Andrew Bacevich: how war without end became the rule

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Andrew Bacevich (43 minutes, 20 mb mp3)

Andrew Bacevich is the soldier turned writer who’s still unlearning and puncturing the Washington Rules of national security. The rules have turned into doctrines, he’s telling us, of global war forever. He is talking about the scales that have fallen from the eyes of a slow learner, as he calls himself — a dutiful, conformist Army officer who woke up at the end of the Cold War twenty years ago to the thought that the orthodoxy he’d accepted was a sham.

Andrew Bacevich’s military career ran from West Point to Vietnam to the first Gulf War in 1991. The short form of the story he’s been writing for a decade now is: how unexamined failure in Vietnam became by today a sort of repetition compulsion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington Rules is Andrew Bacevich’s fourth book in a project to unmask American empire, militarism, over-reach and what sustains them.

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  • nother

    “I’ve waited all my life for this! I’ve eaten untold buckets of shit and I don’t intend to give it up now! You don’t know what it feels like to be passed over. I mean you’r young, your just out of the academy, you’ve got your war. This is fifteen years, this is my first war! Haha, some day your understand. Your like a son to me, John. You know what my son does? He’s a bait salesman. You’ve done a hell of a job, John. I’m going to make sure you get everything, everything you deserve.”

    – Lt. Col. Gordon Tall played by Nick Nolte in “The Thin Red Line.”

    “I’m a war president. I make decisions here in the Oval Office in foreign-policy matters with war on my mind.”

    -G.W. Bush

    There are over 2 million people (active and reserve) in the United States military. 2 million people who have trained for war. Who will get promoted in war. Who will get medals from war. Find an identity in war – Privates, Lt. Col., Commander-in-Chiefs.

    You wouldn’t train 2 million people to swing a bat, throw a pitch, make a catch…and then play no baseball.

  • Eric Jurgensen

    The steady erosion of the middle class ever since the Vietnam War has provided the military with a reliable resource of recruits for our private army – the poor. No more draft to get people stirred up. And, to add another angle to a previous comment, you wouldn’t have a military budget that is 50% of GNP and then not use the resultant product. Why are cuts to the military budget always “off the table”?

  • Potter

    Obama is very intelligent in a certain ways, but I think he lacks the ability to appeal on a deeper emotional level- and he lacks ( apparently) the courage to do so. Which is such a shame because the bully pulpit is a powerful place, and Obama has the ability.

    Every word, every question, every answer in this interview with Andrew Bacevich, I feel is golden and coming from a clarity depth and seriousness we do not have in our national conversation. Our leaders are so wrapped in selfish and partisan goals. Bacevich calls this the Washington rules.But it takes a public too uninterested to make this country so out of itself, a public that has abdicated for so many years that it’s now normal and patriotic to go shopping ( Wordsworth: getting and spending we lay waste our powers). Incoherent Tea Party complainers, people who seem to have just woken up from a long sleep, don’t blame themselves either.

    Just as we have been prevented from feeling the pain of war because there is no draft and news coverage of war is not in our face all the time, so too we have been avoiding having a public discussion on this deeper level.

    GWBush said, I remember, ( making an argument for the Iraq war when the issue of Viet Nam kept rising) that the reason we did not win the Viet Nam war was that we ( the military) were not allowed to win it . Bush was repeating the other narrative that has been alive since we left Viet nam- that the war protesters, and Democrats prevented winning that war. We could have won it, in other words had we stayed and fought on. This is from a president who avoided combat himself, who managed, with help of family position, to find a privileged place during his military “service” (then apparently not showing up for duty much either). At the time (the Bush/Gore campaign) it was all covered over and it was much more important to get rid of one of the messengers, the too liberal, too outspoken newsman Dan Rather.

    We have since evolved into a society that swallows whole the egregious lies of right wing talk radio and Fox news which is going 24 7 in many public places, hotel lobbies etc.

    Bravo for Bacevich being out there saying all these things. I am afraid that only those who already know what he is saying will nod in sad agreement.

    As always,

    Thank you Chris

  • Potter

    PS- I contradict myself ( maybe because I am perplexed) when I say that Obama does not have the ability but has the ability. Maybe he has the ability, which he has shown us in his campaign, but not the courage to use it, instead taking the advice of political advisors ( which is a choice).

    The moment Obama came into power he wanted the past to be the past and to simply go forward, which was very unwise, but maybe a calculated political move. So we missed the opportunity to hold those who took us into this war accountable. This war was a a much bigger violation of who we supposedly are, or who we think we are, even though we have maybe been waltzing up to this in the recent past. And we also don’t discuss why we are still in Iraq ans may continue to be. Nor do we discuss, maybe more importantly why we continue on in Afghanistan. It’s as though a reset button has been pushed, though we have been at this 9 years already. Where is the public on this? We don’t feel it. And we don’t connect joblessness (lack of of stimulus needed to jump start jobs, repairing, building infrastructure) with war spending.

    Implied in this conversation is Eisenhower’s warning about the military industrial complex which I think is Bacevich’s “Washington Rules”

  • Pete Crangle

    Great discussion. Thank you Mr. Bacevich and Chris.

    Here’s a cursory musing regarding the absence of an inquiry: It’s painful to examine a wound’s cause, but often more painful not to examine it. In this case there has been little pain distributed across the population and not much of a wound among the population, outside of the professional soldier class. So, there’s no critical mass or motivation. In contrast, Europeans have some recent history on the consequences of such adventures, so there is more likelihood of inquiry into causes and execution of these sorts of campaigns. Recent bloodbath memories coupled to some quasi democratic processes may be motivating for inquiry, so this may be why there is more of an appetite for this sort of thing in say the UK. This can lead to improvements and prevention, issues that would be considered of negligible value for A Lone Super Power and the military/corporate class structures who benefit from such campaigns.

    My cynical comment using an approximate quote from Professor Einstein: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” An inquiry to examine this problem cannot be effective if it is mediated and handled by the same professional class that created them.

    The specialists who execute these campaigns obviously must be included in any such an inquiry to have meaning, but should not be involved in its structure, mediation, and execution. Thus, I’m referring to the political class, as well as, the military/industrial/media operative class. (Yes, I included the media as part of the stakeholders involved in war campaigns. Whether ‘they’ or ‘it’ traffic in information or propaganda is often informed by one’s POV. However, it’s impossible for me to imagine how a wars of these scope could take place without the cooperation of the media class. The media class begins its cooperation by using the same lexicon as the military and the political class e.g. collateral damage, terrorists, insurgents, interrogations, etc, not to mention a host of other low hanging fruit issues which would be a variety of assertions made unchallenged by various media specialists).

    So, if you remove the political, media, military, industrial class, then who would be left to handle such a matter? Furthermore, an inquiry without accountability and the potential for punishment is an open question from the perspective of learning from prior mistakes in an effort not to repeat them. I personally am not one to believe that accountability and punishment will solve such problems, but it’s difficult to come to a conclusion as to what will. Moreover, the potential for punishment could lead to deeper divisions in the already absurdly overwrought culture wars, stoked by media mind-share hackers. Yet, without accountability, the divisions grow deeper, the cynicism more resilient, and eventually what we reap is systemic apathy. An apathy which is unwilling to examine the effectiveness, the legality, the ethics, etc. of waging military campaigns of the kind described in this discussion.