[OPE] Bacevich's critique of US military policy

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sat Aug 16 2008 - 16:24:15 EDT

Is perpetual war our future? 
By Andrew Bacevich, Asia Times, 16 August 2008

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. (...)

According to the first lesson, the armed services - and above all the army - need to recognize that the challenges posed by Iraq and Afghanistan define not only the military's present but also its future, the "next war", as enthusiasts like to say. Rooting out insurgents, nation-building, training and advising "host nation" forces, population security and control, winning hearts and minds - these promise to be ongoing priorities, preoccupying US troops for decades to come, all across the Islamic world. (...) This prospect implies a rigorous integration of military action with political purpose. Hard power and soft power will merge. The soldier on the ground will serve as both cop and social worker. (...) (...) the second preliminary lesson drawn from Iraq and Afghanistan, (...) requires tilting the civil-military balance back in favor of the generals, untying the hands of senior commanders. (...) the third lesson of the Iraq War focuses on the need to repair the relationship between army and society. One way to do this is to junk the All-Volunteer Force altogether. Rather than rely on professionals, perhaps it makes sense to revive the tradition of the citizen-soldier. (...) In this way, a draft could reinvigorate American democracy, restore the governmental system of checks and balances, and constrain the warmongers inhabiting the executive branch. (...)

Reconfigure the armed services to fight "small wars"; empower the generals; reconnect soldiering to citizenship - on the surface each of these has a certain appeal. But upon closer examination, each also has large defects. They are the wrong lessons to take from Iraq and Afghanistan. (...) then what are the right ones? 

(...) War remains today what it has always been - elusive, untamed, costly, difficult to control, fraught with surprise, and sure to give rise to unexpected consequences. Only the truly demented will imagine otherwise. The second lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan derives from the first. As has been the case throughout history, the utility of armed force remains finite. (...) further reliance on coercive methods will not enable the United States to achieve its objectives. Whether the actual aim is to democratize the Islamic world or subdue it, the military "option" is not the answer. The Bush Doctrine itself provides the basis for a third lesson. For centuries, the Western moral tradition has categorically rejected the concept of preventive war. The events of 9/11 convinced some that this tradition no longer applied: old constraints had to give way. Yet our actual experience with preventive war suggests that, even setting moral considerations aside, to launch a war today to eliminate a danger that might pose a threat at some future date is just plain stupid. It doesn't work. (...) Finally, there is a fourth lesson, relating to the formulation of strategy. The results of US policy in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that in the upper echelons of the government and among the senior ranks of the officer corps, this has become a lost art. Since the end of the Cold War, the tendency among civilians - with Bush a prime example - has been to confuse strategy with ideology. (...)

Here we come face-to-face with the essential dilemma with which the United States has unsuccessfully wrestled since the Soviets deprived us of a stabilizing adversary. The political elite that ought to bear the chief responsibility for crafting grand strategy instead nurses fantasies of either achieving permanent global hegemony or remaking the world in America's image. (...) America doesn't need a bigger army. It needs a smaller - that is, more modest - foreign policy, one that assigns soldiers missions that are consistent with their capabilities. Modesty implies giving up on the illusions of grandeur to which the end of the Cold War and then 9/11 gave rise. It also means reining in the imperial presidents who expect the army to make good on those illusions. When it comes to supporting the troops, here lies the essence of a citizen's obligation. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JH16Ak02.html

While sympathetic to Bacevich's argument, I think myself most probably - realistically - the future of the US military is somewhere between these two opposed perspectives. It is unrealistic to expect the military will not perform a "cop/social worker" function, since that is precisely what they are doing more and more, around the world, like it or not. "Failed states" are the product of disintegrating societies in which the social order, in the absence of viable civil organisation, can be maintained only by force. 

It is equally unrealistic to expect an army to win a military campaign, if its leadership cannnot itself decide how to fight the campaign, and execute it according to professional judgement. Bringing the draft back in would invoke huge political opposition, but reorganising the "human" side of the army might make it more attractive as a job. 

It is true as Bacevich says that wars inevitably involve uncertainty, and that military action cannot substitute for politics. But the concept of a "preventive war" was only the "ideological surface justification" of a bid to vest geostrategic power in a region which has resources critical for the future of world business, based on a view of what is good for the world - the unifying ideology supplied the longterm goals for the strategy, even if lesser minds failed to grasp it (which might be a good thing, according to Kojeve, since if they knew, they might well disagree; people just don't know what's ultimately good for them). 

Colin Powell remarked elliptically "we will be in there as long as it takes", and John McCain has said plainly "it doesn't matter even if we're in there for a hundred years". In Brzezinski's geopolitical chessgame, you position your pieces in the most advantageous position to start off with, with a view to winning the game in future, whatever the scenario. Every position you occupy, provides an extra bargaining point and the opposition can only conquer that position at a cost to themselves. As they say, "you have to be in to win".

On the one hand, however, the polity cannot craft military strategy, only political strategy - the fault here lies in thinking that military presence can substitute for political strategy. On the other hand, the ideology of "what is good for the world" is faulty because it doesn't recognize that most non-Americans do not want to be like Americans (even if they buy American products), and military campaigns do not persuade them that they should want that. The war was falsely marketed as a "liberation" similar to the liberation of Europe from fascism in world war 2.

The false presumption is that American values represent universal human values, and they are not. A "permanent war" is obviously unwinnable because it is permanent, but all that means is that we are dealing with a justifying slogan for a permanent geostrategic project to assert global power, with the ability to define who the friends and the enemies really are. The "logic" is that what is good for the American oligarchy is good for America, and what is good for America is good for the world. Hence the need for American leadership. But if there is no proof and a lot of counterevidence, you get a leadership crisis.

The Bush regime thought they could make the world a better place by having a war, but the outcome is that it has exported America's own problems to the rest of the world, without solving them. Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy, and if domestic policy is no good, foreign policy will not be either. You cannot establish democracy simply on the point of a bayonet - Leon Trotsky already recognized that; it requires active support of the masses, and has to arise out of their own desire for political participation, responsibilities and civil rights. If the Russian revolution aiming to reconstruct society ended in human failure, under much more favourable circumstances, why expect a violent "regime change" without mass support to succeed in Iraq, or anywhere else? The real failure has been political, not military. The Americans assumed that they would be welcomed as liberators with open arms, and that the masses would enthusiastically support them in reconstructing their society, or at least that they could buy cooperation. That's a gigantic social scientific error.


ope mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sun Aug 31 2008 - 00:00:07 EDT