Andrew Bacevich: America’s War for the Greater Middle East

How do you end an endless war? Thirty years ago Jimmy Carter declared the Persian Gulf a “vital” focus of American foreign policy. Since then, U.S. forces have invaded, occupied, garrisoned, bombed or raided 18 nations, absorbing thousands of casualties and getting little in return in terms of peace or goodwill.

Andrew Bacevich, the military historian, veteran and professor of international relations at Boston University calls it America’s War for the Greater Middle East and says there’s no end in sight. This fall he’s teaching a twelve-week online course on the history of that long war: he begins it in the Iran hostage crisis during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, through stages of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the first Gulf War, then September 11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jump into our timeline and suggest your own alternative policy approaches or argue the premise.

Guest List
Andrew Bacevich
military historian and professor of international relations at Boston University, former officer in the United States Army, author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism
Hugh Roberts
professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University, former director of the North Africa project at the International Crisis Group
Melani McAlister
professor of international affairs at George Washington University, author of Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945
Reading List

We're taking as a point of departure Andrew Bacevich's piece in Notre Dame Magazine. His simple thesis:
Here’s another possibility. Since 1980, back when President Jimmy Carter promulgated the Carter Doctrine, the United States has been engaged in what we should rightfully call America’s War for the Greater Middle East. The premise underlying that war can be simply stated: with disorder, dysfunction and disarray in the Islamic world posing a growing threat to vital U.S. national security interests, the adroit application of hard power would enable the United States to check those tendencies and thereby preserve the American way of life... Only in retrospect does this become clear, of course. At the time President Carter declared the Persian Gulf a vital national security interest — that was the literal meaning of the Carter Doctrine — he did not intend to embark upon a war. Nor did he anticipate what course that war was going to follow — its duration, costs and consequences. Like the European statesmen who a hundred years ago touched off the cataclysm we know today as World War I, Carter merely lit a fuse without knowing where it led.
Bacevich favors broad disengagement from the region, and the online course this fall, offered through BUx, will be the place to pick up the hard foreign-policy lessons of the war.

Of course there are still voices urging that we stay involved, especially Robert Kagan's much-criticized piece in The New Republic, "Superpowers Don't Get to Retire."

What is the force that keeps Americans deployed or deploying to Middle Eastern locales? Is it oil? A clash of civilizations? One account of the Iraq War that stands out came from our friend Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, in his new book, The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative WarIdrees writes:
The Iraq War cannot be explained by reference to economic or ideological structures alone. It had its agents (the neoconservatives) and its trigger (9/11). It was executed by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, but Iraq in the end was a neoconservative not only because the neoconservatives had wanted it longer, but also because without their specific contributions to the case for war... the war would not have happened... The neoconservatives succeeded because they operate within a political consensus that sees US global dominance as the desired end and military force as the necessary, if not preferred, means.

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