Seduced By War
Andrew J. Bacevich On How The U.S. Came To Put Too Much Faith In Military Power
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Andrew J. Bacevich is not someone you’d expect to be a critic of America’s love affair with the military. A Vietnam War veteran and self-described “cultural conservative, ” he served for twenty years in the U. S. Army and has been a contributor to the Weekly Standard and the National Review. But Bacevich has long been concerned about U. S. reliance on military might to address international problems. His latest book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford University Press), examines the troubling rise of pro-military sentiment since the 1960s and how it’s gotten the country where it is today: stuck in a disastrous war with no end in sight.
Born in 1947 in Normal, Illinois, Bacevich attended West Point, obtained his PhD in history from Princeton University, and retired from the army in 1992 with the rank of colonel. During the nineties, he began to part ways with the conservatives coming to power in Washington, D. C. : “neocons” who saw, in the U. S.’s status as the sole remaining superpower, an opportunity to reshape global politics by force. But Bacevich finds the Democrats at fault as well and decries what he sees as a corrupt political system where “expediency rules and principles are expendable . . . as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have amply demonstrated. ” In his view, when it comes to foreign policy, U. S. “professions of concern for freedom, democracy, and human rights serve as little more than window dressing."
Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His previous book is titled American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy (Harvard University Press), and his articles appear regularly in journals and newspapers. In The New American Militarism he writes: “In former times American policymakers treated (or at least pretended to treat) the use of force as evidence that diplomacy had failed. In our own time they have concluded (in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney) that force ‘makes your diplomacy more effective going forward, dealing with other problems. ’ Policymakers have increasingly come to see coercion as a sort of all-purpose tool.”
I talked with Bacevich in his office at Boston University on a hot afternoon in August 2006. He spoke without hesitation about the “new American militarism, ” and his answers were crisp and precise. Three months later, when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned after the midterm elections, I contacted Bacevich again to get his take on the events. He called Rumsfeld “the worst secretary of defense since Robert McNamara” (Presidents John F. Kennedy’s and Lyndon B. Johnson’s secretary during the Vietnam War). Bacevich hoped that Rumsfeld’s departure would help restore accountability for high-ranking government officials, but it “does not change the facts on the ground in Iraq. The options available today are the same as they were a week ago — and none of these options hold much promise of a happy ending to this misadventure."
Barsamian: You say in the preface to your latest book that you situate yourself “culturally on the Right” and “view the remedies proffered by mainstream liberalism with skepticism. ”
Bacevich: I agree with liberals on some social-justice issues, but I’m skeptical of the Left’s tendency to look to government to bring about positive change. I think that centralized political authority, even when that authority’s intentions are good, gives rise to negative consequences, if only because politicians are concerned primarily about their own interests.
Barsamian: But you’ve also become disenchanted with mainstream conservatism today?
Bacevich: That’s right. My brand of conservatism says you pay as you go. It says you balance the budget. It says that if you want to embark upon a war, then you should pay for the war yourself, rather than passing on the cost to your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I view the rhetoric about “traditional values” coming from today’s Republican Party as mere posturing. And I view the foreign policy of this administration — which aims, in essence, to remake the entire world in America’s image — as being the antithesis of conservatism. Its goals are wildly unrealistic and are costing us dearly. By almost any measure, the war in Iraq has been disastrously unsuccessful.
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