdated strategy. Why, for example, does the United States maintain more than 200 bases in Germany? It made sense during the decades-long face-off with the Soviets. But now?
Bases can also become a rallying point for anti-American sentiment. The presence of U.S. military outposts in Saudi Arabia was a potent recruiting tool for al-Qaeda in the 1990s, Gusterson says. The U.S. Navy's base in Vieques, Puerto Rico, closed in 2003, touched off a protest movement that endures to this day.
Curiously, Gusterson notes, few pundits have called for shuttering foreign bases as a way to save money. They've generally set their sights on axing sexy weapons systems. "All good suggestions," he says, "but what about those foreign bases?"