Andrew Bacevich on American Militarism in the Middle East

Bacevich asks the question, “Where is the strategy?”

A nation priding itself on having the world’s greatest military – and we do – unquestionably have the world’s greatest military – has misused its military power on an epic scale. It’s not simply that we have not prevailed, although obviously we have not prevailed, rather it is that through a combination of naivete, short-sightedness, and hubris we have actually made matters worse. (10:17)

At 6:17 he asks the critical questions:

Does the war make sense?

Is it winnable?

If it’s not winnable, why are we there?

Does no alternative exist to pressing on with a policy that shows no sign of success?

Wow, those are great questions. He was asking them about Vietnam.

What to do about ISIS is a non-trivial question, he says. It’s a worthy question. But the four questions above all apply, also.

Money Shot: If the American Way Of Life depends on access to plentiful reserves of oil, then defending Canada and Venezuela should take precedence over defending Saudi Arabia and Iraq. (19:28)


If that’s not enough for you, his analysis here, of what happened in Gulf War I and II is amazingly perceptive: (29:50 on)

It’s so clear.


  1. Brian English says

    My inner Chomsky begs to differ. OK, I have no inner Chomsky, just as I have no universal grammar faculty. ;)
    The US didn’t lose Vietnam. Sure, they couldn’t conquer a poor country, but they did bomb it into the stone-age, and poison it, plus Laos for good measure. The US achieved victory. Firstly, its military-industrial complex was strengthened, and not-firstly, a message was sent to Indonesia, and other countries in the SE Asia, ane even Australia (the CIA coup-d’etat-ligere), that this is what you get, when you mess with US (pun intended, and for some reason I need to listen to Radiohead).
    The rich got richer because of Vietnam and Iraq, and are still getting richer. Is that not a victory (for the rich?).

  2. says

    There are significant voices that state outright that these ideas (which also arose as Colin Powell’s doctrine, and so on, they appear and appear) are naive in this modern world.

    I read a quite long and detailed piece in the WSJ a couple months ago that took this position at great and detailed length.

    It will not surprise you to learn that the rationale, once you cleared away the clutter of excess verbiage was “mumble mumble terrorism complicated modern world shifting goals mumble terrorists” But it *felt* like “well, the obvious answers are so tempting, but the world, she is so complicated and now you and I will share Deep Knowledge and you will be enlightened, and in the INSIDE TRACK”

    The point is that there are glib think tank residents who are firmly and convincingly (in a sense) arguing for endless war as a good thing and a necessary result of something something modern world. These are obvious apologists for the military industrial complex, and the goal is obviously to increase the consumption of materiel endlessly, but to a man like Trump, and indeed anyone even mildly hawkish in government, I have no doubt that they are entirely persuasive.

    Arguably we need to put a few of these guys heads on to spikes as a warning to the others.

  3. says

    Andrew Molitor@#2:
    Those squirrel people on the inside track, they are sometimes referred to as “the deep state” – I prefer Black Sabbath’s okd term “War Pigs” The problem is that they profit from the situation, and their self-worth and salary depends on perpetuating it. They WILL work to defeat the interest of the people – the ones who’ll do the bleeding and the paying.

    Addendum: I’m partway through a book about Able Archer 83 and it had some interesting stuff about how Reagan’s attempts at disarmament were deliberately scuttled by the management layer around the NSC. I’ll probably be doing a sort of book report about it, soonish. It’s very depressing.

  4. says

    Brian English@#1:
    Your inner Chomsky was a funny!! I have an inner blank slate…

    Your point is that “victory” is a fluid concept – when big things happen, there are winners and losers in fractal detail on both sides. The draftee who got his brains blown out committing war crimes: he and his victim lost. The war profiteers who made great revenues on his boots, and the airlines that carried the soldiers to the meat-grinder: they all won.

    As Lao Tzu writes: (emphasis added)

    The finest weapons can be the instruments of misfortune,
    And thus contrary to Natural Law.
    Those who possess the Tao turn away from them.

    Weapons are instruments of misfortune
    That are used by the unevolved.
    When their use is unavoidable,
    The superior act with calm restraint.

    Even when victorious, let there be no joy,
    For such joy leads to contentment with slaughter.
    Those who are content with slaughter
    Cannot find fulfillment in the world.

  5. invivoMark says

    @Marcus Ranum 4, regarding those last two Lao Tzu lines: clearly that’s wishful thinking! Sadly, human psychology does not always lead to moral outcomes.