Vet Colonel Scathes Gulf Military Policy, Prez Hopefuls
A retired Army colonel – who is also a Vietnam veteran, military historian and best-selling author — has issued a clear, concise condemnation of America’s four-decade foreign policy in the Middle East, as well as ominous criticism of presidential candidates Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz.
Andrew J. Bacevich, a 20-year Army veteran and now a professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University, is author of the new book America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. He was interviewed Friday, April 8, on the TV program “Democracy Now” about the premise of his book, and also his view of the current presidential hopefuls.
Endless Gulf Wars
Concerning Middle East involvement, Bacevich said the U.S. has a “failed” policy which has “abused” the American military. In his book, he observes:
From the end of World War II to 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in that region. Within a decade, a great shift occurred. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere except in the Greater Middle East. President [Jimmy] Carter neither intended nor foresaw that transformation — any more than European statesmen in the summer of 1914 intended or foresaw the horrors they were unleashing. But he, like they, can hardly be absolved of responsibility for what was to follow.
“Democracy Now” host Amy Goodman played three brief clips quoting three presidents — George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — all stating “we will prevail” in the Middle East. She asked Bacevich, “Have we prevailed in any way?”
Well, we haven’t. And I have to say, those are exquisitely chosen clips, because they really do illustrate what’s the point of my book. And that is that we have been engaged militarily in the Greater Middle East, large parts of the Islamic world, for going on four decades. We’ve engaged in innumerable interventions—large, small, brief, protracted—and we have yet to come anywhere close to achieving our aims. Whether we define our aims as restoring stability or promoting democracy or reducing the prevalence of anti-Americanism, it’s not happening. And arguably, our military efforts are actually making things worse.
In his interview, Bacevich concisely described the four-decade evolution of America’s futile Gulf policy:
…prior to the beginning of the Cold War, the United States was not a great military power. We raised forces from time to time to deal with some particular issue, but it was in the wake of the Cold War that we, as a nation, decided on a permanent basis to maintain a large military establishment. For the first several decades of that Cold War, the United States had two priorities. We were willing to fight for Western Europe. We were willing to fight—did fight—in East Asia. We were not willing to fight for the Middle East. That changes in 1980, specifically a particular moment in January of 1980, when President Jimmy Carter, in his State of the Union address, promulgates what’s known as the Carter Doctrine…
…Carter himself had no understanding of the implications that would flow from that statement. What happens, on an immediate basis, is that the national security bureaucracy now redefines its priorities and begins to orient itself toward the possibility of armed intervention by U.S. forces in the [Middle East] region. And over the course of the next 10 years, that process begins: [Ronald] Reagan sending peacekeepers into Lebanon, the initial jousting with Colonel Gaddafi in Libya, support for Saddam Hussein, of all people, in what I refer to as the first Gulf War—that’s the Gulf War of 1980 to ’88, pitting Iraq against Iran, with the United States coming to the aid of Iraq. So, Carter starts the process of militarizing U.S. policy, which, over time, deepens, becomes more frequent, becomes more ambitious and becomes more costly, bringing us to where we are today in 2016, where we continue to hear these speeches by presidents insisting — insisting that we will prevail — when obviously we have not.
Bacevich’s view basically coincides with our analysis stated in our Oct. 18, 2015 reality column headlined “Obama Widens Carter’s, Bush’s Global-Rule Policies”. In that column we detailed the Brzezinski Plan under President Carter and the Wolfowitz Doctrine under George W. Bush.
Presidential Candidates as Dangerous Hawks
Bacevich expressed grave concern about the hawkish views of presidential candidates Trump and Cruz on the Republican side and Clinton on the Democratic. He described Trump as having an infantile personality unfit for the role of commander in chief, and slapped Cruz for surrounding himself with “Islamophobes”:
I have a five-year-old grandson, who I love dearly, and he’s a wonderful boy. He also has a tendency to blurt out whatever happens to be passing through his mind. And it seems to me that Donald Trump, who is not five years old, suffers from the same sort of inclination. And it suggests that he would be an enormously dangerous commander-in-chief. And I think we all recognize people say things on the campaign trail that may not actually reflect their intentions were they to be in office, but there does come—there are moments when the gap between what’s being said and what ought to be done by any responsible person, when that gap is so broad that the rhetoric itself, I think, becomes a disqualifying factor.
But let me quickly add, it’s not clear to me that Senator Cruz, who is the apparent alternative, is, by any inclination, any better. And if you take a look at the people Cruz is surrounding himself with as foreign policy advisers, that, to my mind, is deeply troubling…we’ve got Islamophobes. We’ve got General—retired Lieutenant General Boykin, who, for all practical purposes, sees the war for the Greater Middle East as an exercise in Judeo-Christian jihad. I mean, he is keen to go slay the Muslims and, clearly, views Islam itself as the enemy.
Of Clinton, Bacevich stated:
…Secretary Clinton is an unreconstructed hawk. Now, in terms of the rhetoric, she comes across as more reasoned than the Republican opposition, but the fact of the matter is, if we elect her to be our next commander-in-chief, we are voting for the continuation of the status quo with regard to U.S. national security policy, and specifically U.S. national security policy in the Greater Middle East. So, for people for whom that is an important issue, who want to see change in U.S. policy, she’s not going to be the vehicle for change.
Bacevich’s statement was in response to Goodman’s quoting Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s Democratic opponent, who criticized the former Secretary of State as having a pro-war stance. Other than that, Bacevich did not discuss Sanders. Nor did he speak of third-party candidates.
But Bacevich did explain his own stance on supporting the renewal of a military draft:
I think that one of the unintended consequences of ending the draft, creating a professional military, was to create a gap between the military and society. Now, we don’t acknowledge that gap. Matter of fact, we deny the existence of that gap by all of the rhetorical tributes that are paid to the troops and the obligation that we all have to, quote-unquote, “support the troops.” The reality, I think, is that when it really comes down to it, the American people don’t pay much attention to how the troops are being used. And because they’re not paying attention, the troops have been subjected to abuse. That is to say, they’ve been sent to fight wars that are unnecessary. The wars have been mismanaged. The wars go on far longer than they ought to. And we respond by letting people in uniform be the first to board airplanes. And I think, frankly, that that is disgraceful and that it actually ought to be one of the things that gets discussed in a presidential campaign, but tends not to, sadly.
We expressed a similar frustration regarding the American public’s lack of concern for our troops in a 2012 column in The Clyde Fitch Report: “Memorial Day: Recalling and Caring for Our Constant Brave”.
Goodman asked Bacevich, who lost a son serving in Iraq in 2007, “What do you want these presidential candidates—what do you want to hear from them? What do you want them to say to you?”
What they ought to say to us, not simply to me because of my personal circumstances—what they ought to say is: ‘I understand that we, as a nation, have been engaged in this war for going on four decades now, and I have learned something from that experience. I have taken on board what the United States tried to do militarily and what it actually ended up doing and what the consequence is that resulted. And here’s what I’ve learned, and here’s how I’m going to ensure, if you elect me commander-in-chief, that we will behave in ways that are wiser and more prudent and more enlightened in the future.’ In other words, they have to look beyond simply the question of how many more bombs are we going to drop on ISIS. That is a secondary consideration. They have to have some appreciation of the history, that I try to lay out in this book.