Friday, March 28, 2008

A call for a new military policy

Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich writes about how to get beyond the horros of the Bush Doctrine in The Great Divide Commonweal by 03/28/08. Bacevich looks at various developments since the Nixon administration, emphasizing:


  • The "Great Divorce" which "gave birth to a new professional military with an ethos that emphasized the differences between soldiers and civilians" starting in the Nixon days.
  • The "Great Reconstitution" of Reagan's administration which "converted the officer corps to the view that technology held the secret to future military victories".
  • "Great Expectations" which manifested themselves in "peacemaking, peacekeeping, and 'humanitarian intervention'" during the administrations of Old Man Bush and Bill Clinton.
Bacevich sees the latter as reaching its fullest and ugliest development so far during the Cheney-Bush administration:

During his single term as president, George H. W. Bush made substantial headway in dismantling the inhibitions implied by the Vietnam Syndrome. Bill Clinton completed the task: during his eight years in the Oval Office, armed intervention became so frequent that it almost ceased to be newsworthy. Yet George W. Bush did most to promote the theme of Great Expectations. After 9/11, the forty-third president committed the United States to a policy of preventive war, the so-called Bush Doctrine. As part of his "Freedom Agenda," he also vowed to use American power to liberate the greater Middle East, end tyranny, and vanquish evil from the face of the earth. (my emphasis)
But Bush's overreach has crashed hard into reality, however little his remaining fans may want to admit it. He has assigned a massive load of intervention to the armed forces. But was unwilling to expand those forces to more realistically meet those goals.


Doing so would have meant that good Republican white kids would be facing a draft. And the Republican Party since Nixon has made avoiding such a burden a key element in their core mission to comfort the comfortable.

Bacevich suggests three themes which could serve the country well in a new Presidency. He doesn't say that none of these will happen under a McCain administration, though it's pretty obvious on the face of it. That doesn't mean that an Obama or Clinton administration would fully embrace them. The peace movement will have to make that happen. His three themes:

With regard to the use of force, the United States should revert to the just-war tradition. The next president should explicitly abrogate the Bush Doctrine, which is both normatively and pragmatically defective. Put simply, preventive war is wrong and it doesn't workNever again should the United States wage a war of aggression.. [A double-Amen! to that!!] Instead, we should treat force as a last resort, to be used only after exhausting all other options. We should wage war exclusively for defensive purposes. Adhering to the just-war tradition will go far toward alleviating the current disparity between ends and means.

When it comes to strategy, the United States should adopt a policy of containment. The next president should give up any fantasies about ending tyranny or expunging evil. Those tasks fall within God's purview. While violent Islamic radicalism does pose a serious (although not existential) threat to our security and that of our allies, the proper response to that threat is not global war but a concerted effort to prevent the Islamists from doing us harm. This implies an emphasis on effective defenses, comprehensive intelligence collection and surveillance, and aggressive international police work - not the invasion and occupation of countries in the Islamic world.

With regard to civil-military relations, the next president will face an especially daunting challenge. What we need appears quite clear: for American citizens to acknowledge their own accountability for what American soldiers are sent to do and for all that occurs as a consequence. To classify Iraq as "Bush's war" is to perpetrate a fraud. Whether that conflict is moral or immoral, essential or unnecessary, winnable or beyond salvaging, it is very much the nation's war. Vacuously "supporting the troops" while carrying on for all practical purposes as if the war did not exist amounts to an abdication of basic civic responsibility. (my emphasis)
I'm reminded in seeing that last sentence that Bacevich, who was opposed to the Iraq War from the beginning, lost a son in the war this past year.

He makes a thoughtful point about calling the Iraq War "Bush's War". Actually, I tend to call it McCain's War or Cheney's War. But his basic point there is correct: as American citizens, we all have a responsibility for this disaster, whether we originally supported the war or not.

Bacevich is specific that he does not advocate a draft. He advocates having a foreign policy that lives within the realistic limits of the military the public is willing to support by volunteering.

That same issue of Commonweal carries an editorial, Stop It, opposing the twisted version of Christian theology Bush encourages in support of his Global War on Terror (GWOT):

Many bad arguments have been advanced for the war in Iraq, and the president has used almost all of them over the past five years. He has variously claimed that Iraq posed an imminent military threat, was involved in 9/11, demanded humanitarian intervention, or that it offered a rare opportunity to establish democracy in the Middle East. Yet surely the worst, and perhaps the most offensive, argument for launching such a preventive war is the claim that every human being bears the image of our maker. Christians and non-Christians alike should tell President Bush to stop it-to stop using Christian language to justify his decision to go to war. (my emphasis)
This editorial applies the Christian theory of just war:

Christianity teaches that war, even a just war, is evidence of humanity’s sinfulness. ... The Christian community has long taught that all who kill, even those who fight in a just cause, are implicated in that sinfulness. ... it was not uncommon for bishops in the early church to deny Communion to soldiers for a year after they returned from war.
They also quote Bacevich's article:

Loving our enemies does not mean we should not resist them, although Jesus confronted his precisely by not resisting. Nor does loving our enemies mean that we refrain from naming evil when we see it. Perhaps one way to understand what it means to love one's enemies is to recognize the ambiguity of our own motives and the fallibility and limitations of our actions, especially in war. As Bacevich writes, "The next president should give up any fantasies about ending tyranny or expunging evil. Those tasks fall within God's purview." (my emphasis)
Actually, I would partially dissent on the latter point. Ending tyranny is the business the people living under those tyrannies and of the human community. But it shouldn't be done by wars of aggression by bomb, shoot and torture foreign countries into being free. War itself is a horrible evil.

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