Come home, America

I finished Andrew Bacevich’s Washington Rules last night, and it’s a worthy successor to his New American Imperialism and Limits of Power. Bacevich tells the story of how the “rules” that govern the U.S. foreign policy consensus–in brief, the imperative to maintain American military hegemony and capability for “power projection” at all costs–have been maintained and enforced, even when events threatened to overturn them (e.g., Vietnam). He reviews the emergence of the post-World War II national security state, the development of American nuclear policy under Gen. Curtis LeMay, the Cold War chicanery of the CIA, the futility of Vietnam, and the short-lived post-Cold War and post-Gulf War euphoria about the U.S.’s supposedly unrivalled military prowess. In each case, the hubris of the “best and brightest” led to unintended consequences and, in more than a few cases, unmitigated disasters.

Bacevich brings us up to date with a recounting of the so-called revolution in military affairs and its culmination in the second Iraq war (including a demolition of the supposed success of the “surge” and a pointed critique of the war as a total strategic failure judged by the criteria of its own architects), as well as the newly recovered fashion for counterinsurgency (COIN) wars. Unfortunately, as Bacevich makes clear, the Obama administration, and its policy of doubling down in Afghanistan, represents far less of a break with the existing foreign policy consensus than some of its supporters (and critics) would have us believe. We are, he thinks, headed for some kind of disaster as we try to maintain an increasingly far-flung and unsustainable global empire. Bacevich would have us “tend our own garden” and address the very real problems facing the United States–recalling the George Washington/John Quincy Adams tradition of America primarly as an exemplar of liberty and democracy instead of a global policeman. A disillusioned conservative, Bacevich also points to an eclectic array of home-grown social critics (including George Kennan, William J. Fulbright, Christopher Lasch, and Martin Luther King) who can help point the way for America to “come home” and focus on fashioning a polity that secures liberty and justice for all, rather than going abroad seeking monsters to destroy. Highly recommended.

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4 thoughts on “Come home, America

  1. Here is the reason counter-insurgency doesn’t work and we should never have invaded Afghanistan, but should instead have settled for proportionate, punitive strikes at Al-Qaeda bases and the Taliban military bases.

    Scratch an Afghan, find a Taliban.

    Did that take a whole book?

    OK, I exaggerate.

    The thing is, not by all that much.

    On the other hand, if you find chaos in that country preferable to both the order that pre-existed our invasion and any order at all likely to emerge when we leave then I guess you think the invasion made sense and you just continue the fighting.

    And then, yes, I guess your idea of victory is just not losing.

    Ditto for Iraq, by the way.

    And maybe some other places yet to be made clear.

    That is not necessarily an irrational or wicked position.

    But it needs to be argued that chaos is better, and also that the costs of keeping it up do not exceed the likely downside of letting that dispreferred order emerge.

    It might seem that they would have to, over enough time.

    But that is a mistake.

    Is there a cost Israel would find too great to pay, for example, to avoid the genocidal annihilation of its entire population?

    False economy, my friend.

    What cost is too great to pay to prevent the emergence of an order in which the chance of Pakistan’s or other nukes getting into the hands of Islamo-terrorists is unacceptably high, assuming the chaos we are creating does, might, or will keep that chance below that threshold?

    On the other hand, of course, it may be that the mess we are making does nothing to diminish that chance and may even increase it.

    What do you think?

  2. Oh, and I think this bears as well on the anti-war argument that spending money on wars all over hell and gone is not a cost effective way to diminish American deaths, anywhere in the world but in particular here at home.

    Dollar for dollar, we would do better to give everyone free health insurance or work harder at highway safety.

    With nukes out of the picture I think that is probably right.

    But the long term costs of an order emerging in which the Taliban are in solid control of Aghanistan, the Shiites allied with Iran control Iraq, Egypt falls into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the fortunes of Islamism rise all over the Muslim world could bode such ill that at least sporadic wars from time to time into the indefinite future to prevent such an outcome might well be worth it.

    Were the British wrong to send Kitchener to chase the Mahdi out of Khartoum, thus nipping his ambitious wars in the bud?

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