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Glass writes: "The conviction that invasion, bombing, and special forces benefit large swaths of the globe, while remaining consonant with a Platonic ideal of the national interest, runs deep in the American psyche."

Nothing undermines the American belief in military force. (photo: Selman Design/Intercept)
Nothing undermines the American belief in military force. (photo: Selman Design/Intercept)

Andrew Bacevich and America's Long Misguided War to Control the Greater Middle East

By Charles Glass, The Intercept

24 April 16


he convicition that invasion, bombing, and special forces benefit large swaths of the globe, while remaining consonant with a Platonic ideal of the national interest, runs deep in the American psyche. Like the poet Stevie Smith’s cat, the United States “likes to gallop about doing good.” The cat attacks and misses, sometimes injuring itself, but does not give up. It asks, as the U.S. should,

What’s the good
Of galloping about doing good
When angels stand in the path
And do not do as they should

Nothing undermines the American belief in military force. No matter how often its galloping about results in resentment and mayhem, the U.S. gets up again to do good elsewhere. Failure to improve life in Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya stiffens the resolve to get it right next time. This notion prevails among politicized elements of the officer corps; much of the media, whether nominally liberal or conservative; the foreign policy elite recycled quadrennially between corporation-endowed think tanks and government; and most politicians on the national stage. For them and the public they influence, the question is less whether to deploy force than when, where, and how.

Since 1979, when the Iranians overthrew the Shah and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. has concentrated its firepower in what former U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich calls the “Greater Middle East.” The region comprises most of what America’s imperial predecessors, the British, called the Near and Middle East, a vast zone from Pakistan west to Morocco. In his new book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, Bacevich writes, “From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in that region. Within a decade, a great shift occurred. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed anywhere except the Greater Middle East.” That observation alone might prompt a less propagandized electorate to rebel against leaders who perpetuate policies that, while killing and maiming American soldiers, devastate the societies they touch.

Bacevich describes a loyal cadre of intellectuals and pundits favoring war after war, laying the moral ground for invasions and excusing them when they go wrong. He notes that in 1975, when American imperium was collapsing in Indochina, the guardians of American exceptionalism renewed their case for preserving the U.S. as the exception to international law. An article by Robert Tucker in Commentary that year set the ball rolling with the proposition that “to insist that before using force one must exhaust all other remedies is little more than the functional equivalent of accepting chaos.” Another evangelist for military action, Miles Ignotus, wrote in Harper’s two months later that the U.S. with Israel’s help must prepare to seize Saudi Arabia’s oilfields. Miles Ignotus, Latin for “unknown soldier,” turned out to be the known civilian and Pentagon consultant Edward Luttwak. Luttwak urged a “revolution” in warfare doctrine toward “fast, light forces to penetrate the enemy’s vital centers” with Saudi Arabia a test case. The practical test would come, with results familiar to most of the world, 27 years later in Iraq.

The Pentagon, its pride and reputation wounded in Vietnam as surely as the bodies of 150,000 scarred American soldiers, was slow to take the hint. The end of compulsory military service robbed it of manpower for massive global intervention. Revelations of war crimes and political chicanery from the Senate’s Church Committee and the Pike Committee in the House added to public disenchantment with military adventures and intelligence meddling in other countries’ affairs. It would take years of effort to cure America of its “Vietnam Syndrome,” the preference for diplomatic before military solutions.

In the Middle East, President Gerald Ford saw no reason to rescind his predecessor’s policy, the Nixon Doctrine of reliance on local clients armed by the U.S. to protect Persian Gulf oil for America’s gas-hungry consumers. Nothing much happened, though, until one of the local gendarmes, the Shah of Iran, fell to a popular revolution and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Change came with the Carter Doctrine, enunciated in the president’s January 1980 State of the Union address: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and as such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

Carter’s combative national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, wrote later, “The Carter Doctrine was modeled on the Truman Doctrine.” Bacevich comments that the Truman Doctrine of ostensibly containing the Soviet Union while absorbing the richer portions of the decolonizing French and British Empires “invited misinterpretation and misuse, with the Vietnam War one example of the consequences.” Carter’s doctrine, modified but not rescinded by his successors, led to similar consequences in Afghanistan and Iraq.

George W. Bush took the Carter Doctrine to fresh lengths when he made the case, prepared for him by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, for preventive war in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy on June 1, 2002: “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.” Bacevich quotes the Nuremberg court’s view of preventive war: “To initiate a war of aggression is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” After the failures to impose order in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Barack Obama rather than abandon the policy merely moved its emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan without achieving any military or political objectives.

Bacevich, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, while conceding his “undistinguished military career,” is more willing than most journalists to question the justice and utility of expanded military operations in the Middle East and to challenge the media-hyped reputations of some of America’s favorite generals, Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, Colin Powell, Wesley Clark, and David Petraeus foremost. One general who comes out well in Bacevich’s assessment is British, Sir Michael Jackson, who resisted Wesley Clark’s order to block a runway at Pristina airport against Russian flights into Kosovo. His answer, worthy of Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s reply of “Nuts” to the German demand for surrender at Bastogne: “Sir, I’m not starting World War III for you.”

This tour de force of a book covers the modern history of American warfare with sharp criticism of political decisions and rigorous analysis of battlefield strategy and tactics. As such, it should be required reading at the author’s alma mater. It would not hurt for those aspiring to succeed Barack Obama as commander-in-chief to dip into it as well. None of them, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, is likely to reject the worldview that led to so many deaths around the world. Watch for more military missions. Be prepared for more assassination by drone, of which even former Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal said, “They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.” McChrystal pointed out that drone strikes are great recruiters, not for the U.S. military, but for the Taliban, al Qaeda, and ISIS.

Ignoring Bacevich and heeding the call of the intellectual warmongers who guided Bush, Obama’s successor, like Stevie Smith’s cat, is likely “to go on being / A cat that likes to / Gallop about doing good,” expanding rather than limiting the projection of armed might into the Greater Middle East. your social media marketing partner


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+31 # tedrey 2016-04-24 08:58
There is precious little sign that these "intellectual warmongers" ever consider the "good" of those populations they are invading and slaughtering. Even the "good" of their own nation and people is very difficult to make out. No, the "good" they are seeking is strictly their own. But we let them them gallop on.
+21 # futhark 2016-04-24 10:59
The "good" is feeding the economic addiction to militarism. The American economy is structured now so that literally millions of jobs depend on the maintenance and activity of a large military establishment, including those in active military service, the civilians employed in maintenance operations at military bases, and the people involved in the development and production of military hardware: ships, missiles, bombs, and bullets.

People must recall how at the very moment the Soviet Union was collapsing in the early 1990s, the reason for maintaining this establishment was no longer valid, and many Americans were looking forward to a "peace dividend" of resources being directed toward education, health care, and infrastructure rehabilitation, we suddenly were told that the nation of Iraq posed a clear and present danger to ourselves and the rest of the world. Military bases ticketed for closure were reprieved and the jobs they provided were saved. Many communities expressed relief over not having to be traumatized by mass unemployment.

Breaking the addiction to militarism certainly won't be easy, but like any addiction it's long term consequences are probably fatal. The thing to do now is to recognize the problem and begin the transition to a more peaceful, just, secure, prosperous, and sustainable society.
0 # RobertMStahl 2016-04-25 12:43
The "limits" of this extension are in question. That means they are what you say, or something larger and more silly and maddening. Who brings "things" into the present moment at all in this reincarlection? !
+20 # danireland46 2016-04-24 10:51
Everyone loves the patriotic dream story of young men signing up "To protect and defend their country." Singing the National Anthem with the thought of all those brave young men in harms way in the middle east brings a lump to the throats of American patriot/chauvin ists regularly.
The fact is, in a limited job market, the military is often the only option for many young men, Back in the Nam days, the college bound crowd was able to escape war danger by college deferments then National guard time. College grads drafted to service were the main reason the draft has basically disappeared.
Don't think MIC doesn't appreciate a depressed economy to keep their meal ticket coming in bigger and better ways.
It's time to rethink the horrendous, inhuman reasons for war. Put our country to work not war.
+13 # indian weaver 2016-04-24 11:10
Another major reason the draft was terminated is because the entitled wealthy's children and all politicians children would no longer be threatened by having to serve their country and die a horrible death for absolutely no reason. The regime prefers to let the poor and disenfranchised , and the plain stupid die their place. Makes sense to me. I was able to get out of the Viet Nam draft by using a couple different strategies, as was my brother. Millions of us probably did that rather than die for the wealthy to get richer, and for no strategic reason whatsoever.
These reasons stand, and now the invasions are worldwide instead of "only" Viet Nam. When 1000s die, no longer do we see their coffins being unloaded from troop transports at Edwards Air Force Base. Why is that? Ha ha, why indeed - keep hiding the horrible truth of our government from ignorant civilians, numbering probably 95% among We The People. We who keep ourselves informed don't need to see those coffins anymore to understand what our fascist regime is doing to the planet - destruction of all life and ecosystems / environment, not only the destruction domestically of We The People. And, I cannot give a pass to those ignorant among us who do not recognize Obama / Biden as every bit the genocidal torturers and terrorist maniacs that are dubya / dick / Rumsfeld / the list goes on ...
+4 # Radscal 2016-04-24 15:35
I avoided Uncle Sam's all expense paid trip to tropical Southeast Asia by pulling an "Alice's Restaurant" at the Army Shrink's office.

Really, I opened the door, slammed it behind me to get his attention and said, "Shrink, I wanna kill."

We had a long chat afterwards in which I made it clear that I didn't want them, and they didn't want me, but I thank Arlo Guthrie.
+5 # speedboy 2016-04-24 15:33
I refer to our military complex as the "Government Employment Agency". The lack of opportunity for today's youth has given comfort to our warmongers, knowing they can now continue our empire building without relying on the hated draft---our undoing in Viet Nam.
+5 # elkingo 2016-04-24 11:00
If you are going to be a head-of-state, you are going to bring about hundreds of thousands, if not millions of homicides. And btw, McAuliff didn't say "nuts" at Bastogne, he said "shit".

"No borders, no nations." A graffito scrawled on a wall on Lesbos,by a refugee.
+2 # The Voice of Reason 2016-04-24 21:41
They all want to sell oil. There is no conflict, there are just too many humans and not enough cannons to shoot them with. Both sides are complicit in this oil for murder scheme. Think about it, cars are designed to waste fuel, and we keep paying for it like the pigeons we are. There is no need to pay for fuel. They are cheating us, what don't you get about this?

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