[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Andrew Bacevich will discuss his new book — and the limits of American power in the Bush era — for a full hour on “Bill Moyers Journal,” Friday, August 15th. Don’t miss it. If you’re watching the Olympics, TIVO it or look for a repeat.]
To the problem of an overstretched, over-toured military, there is but one answer in Washington. Both presidential candidates (along with just about every other politician in our nation’s capital) are on record wanting to significantly expand the Army and the Marines. In his remarkable new book, The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism, Andrew Bacevich suggests a solution to the American military crisis that might seem obvious enough, if only both parties weren’t so blinded by the idea of our “global reach,” by a belief, however wrapped in euphemisms, in our imperial role on this planet, and by the imperial Pentagon and presidency that go with it: reduce the mission. It’s a particularly timely observation to which Bacevich returns in part two of his TomDispatch series, adapted from his new book. (Click here for part one, “Illusions of Victory.”)
Unfortunately, the mission looks all-too-ready to expand, no matter who makes it to the White House in January. Just last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, increasingly being mentioned in the media as a possible carry-over appointment for either candidate, endorsed a $20 billion down payment on our future role in Afghanistan — to be used to double the size of the Afghan army — and a restructuring of the U.S. and NATO commands in that country. All of this is meant as preparation for a new president’s agreement to consign yet more American troops to our war there. This, in a phrase Bacevich has used in another context, is no less “the path to perdition” for the globe’s former “sole superpower” than was the dec! ision of a small country in the Caucasus to essentially launch a war, no matter the provocation, against its energy-superpower neighbor. This way to the madhouse, ladies and gentlemen.
Consider, in this context, the immodest lessons our leaders have chosen to learn from the Bush era, and then, with Bacevich, what lessons we might actually learn if we seriously (and far more modestly) considered the real limits of American power. Tom
Is Perpetual War Our Future?
To appreciate the full extent of the military crisis into which the United States has been plunged requires understanding what the Iraq War and, to a lesser extent, the Afghan War have to teach. These two conflicts, along with the attacks of September 11, 2001, will form the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s legacy. Their lessons ought to constitute the basis of a new, more realistic military policy.
In some respects, the effort to divine those lessons is well under way, spurred by critics of President Bush’s policies on the left and the right as well as by reform-minded members of the officer corps. Broadly speaking, this effort has thus far yielded three distinct conclusions. Whether taken singly or together, they invert the post-Cold War military illusions that provided the foundation for the president’s Global War on Terror. In exchange for these received illusions, they propound new ones, which are equally misguided. Thus far, that is, the lessons drawn from America’s post-9/11 military experience are the wrong ones.