Friday, February 25, 2005

Los Angeles Times : : We Aren't Fighting to Win Anymore

Andrew Bacevich, international relations professor and former Army colonel, and author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, argues that the Bush administration has "all but given up any expectation of defeating the enemy with whom we are engaged". He expounds his ideas in greater depth in this interview.


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We Aren't Fighting to Win Anymore
U.S. troops in Iraq are only trying to buy time.
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of international relations at Boston University and author of "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War" (Oxford University Press, 2005).

February 20, 2005

Americans of a certain age will recall Douglas MacArthur's pithy aphorism: "There is no substitute for victory." The remark captures an essential element of our military tradition. When the United States goes to war, it fights to win, to force the enemy to do our will. To sacrifice our soldiers' lives for anything less — as MacArthur charged was the case in Korea and later unambiguously became the case in Vietnam — smacks of being somehow un-American.

But among the various official statements being issued to explain events in Iraq, any mention of military victory has become notable by its absence. Tacitly — unnoticed even by the war's critics — the Bush administration has all but given up any expectation of defeating the enemy with whom we are engaged.

In the early days of the insurgency, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez vowed to use "whatever combat power is necessary to win," displaying all the pugnacity of a George Patton or Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf. "That's what America expects of me," declared Sanchez in December 2003, "and that's what I'm going to accomplish." Senior commanders no longer make such bold promises. Nor do senior civilian officials in Washington.

Indeed, today the Bush administration's aim is not to win but to relieve itself of responsibility for waging a war that it began but cannot finish. Debate in national security circles focuses not on deploying war-winning technologies or fielding innovative tactics that might turn the tide, but on how we can extricate ourselves before our overstretched forces suffer irreparable damage.

Optimists are placing their hopes on a crash program to create a new Iraqi security force that just might permit us in a year or so to begin reducing the size of our garrison. Pessimists have their doubts. But virtually no one is predicting we will be even remotely close to crushing the insurgency. The decisive victory promised by the war's advocates back in March 2003 — remember all the talk of "shock and awe"? — has now slipped beyond our grasp.

Of course, following the heady assault on Baghdad, the conflict took an unexpected turn — precisely as wars throughout history have tended to do. As a consequence, today a low-tech enemy force estimated at about 10,000 fighters has stymied the mightiest military establishment the world has ever seen. To be sure, the adversary cannot defeat us militarily. But neither can we defeat it. In short, U.S. troops today are no longer fighting to win, but simply to buy time: This has become the Bush administration's substitute for victory. Worse, in a war such as in Iraq, time is more likely to work in the other guy's favor.

Whether this reality has yet to fully sink in with the majority of the American people is unclear. No doubt President Bush hopes the citizenry will continue to snooze. Better to talk about Social Security reform and banning gay marriage than to call attention to the unhappy fact that we are spending several billion dollars per month and losing, on average, two soldiers per day — not to prevail but simply to prolong the stalemate. Moreover, if the administration gets its way, we can expect that expenditure of blood and treasure to continue for many months, until there emerges an Iraqi government able to fend for itself or Iraq descends into chaos.

Pending the final judgment of President Bush's war, this much we can say for sure: Two years after the dash on Baghdad seemingly affirmed the invincibility of the U.S. armed forces, the actual limits of American power now lay exposed for all to see. Our adversaries, real and potential, are no doubt busy contemplating the implications of those limits.

So too must we. Our effort to do so should begin with the admission that the idea, promoted during the heady spring of 2003, that through the aggressive use of military power the United States might transform the Islamic world and cement U.S. global preeminence was a dangerous delusion. It remains a delusion today.

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Blogger Management said...

Seduced by War
Andrew Bacevich — international relations professor and former Army colonel — argues that Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, have bought into the new American militarism as a solution to our international problems. And that, he says, is bad for our democracy.
by Taylor McNeil
Thirty years ago, the U.S. military found itself marginalized in American society, widely discredited and in some quarters openly reviled. The war in Vietnam had cast a pall over all things military. Now America is in such thrall to the military — the solution to any problem seems to be sending in the troops — that it is threatening our democracy, says Andrew Bacevich, a College of Arts and Sciences professor of international relations and director of the Center for International Relations.

In his latest book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, which will be published this spring by Oxford University Press, he explains how we got to this state of affairs and what we should do about it. Author of American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (2002) and editor of The Imperial Tense: Prospects and Problems of American Empire (2002), Bacevich is a West Point graduate. He served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 and retired as a U.S. Army colonel. He received a Ph.D. in history from Princeton in 1981 and has taught at BU since 1998.

Why are Americans seduced by war, and when did this seduction start?

The argument I make in my book is that what I describe as the new American militarism arises as an unintended consequence of the reaction to the Vietnam War and more broadly, to the sixties. We all appreciate the extent to which that period was one of enormous upheaval, political change, cultural change, social change. That change did not go down well with some quarters of American society, and it evoked a powerful response. If some people think that the sixties constituted a revolution, that revolution produced a counterrevolution, launched by a variety of groups that had one thing in common: they saw revival of American military power, institutions, and values as the antidote to everything that in their minds had gone wrong.

None of these groups — the neoconservatives, large numbers of Protestant evangelicals, politicians like Ronald Reagan, the so-called defense intellectuals, and the officer corps — set out saying, “Militarism is a good idea.” But I argue that this is what we’ve ended up with: a sense of what military power can do, a sort of deference to the military, and an attribution of virtue to the men and women who serve in uniform. Together this constitutes such a pernicious and distorted attitude toward military affairs that it qualifies as militarism.

Here’s an example, from a column by Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal: “The U.S. armed services may be the one truly functional major institution in American life.” I think the armed services are functional — but to me a statement like that is extraordinary. The one? Everything else is dysfunctional, or substantively odd? And that attitude is not uncommon.

So that’s how we came to be seduced by war.

It seems the military solution is now seen as the best way to solve international political problems: there’s Lebanon in 1983, Somalia in 1993, not to mention the Wilsonian urge to better other nations by making them more like ourselves.

If we look at the political elite, we see that it is not fair to say that the Republican Party is the party of militarists, or hawks, and the Democratic Party is the party of doves. On the contrary, certainly by the time you get to Operation Desert Storm and its apparent, although not real, success, a consensus has been formed in mainstream politics — by Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals — that force works, at least force wielded by our high-tech professional military. Look at the two terms of Bill Clinton in the 1990s. He employed U.S. military power really promiscuously, in all kinds of circumstances for all kinds of purposes, not necessarily effectively. He was very much an interventionist president, in a military sense. The criticism from the Republicans for the most part was not that Clinton was intervening too frequently, but that he needed to do so with greater verve.

When you look at the shock of 9/11, it’s really remarkable that there was virtually no debate about plausible alternative responses. The problem is not terrorism; the problem is the threat of radical Islam. Again, the political elite — meaning Republicans and Democrats and the establishment media, which very quickly embraced this — almost immediately concluded that the necessary response was a global war, which by common consent is going to last decades, generations. They all think there are no plausible alternatives. Let me be clear: it could be that other alternatives were defective in some way, but my point is, we never really looked for them. We instantly embraced this notion of open-ended global war. This shows the extent to which the political elite in this country has bought into the notion that if you have a big problem, the way to solve it is by going to war.

In your book you talk about the effort by the officer corps to set conditions under which the military will fight wars so as not to get bogged down in another Vietnam.

The Vietnam War ended up with an officer corps deeply alienated from American society. So the officer corps quite consciously set out to reestablish its bonds to the American people, as well as the military profession’s status, and to do that in a way that established limits on how U.S. military power would be used in the future, so that there would be no more Vietnams. The bottom line was that they wanted to rebuild the forces and reestablish the notion of war as an autonomous sphere of activity over which officers would preside.

The military tried very hard in the 1980s and 1990s not simply to rebuild and win its way back into the hearts of the American people, but also to establish ground rules about how we would fight wars.

And again, I’d emphasize that the vision was not one of frequent intervention and meddling around the world, but of using force sparingly, as a last resort, only in pursuit of genuinely vital interests, and going in with overwhelming force, winning quickly, and getting home quickly. What’s striking in the aftermath of 9/11 is the extent to which all those constraints and limits have gone by the wayside. The comparison between Iraq and Vietnam is probably inappropriate 95 percent of the time. But one of the ways it is appropriate is that in Iraq the military finds itself engaged in almost precisely the kind of war that after Vietnam it swore it would never be involved in again: protracted war, unconventional war, war in which the freedom of action by the officers corps is limited by politics.

I would argue that this vision of autonomy [from political interference] was foolish in the first place, but I can understand the appeal it had for the officer corps after Vietnam.

Why was it foolish?

Because war is not an autonomous sphere — war is a continuation of politics. I argue in the conclusion of the book that to wean ourselves away from militarism, the officer corps needs to give up this phony, foolish, unrealistic notion of maintaining some sort of autonomy. It’s impractical; it’s foolhardy.

It strikes me that among several groups that helped establish the new militarism — the neoconservatives and the “defense priesthood” — few or none had served in a war or had ever been shot at.

One way to wean ourselves away from militarism is by trying to ensure that as many members of the elite as possible have had some military experience. Now, I don’t mean to imply for a second that someone who hasn’t served in uniform is somehow prohibited from expressing an opinion about military affairs. Franklin Roosevelt never served, and he was a great commander-in-chief. Abraham Lincoln served, I think, a couple of weeks in uniform in the Black Hawk War — he used to tell jokes about it at his own expense — and he was a great commander-in-chief. So it does not follow that someone has to have served to be a source of wise counsel. But in general it seems to me that it would help to dampen unrealistic expectations — it would help to ensure that discourse about matters related to force was lively and useful — if we had a substantial number of members of Congress who were veterans; if some number of the editors, publishers, reporters of major newspapers had served in the military; if the people who call the shots on Wall Street and the corporate world had some personal understanding of military affairs. I do think that people who have served will tend to be less prone to illusions.

I’m not a pacifist, not somebody who says that the answer to our problem is to abolish the military. We are, like it or not, not simply a great power; we are the great power of our day. Like it or not, the world is going to continue to be a place of conflict, and therefore military power does have a role. I’m simply arguing that we need to come to a more realistic appreciation of what power can do, and what other alternative instruments of power can do, and come to some better way of balancing.

In public discourse, as you mentioned earlier with the quote from the Wall Street Journal, the military seems elevated above the rest of society and society’s concerns.

An article in the New York Times recently talked about the Pentagon’s plan to implement net-centric warfare — everything’s tied together by computer networks with greater ability to coordinate and act quickly and so on. The article casually talked about spending $200 billion to do this. It was a page one story, but nobody is standing up and saying, “$200 billion is a large amount of money. Are there other things we could do with that?” Why is there this automatic acceptance of massive investments in what is already global military supremacy? Why not some comparable amount of effort invested in thinking about and investing in other ways to achieve our purposes in the world, other ways to alleviate the problems of the world, other ways to address that most immediate thing called Islamic radicalism?

And yet if you question that, you’re branded as unpatriotic.

Or it is to brand yourself as a sort of limp-wristed liberal. And that’s not the point. The point is to think realistically of other ways of achieving our purposes in the world, because the military way alone, in my judgment, which I think is supported by recent events, isn’t going to work.

It’s also bad for the country. The founders of our country were realists when it came to military power. They were not pacifists; they had an appreciation of when power was necessary. But they were very skeptical of how an infatuation with things military might be at odds with a republican form of government. Hence their lively concerns about the dangers of a standing army. What strikes me is the extent to which in our day we have completely thrown overboard those sorts of considerations.

You also see another side of this militarism from what civilians do: we support the military, as long as we don’t have to get our hands dirty.

People put a yellow ribbon on their big SUVs saying, “Support Our Troops,” but by and large they are not willing to have their sons or daughters go. The evidence is pretty clear that in general, middle class kids don’t serve. It’s the working class, the people of color, who serve. And that ought to make us uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable.

And radical Islam is a problem mostly because the countries with the oil reserves are Muslim?

The bulk of the book describes the reactions by different groups to the sixties, which led to different attitudes about military power. But one chapter says look, to understand why this penchant for militarism has expressed itself in the way that it has, you have to look past the attitudes of certain groups, at American interests. Militarism manifests itself not by sending U.S. troops into the Sudan or to overthrow President Mugabe [in Zimbabwe], but by sending troops into the Persian Gulf to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and it does that because of the enormous importance we have come to assign to this part of the world. You cannot separate that from the fact that it’s got the greatest percentage of the world’s oil reserves.

It’s not only a set of attitudes — it’s a set of interests. This great global war, which the average guy on the street thinks began on 9/11, could arguably be described as having begun at least two decades before. The great contest to see who is going to control the Persian Gulf — or the Greater Middle East, as the Bush administration likes to call it — was militarized by, of all people, Jimmy Carter. The Iranian revolution, which deprived us of a key ally in the region, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which in the eyes of alarmists suggested that the Soviets could next march on the Gulf itself, persuaded Carter in 1980 to militarize policy toward the region through the so-called Carter Doctrine.

I think he did this reluctantly and perhaps with at least some premonition of what was to come. A consequence of his decision that we would fight for Persian Gulf oil has been this steady, aggressive expansion of U.S. military presence in the region, taking the form of interventions as far back as Beirut in 1983, continuing through each and every administration since. In a sense, when President Bush decided after 9/11 that the way to fix our problems was to use our military power to dominate the Persian Gulf, he was expanding on an effort that had been undertaken by his predecessors and pursued, not necessarily wisely, by each president back to Carter.

So Carter saw the problem and set in motion the military solution to the need for cheap oil?

The common view of Carter is of a failed president but great ex-president. And I don’t think I would challenge that basic judgment, but in preparing the book, I came away with a somewhat different appreciation for Carter. It seems to me that he did grasp that our love affair with cheap oil had enormous implications for what our role in the world was going to be in future years, and he also got to the heart of what would be the content of our democracy, what would be the core values in forming modern America. He sensed that if we did nothing to wean ourselves away from this need for cheap oil, the consequences would be dire. He made a speech in the summer of 1979 that was widely derided at the time, in which he said in pretty explicit terms that we were going down a path that might seem attractive, but that we were abandoning the vision of what America was supposed to be and that we needed to return to that original vision. The way to begin doing that, he said, was to try to achieve energy independence.

That effort had a political half-life of about a day and a half. There was just no support for it, because he was asking us to reflect and to change. But we like the cheap gas; we like all the stuff that comes with it. So he gave up the effort because he wanted to win a second term. And he was challenged in 1980 by a guy who said, “We’re America; we can have abundance without limits. There are no consequences; there are no bills to be paid. This is what we’re all about.” And of course that guy swept Carter aside.

But Carter had the enormous insight that we ought to reflect upon. My reading of events is that what he feared has come to pass. To some extent it came to pass on 9/11, that horrible day. It’s come to pass in the circumstances that exist right now, with 140,000 U.S. troops tied down in Iraq in a war that I fear we are not winning, in a war that I think, if anything, has exacerbated the problem of Islamic radicalism rather than alleviating it. And a war again that really cannot be understood without considering the fact that Iraq sits on an ocean of oil.

Are there others besides you calling attention to the new militarism?

There are other people charging the United States with militarism. I see references to articles and books in which that word appears, so I think the idea is out there, mostly on the left. For other critics, militarism is a synonym for Bushism — that the problem is this president and his militaristic, unilateralist tendencies and the sort of arrogance and excessive ambitions that he manifests.

My argument is that the phenomenon cannot be attributed to one president or one party or one particular group. It is far more widely based, and quite frankly, it’s something in which we are all implicated. We — you or me — may not be evangelical Christians or neoconservatives or members of the officer corps, but a clear majority of us have basically signed on to these attitudes and expectations. And therefore you don’t fix the problem by voting a president out of office, or by saying, “I’m not a Republican; I’m a Democrat.” I think you fix the problem by engaging in some real self-examination and beginning to rethink as a people our expectations of military power. Not because we’re going to become a bunch of pacifists — that’s not the world we live in — but perhaps because we can come to a set of expectations that are more balanced, more in harmony with our own democratic institutions.

Your book talks about “World War III,” the Cold War, which we won, and “World War IV,” our fight beginning in 1980 for the oil riches of the Middle East. At the same time, we see the use of U.S. military force around the world — by both Republican and Democratic administrations — is made with scant understanding of the actual politics of these countries.

My chapter on World War IV is probably the one that everybody’s going to get mad at me about. I don’t mean to suggest that we’re at fault and that somehow we deserved 9/11. That would be the furthest thing from my imagining. But, when we view the world through this militaristic prism, there is a tendency to fail to appreciate context, politics, history, all that has gone before. I think we’re definitely guilty of that in regard to our problems with Islam. And so backing away from our assumption that military power is the answer to everything perhaps would open up a little bit more space to include these other considerations. Not because then somehow we could feel guilty about our sins in the past — and we have sinned — but so we can have a more realistic appreciation of what we’re dealing with here.

How do you see us getting out of this World War IV mess?

I think the beginning of wisdom is to rethink our attitudes and expectations with regard to military power and to come to something that’s more realistic and balanced — and I’d emphasize, more in harmony with our democracy. This outsourcing to a professional elite of our responsibility as citizens to defend the country, this penchant for interventionism in our world, this expectation that somehow the building up of ever-greater military power offers some sort of antidote to the problems that we face — these are wrong. We can’t come to the right answer until we first recognize that the accepted answer is defective — fundamentally defective.

9:10 PM  

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