In a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, there was evidence of rising support for closing American overseas military bases and bringing the soldiers home.
The September 13 hearing was called to consider the nomination of Ashton Carter to be Deputy Secretary of Defense, the number two position, replacing Bill Lynn.
Many of the Senators present used the occasion to criticize the “disaster” ahead for the Pentagon and U.S. security if the Pentagon budget is forced to swallow deep budget cuts.
But in little noticed asides, a liberal Democrat, a moderate Democrat and a conservative Republican all called for closing overseas bases.
Chairman Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, led off the chorus of the skeptics. Levin argued:
“Now, given the budget pressures under which the department’s going to be operating, one of the things that some of us believe we have to do is to take a look at the stationing and restationing of and the location of our military forces overseas where we’ve got large number of bases, and to consider both relocation and the restationing possibly of some of those military forces from overseas bases back to the United States. Is that on the table [to be considered as a reduction]?”
Ash Carter agreeably agreed that the issue was a potential candidate for cuts without committing to anything: “On the table.”
Levin was joined by conservative Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama:
“I believe Senator Levin asked you about deployments in Europe. It’s just a matter that’s come up again recently. I am of the belief it’s difficult to justify 40,000 troops in Europe at this point in time. For our economy, it’s better for those troops to be in the United States spending their wealth and creating tax growth for the local communities and jobs. Will you examine our force levels in areas like Europe and maintain the levels we need but not maintain them at higher amounts than necessary?”
Again, Carter agreed that all issues are on the table.
Levin and Sessions were joined by moderate Democrat Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska:
“With all due respect to my colleague from Alabama, we actually — the 40,000 troops in Europe, we are on the same page here, we want to see some reassessment of not only in Europe but kind of around the globe of where we have our resources and so forth. But I want to make sure we put all the numbers on the table. Eight hundred or so billion (dollars) in Iraq, 400-plus billion (dollars) in Afghanistan.”
This is not the first time the issue has come up this year. On July 8, Rep. Jared Polis, Democrat of Colorado, offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Appropriations Bill to cut the number of U.S. troops overseas. While he won 25 Republican votes, his amendment was soundly defeated 113 – 307.
There are wildly different estimates of the number of American overseas. In a letter written last spring, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Walter Jones (R-NC) suggested that there 460 U.S. military installations abroad, not counting those in Iraq and Afghanistan. But other estimates go considerably higher.
At the end of 2010, the White House’s bipartisan deficit commission known as Simpson-Bowles suggested cutting U.S. garrisons in Europe and Asia by one-third, which would, in their estimation, save about $8.5 billion in 2015.
Could overseas bases be a candidate for consideration by the super-committee?