Posts Tagged ‘Andrew J. Bacevich’

U.S. neocons ok with unending, unwinnable wars

June 15, 2018

Colonel Andrew Bacevich, in a recent article for TomDispatch, said the U.S. military is committed to a never-ending war whose aim is no longer victory, but to avoid admitting defeat.

Some generals have even stated publicly that they don’t foresee a time when the “war on terror” will ever come to an end.

That’s not their fault, Bacevich wrote.  Everything humanly possible to achieve victory in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria short of genocide has been tried by the U.S. military and failed.  But so long as American forces remain in those countries, American neoconservatives can say the United States has not been defeated.

Bacevich pointed to the First World War, when it soon should have become obvious that continuing the war was more harmful to all participants than any gain that any of them could have hoped to achieve through victory.  Yet no head of state except Lenin in Russia could think of anything to do except fight on until the end.

This was the great nightmare of H.G. Wells, in The War in the Air and The Shape of Things to Come—that a future world war would be impossible to stop until there was a complete breakdown of governmental authority and social order.

We in the USA are a long way from that.  The only consequences of “defeat” would be giving up the false dream of world empire.

But there may come a time when the nations our government is trying to conquer and dominate will combine and give us Americans a taste of our own medicine.  If and when that happens, all our choices will be bad.


Infinite War | The gravy train rolls on by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.


Why can’t world’s biggest military win wars?

January 27, 2014


The United States has far and away the largest armed forces in the world.  We Americans spent more on our military than the 10 runner-up countries combined; we spend almost as much as the whole rest of the world.  The U.S. Navy rules the seas.  The U.S. Air Force has controlled the air in every U.S. war in the past 50 years.  Our armed forces have boots on the ground in 177 of the world’s 195 countries.  U.S. military commands encompass the whole world.

Yet, as Andrew J. Bacevich, Tom Englehardt and Ian Welsh have recently pointed out, we Americans can’t seem to win wars.

Why not?

The U.S. armed forces are well able to defend the United States and fulfill U.S. treaty obligations.  Few if any nations are capable of withstanding a U.S. attack.   But U.S. forces have consistently failed in what we call nation-building.  They have not been able to suppress insurrections in defeated nations against the governments that we put in power.

The Viet Cong, the Taliban, al Qaeda did not represent the forces of righteousness, any more than did the Ku Klux Klan in the American South following the Civil War, to mention an early failed attempt at nation-building.   That is not the point.

U.S. forces could have stayed in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan, or, for that matter, the Reconstruction South, as long as we Americans were willing to pay the price.  They were, and are, highly skilled at exercising lethal force.  If they time came, they would, I am sure, exercise these skills with courage and professionalism in defense of their country.

What they couldn’t do, didn’t know how to do and still don’t know how to do, is to make the Vietnamese, Iraqis or Afghans submit to their rule.  It is not their fault.  It is the fault of those who send them into harm’s way with instructions to accomplish the impossible.


The fragility of domination

March 26, 2013


1.  Liberal internationalism is an illusion

2.  The system that replaces liberal internationalism must address the ever-present (and growing) danger posed by catastrophic surprise.

3.  The key to averting or at least minimizing surprise is to act preventively.

4.  The ultimate in preventive action is domination

5.  Information technology brings outright supremacy within reach.

Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

The late Albert Wohlstetter was an influential “defense intellectual,” a scholar little known to the public but highly influential in shaping U.S. military policy.  His philosophy was summarized in these five precepts by Andrew J. Bacevich in an article in the March issue of Harper’s magazine, which was about the efforts of Paul Wolfowitz, one of Wohlstetter’s chief disciples, to turn these precepts into U.S. government policy.

Wolfowitz, serving as an adviser to the Pentagon in 1992, drafted the controversial Defense Planning Guidance document.  According to Basevich, it said the “first objective” of U.S. policy is to maintain unquestioned military supremacy and “prevent the emergence of a new rival, by, if necessary, employing force unilaterally with an eye to “deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”   Unfortunately for Wolfowitz, the document was leaked before the White House had a chance to review it, President George H.W.  Bush disavowed it, and Wolfowitz left the government.

He served on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University until he returned to government in 2001 as deputy to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  He advocated preventive war against Iraq.  “We cannot wait until the threat is imminent,” he wrote.   This policy failed.  But why did it fail?  The answer is that domination does not make you stronger.  Rather the effort to maintain domination saps your strength.

I’ve written posts about the ideas of Nassim Nicholas Taleb on fragility and antifragility.  The high-technology U.S. military is fragile, according to Taleb’s definition.  U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan depended on a long supply chain and complex technologies which could fail at any point.  The insurgency, by Taleb’s definition, was antifragile.  The insurgents fought on their home ground, used simple technologies (explosives set off by garage door openers and TV remotes) and were embedded in the population of the country, not in walled outposts.  Every U.S. victory in battle or drone attack raised up more insurgents for every one that was killed.

The Roman Empire was strong as long as Roman citizens throughout the empire thought it was worth defending.  When the empire came to rest on mere domination, the very extent of the empire made it harder to defend.  Every attack in the West made it necessary to weaken defenses in the East, and vice versa.  Eventually it became necessary to create co-emperors, for West and East, and this made it possible for the eastern half to survive after the western half fell.

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Double click to enlarge

Paul Kennedy in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers wrote about how strong nations have been weakened by “imperial overstretch.”  Great Britain in World War Two was weakened, not strengthened, by the need to keep troops in India.  The British Empire’s strength came from Canada, Australia and other territories that did not rest on domination.

By occupying Afghanistan, the United States has made its forces vulnerable to attacks from the tribal areas of Pakistan, which would otherwise be of no concern.  To safeguard the new government in Libya, U.S. policy-makers now seek to prevent unfriendly forces from controlling Mali.  Rather than creating security, our government has created a wider circle of threats.   And in so doing, it has sapped American strength and left us less able to cope with urgent problems at home.


The new American militarism

October 24, 2011

The U.S. armed forces in the 21st century bestride the world.  There are U.S. bases on every continent; the Pentagon itself cannot state with accuracy how many bases there are.  The United States spends nearly as much on its armed forces as the rest of the world put together.  Spending on weapons system and weapons research is exempt from normal budget constraints.

But even so, the U.S. military is not large enough for its many missions.  It is necessary to issue stop-loss orders to retain troops whose enlistments have expired, and to make the National Guard part of the regular fighting force.

I recently read Andrew J. Bacevich’s  The New American Militarism: How America Is Seduced by War, an excellent book explaining how this came about.  The book was published in 2005, but unfortunately is still as true now as it was then.

Bacevich is a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran and retired career Army officer who teaches international relations at Boston University.  He is a self-described conservative Catholic, whose first articles on this subject were written during the Clinton administration and published in National Review.  His son, also a career Army officer, was killed while serving in Iraq some time after this book was written.

The U.S. armed forces have greater prestige than at any previous time in American history.  No important politician in either party fails to praise the military.  Movies and television glamorize the military.  Pundits take the military virtues as a model for society as a whole.  Yet few people, especially among the political and economic elite, actually serve in the military.  The disconnect between the military and the citizenry is unhealthy in a democracy, Bacevich wrote.

He said that the welfare of the nation, and also of the military itself, requires that the mission of the U.S. military be scaled back to the Constitutional one of providing for the common defense, rather than imposing a new world order on unwilling people.  He said the size of the U.S. military should be scaled back to reasonable level—say, a budget no larger than the combined budgets of the next 10 greatest military powers.   He said Congress must claw back its authority to declare or refrain from declaring war.  The National Guard should normally serve on the home front and not abroad.

He made good proposals for bridging the gap that now exists between the professional military and the civilian citizenry.  Instead the armed forces should offer to give a free college education or pay the college debts of anyone who enlists for a specific time.  He said all military officers should be required to earn a degree from a civilian college, and then take one year of additional schooling at one of the service academies.   He does not advocate bringing back the draft unless there is a national emergency that requires it, but thinks these proposals would make the military more broadly representative of society.

He had good answers for every question except one—the need to project U.S. military power to assure U.S. access to the oil of the Persian Gulf.   I don’t have a good answer to that one either.