John McCain’s comments that what mattered in Iraq was not when the troops come home but reducing casualties was dismissed as at worst an insensitive slip. In fact it was a profound statement about what kind of America we might have in the future. He does not see Iraq as a mistaken war that having gotten into we should get out of as rapidly as possible. He sees it as justified unilateral aggression and an opportunity to add that country permanently to the American empire. An American military presence (preferably without US casualties) would, far from promoting democracy, insure there was always a puppet government in Iraq compliant with US government interests. It would allow US corporations to exploit its oil and other resources and military bases from which a McCain administration could, at a minimum, threaten to attack Iraq’s neighbors. Under the ‘status of forces agreement’ the Bush administration is seeking to impose on the Iraqis, 58 permanent bases would be established and US military personnel would be exempt from Iraqi law. Under the Bush/McCain plan America would never withdraw from Iraq.
The US has around 1,000 military bases around the world (the Pentagon admits to 725, the others are secret). These military garrisons, often in impoverished nations, are in many instances massive settlements, complete with air conditioning, quality health care, supermarkets, bowling alleys, golf courses (the military has 234) and various recreational facilities including a ski and resort center in the Bavarian alps and a resort hotel in the center of Tokyo. A fleet of one hundred and one Learjets, Gulfstream IIIs, and Cessna Citations (averaging $50 million a piece) are available to ferry admirals and generals around the empire. The purpose is in part to insure that GIs can enjoy a standard of living as good as and usually much better that they can enjoy in the US. It is also calculated to remind the local population of American superiority. In most places the reaction is similar to that Americans would feel if there were Iraqi or Ecuadorean military bases in New Jersey or Kansas.
While billions are spent to support these luxury outposts around the world, America domestically is in many respects a failed state. It ranks, despite its immense wealth, at the bottom or close to the bottom among developed nations when it comes to the generally accepted measures of quality of life-infant mortality, life expectancy, children in poverty, access to affordable health care, literacy, educational levels in science and technology, high school graduations rates, high school math, access to in-house water supply, teenage pregnancy, public transportation and decent housing. At the same time the US leads the world in the percentage of its population that it has in prison. The US also has the largest gap between rich and poor of any industrialized nation.
McCain comes from three generations of existence in the military bubble. His world view is that of the US imperialist state in which support of a miltary juggernaut intent on world domination trumps investment in the quality of life for ordinary Americans. Casting the US military shadow over the poorer nations of the world is immensely expensive and prevents us from dealing with the problems at home. Recent polls show that 84% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. They are aware there is something desperately wrong. We do not know if Obama’s commitment to change is on the scale that would be necessary to solve the country’s domestic problems or whether he would be willing to end America’s imperial role. Even if he is, will he have the power, even as president, to overcome the entrenched forces that benefit from the status quo? What we do know is that as time runs out for the country McCain has no intention of threatening the power of the military industrial complex of which he is an integral part. We are being offered a vision of two Americas, one with hope and a chance that the country can be saved from military over-reach and domestic collapse, the other in which we continue a delusion that military triumphalism can be a substitute for facing America’s domestic failures.