by Andrew I. Yeo, The Catholic University of America
In February 2003, six weeks prior to the United States-led invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon issued orders for U.S. troops stationed in Germany to deploy to Turkey. Yet in the months leading up to the Iraq War, the Turkish parliament vacillated in granting the United States basing access and overpass rights to open a northern front into Iraq. On the streets, tens of thousands of demonstrators chanted slogans admonishing political leaders to avert the path of war. Meanwhile, Washington upped its ante by dangling a $6 billion special aid package in return for Turkey’s full military cooperation. 1 After raising expectations over the course of weeks, Ankara dashed the hopes of U.S. war planners. The Turkish Grand National Assembly rejected any use of Turkish air bases to launch attacks into Iraq.
Opposition against U.S. bases in Turkey in 2003 garnered significant attention to base politics. For the most part, however, the existence of hundreds (and well into the thousands at one point) of U.S. bases on foreign soil barely registers in the consciousness of most Americans. Only when a tragic accident or heinous crime committed by U.S. personnel erupts does a brief article about protests, sovereignty, or strained alliances make its way into the media spotlight. When analyzing major issues in international politics such as great power conflict, grand strategy, alliance politics, nuclear force posture, and nation-building, overseas military bases are a bit like stage props: essential to the show, but never commanding center stage. The politics of bases has thus been largely overlooked by scholars.