When the disputes between Donald Trump and war widow Myeshia Johnson were going on, I happened to read a letter to the editor here in the Pahrump Valley Times from reader Jim Ferrell containing items like this: “For example, when George W. Bush was president, the Republicans insisted that the Pentagon spend $150 billion on bombers which the Pentagon said they did not need or want. Even today we spend something like 10 times more on military than any other country in the world.”
Something about that letter, together with the news of Mrs. Johnson’s husband being killed in a battle in Niger, made me wonder, what the heck are we doing in Niger in the first place?
As it happened, I had recently read something that was relevant, so I dug it out. It was Hedrick Smith’s 2012 book “Who Stole the American Dream?” In it, Smith tried to track some of the things that have been destroying the middle class. One of them, he concluded, was military spending.
No, not “defense” spending. Few of our overseas involvements now involve defending ourselves.
Smith, quoting from the Pentagon’s 2011 Base Spending Report, found that we have more than 600 military installations around the world outside the United States. There are fewer than 200 countries.
That 600 figure, by the way, includes only permanent facilities. It does not include facilities built for wars or trouble spots, which are assumed to be temporary, though some of them have been in place for a decade or more. For instance, 27 years after the Kuwait war, the U.S. still has six military installations in that nation! There are more than 400 of these “temporary” facilities, putting the number of U.S. military installations on the planet over 1,100. With no comment, Smith notes that the Pentagon owns 172 golf courses.
So why are we in Niger? I still don’t know, but I learned that La David Johnson (Myeshia was his childhood sweetheart) was part of an 800-person force that is building a SECOND drone base in the area. Niger is deep in the heart of Africa. Sgt. Johnson was part of a Niger/U.S. force that was engaged in what U.S. officials claim was a battle with an Islamic State force when he was killed.
Did you know we had servicepeople in harm’s way in Niger? I didn’t, either. U.S. officials would say this is not in harm’s way, that it is an anti-terrorism mission to train the Niger military to battle Islamic extremists in adjoining countries, particularly Mali. The problem is, there can be such missions in innumerable nations from the Philippines to Colombia, and the U.S. – and certainly its taxpayers – have limited resources. Shouldn’t Congress be deciding which of these countries we deploy in?
I tried without success to find out how many installations we have in Niger, but it did lead me to Nigeria, where we also have some kind of presence.
Those two are not all. In Africa alone, we have facilities in Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, the Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. I have not yet started counting nations in South America where we have presences.
How aware are members of Congress of what is happening in each of these nations?
More than once in our history, U.S. officials have put U.S. service people in harm’s way and then seized on the killing of a U.S. serviceperson to launch a major war.
According to Nick Turse in the Nation, the United States government has deployed special ops forces to 70 percent of the planet’s nations.
There is a saying: “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.