I noticed yesterday that military leaders appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee let slip that the withdrawal of all US troops from Iraq would include some not-withdrawals. In fact, a handful would be left behind as trainers. The New York Times writes that up:

Some United States forces will remain as military trainers on 10 bases in Iraq even after an end-of-year deadline for all American troops to be out of the country, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee on Tuesday.

The forces will provide training in counterterrorism to Iraqis and also instruction in operating American-made tanks and F-16 fighter jets, General Dempsey said. The trainers are expected to remain largely on the bases, “so this isn’t about us moving around the country very much at all,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

General Dempsey did not provide a number, although a military official later said there would be no more than 200 American military personnel in the country. Overall, there will be about 16,000 American Embassy personnel in Iraq, including a large number of civilian contractors as security guards. Currently there are some 24,000 American troops in Iraq.

Obviously a couple hundred trainers isn’t really a hill to die on. It does, however, violate the letter of the status of forces agreement in Iraq, which stipulates very succinctly that all US troops will leave the country by the end of 2011. I know something as quaint as international law doesn’t mean too much anymore, but maybe somebody will look into that.

The more revealing statement from Gen. Dempsey and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was that the US would still have “large military presence in the region, in part as a counterweight to Iran.” Because, see, we need counterweights. We need dominion over every inch of the world, and so we have to shuttle off men and women, at great personal expense and at least some personal risk, to every corner of the globe, just in case. That continued today with the announcement of a small Marine outpost in Australia, of all places:

The United States announced plans Wednesday to establish a permanent military presence in Australia, part of a high-profile foreign policy shift toward Asia that is intended as a counterbalance to China’s growing power.

Starting next summer, the U.S. will send 250 Marines to bases here for six-month tours, eventually rotating 2,500 troops through the country. President Obama announced the partnership at a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, describing it as a key step in his administration’s evolving emphasis on the Asia Pacific region as the U.S. winds down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

China is apparently a little upset about this, probably because of the explicit reference to “counteracting China’s growing power.” But let’s be realistic, here. Australia is 4,641 miles from China. It’s only 2,600 miles from Northern Alaska to China. The US already has presences in Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines. There’s no reason in the world to station 250 Marines in Australia, and it’s beyond a joke to say that they have anything to do with containing China.

This needless drive to place little army men around the globe like it’s a Risk board, regardless of the expense, only serves a purpose for the little megalomaniacs in the Pentagon who think we have to stretch our military might everywhere. For the rest of us, it just flushes our tax dollars down the drain.

David Dayen

David Dayen