Andrew Bacevich on America’s path to permanent war

The seemingly bitter struggle between Republicans and Democrats is just political theater concealing a long-standing, bi-partisan determination to spend the nation into oblivion, with the self-serving and counter-productive excuse that national security demands it. That’s the belief of Andrew Bacevich, a career U.S. Army officer and West Point graduate who is now a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

In his most recent book, Washington Rules, Bacevich identifies the underlying and unquestioned credo of American foreign policy for the last 60 years, that it is the responsibility of United States to lead, save, and transform the rest of the world. The U.S. pursues this policy through a global military presence, global power projection, and global interventionism, all in the name of peace, but oblivious to the negative consequences.

The three major components of this post-World War II policy are the Central Intelligence Agency, which engages in covert state terrorism against perceived enemies, the Strategic Command (formerly the Strategic Air Command), which promises assured nuclear destruction of any belligerent of the U.S., and the flexible response tactic of the U.S. military permitting the U.S. to engage its enemies in ways between the covert and the nuclear, now led by an unrepresentative warrior class divorced from the society it serves.

Since the creation of those agencies and tactics, the U.S. has been on a constant de facto war footing, what Bacevich calls “semi-war”, ready to act and intervene immediately.

The U.S. spends more on its military and national security than all the rest of the nations of the world combined, largely unquestioned and in secret, except when things go terribly wrong, as they regularly seem to do. Bacevich cites a long litany of self-inflicted but expensive wounds from Vietnam (see U.S.-backed assassination of President Diem), to Iran (see C.I.A.-instigated removal of Prime Minister Mossadegh), to Cuba (see Bay of Pigs invasion), to 9/11 (see U.S. funding of jihadists).

The U.S. regularly wields its military power in pursuit of short-term objectives without consideration of long-term consequences. The actual defense of Americans is not even considered in pursuing objectives that end up killing and costing Americans. See Iraq.

American politics requires that things be kept simple. We are the good guys. The enemy is evil. We are the essential nation. Our military is, as the current Navy TV commercials claim, “a global force for good.” In reality, the U.S. Department of Defense has become a misnomer. It’s mission is no longer defense. It’s global power projection and intervention.

Civilian casualties are justified as collateral damage in pursuit of larger and more important U.S. objectives. When then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was confronted with the statement that the U.S.-enforced embargo of Iraq after Operation Desert Storm resulted in the death of half a million Iraqi children, she replied, “It’s a hard choice, but I think, we think, it’s worth it.” So it goes. Our cultural blindness makes us unable to see things as non-Americans do.

Since the failure of the expensive high-speed, high technology tactics we tried in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have now reverted to the expensive counter-insurgency tactics used by liberal Democrats in Vietnam in an effort, as in Vietnam, to avoid defeat. We are engaged in social work with guns. We have overcome our fear of protracted war and embraced endless war. Fixing Helmond province in Afghanistan is now more important than fixing Detroit or Cleveland. Fixing the world is more important than fixing America.

In an earlier America, U.S. policy was aimed at providing an example for the world to follow, not to impose our will on the world. Americans were once suspicious of an expensive standing army. Now our all-volunteer force, supplemented by mercenaries, and funded with borrowed money, is the ideal tool for our semi-warriors, and consistent with current American values. There’s no obligation on Americans either to serve in the military or cover its expenses.

While wishing for peace and prosperity, we propagate endless war and insolvency, with a shipwreck ahead. Unless Americans realize they’ve been had, the bi-partisan consensus for global domination continues. Ignoring the danger makes us complicit in the destruction of the America we claim to believe in.

Read Bacevich’s passionate but thoughtful book, and compare his history of the American empire with the histories of the Roman and British empires, which also called for military intervention anywhere in the world that imperial interests could be threatened, in the name of some greater, universal good.

One consequence of the bi-partisan agreement on maintaining global U.S. domination is that critics of such a goal, however thoughtful, are dismissed as cranks. See Dennis Kucinich.

As we enter the 2012 election cycle, there’s only one candidate for president who agrees with Bacevich that we are spending way too much on the military and national security, need to reject global domination and pre-emptive war, and that the primary duty station for the U.S. military is in the United States, not overseas. That candidate is not Barack Obama. See Libya. That candidate is Ron Paul.

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