By Herbert Docena*

The idea was simple enough: If all of the US’ 702 foreign military bases in 40 countries around the world were shut down, then the US wouldn’t find it so easy to launch its illegal wars.

And who better to push for the closure of these bases than the people who’ve been forced to live around them? Those who’ve been enduring the sonic-boom from the F-16s 24/7, those who’ve been evicted from their islands so that the Army can build its barracks and spy stations o­n their farmlands, those whose neighbors have been raped by bored GI’s out for a night of fun, those whose children are dying from previously unknown cancers because of the toxic water they are drinking — all those who could not plant flowers in their gardens because the Humvees keep crushing them. If there’s o­ne thing that could unite these people, it is the demand to keep those F-16s out of their sight and out of their lives.

Now, if they could o­nly all meet, share what they’ve been through with others who know o­nly too well what it’s like, discuss how they’ve struggled through the years, and maybe come up with a common plan to confront the bases of their insecurity, imagine what all that could achieve.

The international conference against US bases during the recent World Social Forum was an attempt to do just this. It brought together veteran — but still very energetic — campaigners against US bases as well as young and new activists; grassroots and community based activists focused o­n foreign military presence together with those working o­n other related issues, such as globalization, human rights, democratization, etc.

Among those who participated were Corazon Fabros, who was instrumental in the spectacular and historic “No” vote in the Philippine Senate that finally drove out the American troops from o­ne of their first colonies; Suzuyo Takasato, an untiring campaigner from Okinawa; Lindsey Collen who’s been working o­n the case of the refugees from Diego Garcia for years; Olivier Bancoult, himself a refugee from Diego Garcia; Reverend Myun, a revered anti-US bases activist from Korea; Joseph Gerson, author of the definitive anti-US bases text, “The Sun Never Sets”; and Myrna Pagan, who triumphantly spoke about the inspiring victory of the people of Vieques, Puerto Rico, over the US Navy, to name just a few. Even after the physical meetings in Mumbai, discussions about various ideas and proposals are continuing in a vibrant e-mail community that has gathered over 200 people working o­n the issue around the world.

The range of participants was an indication of just how widely scattered the US foreign military presence is around the world but it was also a sign of how global opposition is broadening.

And apparently expanding. At the beginning of the “speak-out” session, Joseph posted a big map of the world in front of the panelists’ table, with all the countries hosting US military presence marked in red, just to have a visual reminder that the US has got the world covered. During the session, two women from Kyrgyztan, whose participation were not expected by the organizers, took the mike and pointed out that their country should also now be in red. After the invasion of Afghanistan, Tolekan Ismailova reported, the US established bases in her country and it was approved by the parliament in two days. “It was the fastest decision it ever made,” Ismailova said, pointing out that the local ruling elites who collude with the US must also be targeted.

During the strategy session, the participants began to wrestle with certain controversies and questions: Should we o­nly target US bases? What about the foreign bases of other countries? What should be the perspective of the campaign, anti-imperialist or anti-militarist? Would it be effective to select a few key bases as strategic sites of struggle? What structure would best serve the objectives of the network? What value-added can an international group provide for local anti-bases activists? The network needs to be inclusive and expansive but to what extent can it be broadened without losing focus and without diluting the message? What now?

Some of these questions could become potentially divisive for this nascent community but they will need to be resolved implicitly or explicitly for the network to move forward. This is just the beginning. But the first step in the process of building up the movement and its constituency has now been taken. What has emerged so far is a promising consensus o­n various points.

First is that the time is now. The “war against terror” has swung the spotlight back o­n the US overseas military network. Where did all those troops that invaded Iraq come from? Some from the bases in Kuwait; some came all the way from Sasebo in Japan; others may have been flown in from Ramstein, Germany or from Pine Gap in Australia. Now they want six bases in Iraq. Interestingly, the very same Halliburton that’s been raking in billions from the destruction and reconstruction of Iraq was also the same corporation that constructed the military bases in Diego Garcia — home to 1,500 Chagossians who were forcibly removed and dumped o­n the dockside of Mauritius by the British, who then rented out the island to the US. Thanks to war o­n terror, “the task that never ends”, people around the world are now looking for Diego Garcia in the map (just below India, northeast of Mauritius) and wondering what o­n earth American GIs are doing there. US bases have become visual aids for all those trying to educate people o­n the workings of imperialism.

There are very dynamic and very effective international networks and campaigns against Third World debt, against the World Bank and the IMF, against the WTO, etc. These are all integral but then, would the US really be able to enforce its economic agenda around the world without its massive military firepower backing it? Can o­ne run an empire without military outposts?

Most of the delegates were in agreement that any campaign against US military presence cannot be isolated from the bigger struggle against corporate-driven globalization, against war, against empire. This is not about closing the bases for the sake of closing them down. The bases need to be shut down not just because they’re noisy or so that we can build golf courses o­n the land instead. The people from Okinawa don’t want to close the base in their island just so that it can be moved back to Olongapo. The US bases are a means to an end; an anti-bases campaign can’t therefore be an end in itself. The equation is simple enough: No bases = no empire = no wars. The grass will grow again o­nly when the Humvees have been pushed out of the fields.