1899: The allied colonial powers — American, Austro-Hungarian, British, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian — acted as if China were their private property, to sort out among themselves. So much so that when the people of China objected with force, it went into history, as a rebellion, the “Boxer Rebellion.”
And they made a hit movie out of it, from the point of view of the foreigners of course, 55 Days at Peking, in which Charleton Heston and David Niven (and a British expeditionary force), ably assisted by the love interest portrayed by Ava Gardner, set things aright.
I bring two current parallels: Ramstein is Germany’s 21st Century Peking of 1899, held, not by an octet of allies, but by The Empire. Syria is the 21st Century China, beset by an octet (at least) of allies: Israel, the Empire, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey — all wanting to carve it up.
Here at the close of an entire week of protest activities against the US’s greatest Eastern Hemisphere Command Center, Ramstein in Germany, I ask, if the German people rose up to throw out the occupying Americans, would that go into history as a rebellion? Is Germany free to have its own policies while garrisoned by thousands of US troops? And in the case of Syria, there is a bitter irony: “the allies” are abetting what they persist in proclaiming a rebellion against the secular and legitimate government.
Returning to Germany and its Ramstein garrison for a moment: When Sparta won the Peloponnesian War, they installed a garrison on the Acropolis, and Athens was governed by their puppets. It came into history as the Tyranny of the Thirty. Thebes, too, was garrisoned by a Spartan force, and governed by — as we would call them now, Petainists, or Quislings.
Before democracy (what a loaded word that has become in our time!) could be restored, Athens had to mount a rebellion; Thebes had to mount a rebellion. They had to raise (actual) patriotic forces and fight, fight to win. What would get Ramstein out of Germany?
Hard to imagine.
But in the case of Syria, it is plain as day. Only armed force can do it.
Poor Romania, according to my sources there, is governed out of the US Embassy, and Kosovo is in the same unenviable predicament, except instead of the US Embassy, it is Camp Bondsteel. If Romania rose and threw out the Amis, that would be a rebellion. Ditto Kosovo.
And in Iraq?
As early as December, Iraqi lawmakers, enraged at Trump’s visit, started insisting on ending the US presence in their county. Then in March, there were calls in the Iraqi Parliament to put the US presence to a vote, as if to vote out the Amis. This fizzled by the end of March, as Iraqi President Barham Salih went on record that “he does not see any “serious” opposition to the presence of American forces in Iraq, provided they continue to be there specifically to assist Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State group.
Barham Salih said there is “general consensus” that Iraq needs continued collaboration with the forces, which he said can go on “as long as it is necessary.” He also warned that the threat from IS extremists is far from over, despite the announcement of the group’s territorial defeat in Syria last week.
But that is simply the excuse; Trump had already explained why the US will stay in Iraq: to keep watch against Iran. If the Iraqi Parliament thinks they can vote US forces out of the country, we can only pray for them.
There is only one example of the US peacefully abandoning a military base: Subic Bay was the biggest US Navy base anywhere, the size of Singapore. But the US held it by lease. When lease renewal terms could not be agreed on, the US Navy pulled out in 1992.
Leaving conquered or invaded territory:
The Red Army pulled back out of Eastern Europe without a shot being fired. As Georgiy Arbatov put it at the time “We are depriving you of an enemy.” The Red Army could just leave. Can the US?
And thinking again of Arbatov’s unforgettable statement, we cannot be deprived of an enemy. We can’t have it. Without the big-league bugaboo, the war machine would lose the keystone of its raison d’être.