Andrew Bacevich Comments on Self-Damaging Wars, the Absence of Strategy, and Dangerous Leadership


andrew bacevich twn.jpg
(Andrew Bacevich talking with Bill Moyers)
Fire Dog Lake has some of the best book salons on the web. They run in real time for two hours with a web-based exchange between an author and FDL readers. I have had the pleasure of hosting two of these — one with Jacob Heilbrunn on his book, They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, and another with Jane Mayer on her best-selling The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals.
TPMCafe also does excellent salons — and this week, starting tomorrow (Monday), I’ll be participating with some others in a week long exchange with Pulitzer Prize winning author Barton Gellman on his book, Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency. Should be an interesting week as well, and for those interested, my review of the Gellman book was published here.
But tonight, while in Germany, I got a note here that Andrew Bacevich, early Iraq War opponent and author of the new Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism was going to be online. I have become a genuine fan of Bacevichian thinking.
Bacevich’s commentary, moderated by Chris Hedges, is straight, blunt, level-headed and smartly strips down the Bush administration foreign policy disaster into its component pieces. And like an increasing number of others, Bacevich’s concerns are growing that Obama may have a tough time changing course. He’s keeping his powder dry on Obama though to see what his next appointments and first moves will be.
I have reposted below a good number of Andrew Bacevich’s responses to questions. I’m not going to post the questions as the answers themselves stand fine without them. There are a number that out to find their way into a book of aphorisms.
From Andrew Bacevich’s salon on Fire Dog Lake:
I’d say that we have entered an age that blends conspicuous consumption with corporate capitalism run amok and imperial overstretch. In short, the problem we face has multiple dimensions and won’t be easily fixed just because we are about to install a young, charismatic, and very smart president in the White House. One of the points I try to make in the book is that our predicament is in many ways a cultural one — we’ll need to change the culture to get out of this mess.
On the meaning of freedom: I hesitate to offer a definition. We live in a pluralist society so no one definition can possibly satisfy everyone. I believe, however, that any meaningful understanding of freedom has to be tethered to truth. The citizen reduced to consumer does not satisfy that standard.
What is the war on terror “about”?
My own view is this: the object of the exercise is to transform the Greater Middle East, thereby ensuring that this part of the world will no longer breed terrorists intent on killing us while also ensuring our access to strategically critical resources.
My guess is that different members of the administration entertained different meanings of “transformation.” For Cheney / Rumsfeld, transformation probably implied dominion or hegemony. For Bush / Wolfowitz, it probably meant something closer to the removal of tyrants and the export of democracy — pacification rather than dominion.
Regardless, the intent was to use American power — hard and soft — to bring about big change expected to be conducive to our interests.
Because the Bush administration both failed to understand the region of the world they set out to change and wildly overstated American power this scheme never had a chance of succeeding.

Whether Obama will embrace or junk the Global War on Terror as the organizing principle of US national security policy is certainly one of the $64 questions of the next six months.
The repudiation of the Iraq War that was at the center of his campaign early on made me hopeful that he’d junk the entire Bush approach to foreign policy.
Of late, I’m less hopeful — the promises to send more troops to Afghanistan strike me as simple-minded at best, more likely outright stupid.

I’ve come to believe that American Exceptionalism is the root of all evils.
Once you decide that you’re God’s new Chosen People, self-awareness becomes very difficult.
We need to shed our sense of uniqueness and our sense of entitlement. We need to become a normal nation.
Of course, that’s akin to saying that we should abandon our identity — which isn’t likely to happen.

If Obama persists in the GWOT — persistence is likely to mean gradual draw-down from Iraq combined with an intensified military effort in Afghanistan / Pakistan — then collapse will come when the army and the Marine Corps finally fall apart. That this has not already occurred is a tribute to the remarkable durability of the force. But that durability has limits. Once the services begin to deteriorate, the GWOT will be unsustainable.
Advice on Afghanistan: pay attention to history. Effective governance has never been exercised from Kabul. Local tribal leaders have always run the place. That should be okay with us so long as Al Qaeda is denied sanctuary. We should provide incentives to local leaders so that they will see it in their interest to keep Al Qaeda out.
Signs of the services falling apart will include the following:
Junior officers and career NCOs bailing out in large numbers (some evidence that this has already begun).
Reenlistment rates falling (this is not happening — very large re-up bonuses have been a factor).
Problems of indiscipline — AWOLs, drugs, malingering
Collective resistance — small units refusing to go on missions

Normal nations pay their bills.
Becoming a normal nation means having imports and exports in some sort of rough balance.
It means having a federal government that, genuine emergencies apart, is solvent.
It means not asserting prerogatives — such as the Bush Doctrine of preventive war — that are (rightly) denied to all others.
It means giving up on the delusion that we grasp history’s purpose and have a God-given responsibility to bring history to its intended destination.

The market can’t solve all of our problems but it can solve some of them. As the fossil fuel crisis worsens (costs plus environmental degradation) entrepreneurs will seize the moment to create alternative sources of energy. Won’t be neat, pretty, or cheap, but I don’t expect the country to grind to a halt. I do expect the country we end up with to look a lot different from the one we have now.
Within six months after 9/11 I had the impression that fear had pretty much dissipated everywhere except in Washington. Whenever Bush made some remark about the nation being “at war,” I sensed that apart from people in the military and those living inside the Beltway, no one knew what he was talking about.
The honor code to which officers subscribe is very real — and yet very limited.
Outright corruption — people being on the take — is relatively rare. So too is blatant lying.
But there is a subtler form of corruption that comes from being “loyal” to an institution such as the army and from wanting to get ahead in that institution. That’s the corruption that suppresses any inclination for critical thinking or for speaking candidly regardless of the personal consequences.
The military profession rewards courage of a certain type and is intolerant of other types of courage.

[Condoleezza Rice] not worth evaluating. She was an utter failure as national security adviser and is the least consequential secretary of state since Cordell Hull spent World War II being ignored by FDR.
On David Petraeus. . .Very smart, savvy, and politically sophisticated. His achievements in Iraq are real but less significant (and probably less permanent) than the current conventional wisdom suggests. A failure, in my mind, in his inability or refusal to face up to the defects of the GWOT as a basis for policy.
I find it distressing. The “support the troops” rhetoric generally makes me want to puke. I find it phony in the extreme. We should support the troops in ways more meaningful than fastening a bumper sticker to our SUVs. A good place to start would be to ensure that the troops are not subjected to abuse as they have been in recent years.
In response to my question on whether Obama will deploy game-changing strategies or not. . .
Steve –
I’m waiting to see who he appoints to senior national security positions.
Will Kerry or Clinton as Sec State suggest that we are en route to “changing the way Washington works”? I don’t think so.
But that aside, the man is going to be mightily constrained by institutional and fiscal considerations — not to mention the fact that his election doesn’t change realities in Iran, Pakistan, the West Bank, etc.
I do wish the new president well, but he will almost inevitably disappoint those who view his election as evidence of deliverance.

— Steve Clemons


38 comments on “Andrew Bacevich Comments on Self-Damaging Wars, the Absence of Strategy, and Dangerous Leadership

  1. Tuma says:

    One of the difficulties with checks and balances comes when the
    country is evenly divided and those divisions can be “played” for
    power gains. Then checks and balances means that nothing
    gets done–a real problem when a LOT needs to get done and
    in a hurry. FDR, of course, ran into this.
    Obama’s middle course–to name it crudely–is an attempt to
    thread this needle. The right wing claimed his was a flaming
    liberal. Now those on the progressive are wringing their hands
    that he’s appointing Clinton re-treads with “no new ideas” and
    isn’t going to throw Bush et al in jail.
    I think this misses the point. Aside from the overriding need to
    get competent people in place fast…Obama is trying to pacify
    the divisions that have the system locked up and incapable of
    addressing the country’s pressing needs. It’s a healing process
    as much as anything else…healing that has to take place while a
    lot of very hard work goes on around it.


  2. Tuma says:

    “The most profound idea the founders ever had was the idea of
    “checks and balances”, the notion that power in a society should
    be institutionally balanced in such a way as to prevent some
    power centers from dominating and destroying other power
    centers. But the idea that the United States might itself become
    part of a global system in which its own power is checked and
    balanced in this way, seems anathema to crusading
    exceptionalists, liberal and conservative alike.”
    I guess it comes down to something like…”What is the ‘unit’ you
    care about and are willing to subordinate yourself to?” Is it just
    yourself? Your family? Your town or city? Your ethnic group?
    Your state? Your country? Your race? Or your basic humanity?
    It takes a profound shift in consciousness to move from a
    dualistic “we are different from them” focus–and giving them
    more means less for us– to a “we are one” focus–and sharing
    the pie means a net plus for the most number of people and
    therefore for “me.” Or, to put it a bit less ‘spiritually,’ a shift to
    thinking of everyone else as neighbors/family members on this
    Some people say that it will take a disaster to bring this sort of
    consciousness to the surface. Tragedy often does have that
    effect on a personal level. You stop caring about the nonsense
    that once consumed you. On a slightly bigger canvas, when the
    lights go out in New York, New York becomes just one big small
    town. 9/11 had that effect.
    Not to get too weird, but the arrival of visitors from another
    planet might have the same, perhaps an even more profound,
    effect. The 1950s sci-fi movies are often read as metaphors for
    the Red Scare. But at a deeper level, they are about “what is the
    primary unit you belong to?”
    Obama’s bi-racial identity brings this issue to the surface as
    well. Which unit does he belong to? He belongs to both. So his
    very fact starts to stimulate this level of consciousness in the


  3. Stephen K. Mack says:

    Why don’t you interview Dan Kervick? He seems well informed,writes beautifully,and has a grasp of the issues.
    I find your wed site always interesting and challenging but might you be addicted to a “Manderinism” of your own particular kind?
    The world of opinion is not made up solely of academics and public servants, past or present.
    Dan Kervick let me second Paul Norheim, brilliant post!!!!Thank you.


  4. Jack Eames says:

    It would have been helpful if you had mentioned Bacevich’s long career in the military. Many of his comments about the army seem presumptious if you don’t know that.


  5. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    JohnH…I got a big chuckle being reminded of the Sicilian attitude toward change and the American version…thanks.. Your discussion of our Faustian bargain on energy independence reminds me of a Jamaican saying..”If a thing doesn’t agree with you, continue it till you die.”
    Speaking of big time racketeering…here’s Naomi Klein on the least mobsters don’t pretend gambling is not gambling..
    TonyForresta.. Cabal does it for me and speaking of big time crime families here is Juan Cole on the fake hunt for Bin Laden.
    Of course it’s not really news…anyone who read Michael Scheuer’s book Imperial Hubris knows we helped Bin Laden escape and the handful of Special Forces who witnessed it all co-incidentally murdered their wives and committed suicide…well at least they didn’t wake up with a horse’s head on their bed…but then when you consider that only Bin Ladens were allowed to fly on 9/12 after Poppy Bush had lunch with Bin Ladens on 9/10, how many more dots does one need to connect to get the picture? Glad you started ending you posts with “Deliver us from evil” again…it’s a good thought to keep.
    POA …FLEM sound icky enough….
    Dan Kevick…Skull and Bones did come to mind and let’s not forget the CIA….
    cludlow…every time I hear some politican or pundit saying we’re the greatest, it makes me cringe….an exaggerated sense of superiority is predicated on a deep sense of inferiority and implies an inability to be equal…I heard Tom Brokow on election night say we’re the greatest democracy on earth because we invented it…then he corrected himself and said Brittain did, but that’s not correct either…Rome did…actually they were so adverse to concentrating power in any one man, their executive branch was a triumverate….I don’t know why anyone would think we are the greatest democracy in the world… Europeans are just as democratic…actually Italy has the highest voter participation with 97% voter turnout and their gov’t has the good sense and dignity to step down the minute they lose a consensus… the Scandinavian countries are fabulous at taking good care of their people, better then we do. there are many examples of countries that surpass us in some respcts…
    If anyone is interested in learning about the Sicilian character, there’s a great old black and white movie starring James Mason and filmed in Sicily…It’s called With a Flower in His Mouth if you watch it, bear in mind that the Night of the Sicilian Vespers was sparked by a Frenchman insulting a Sicilian woman in church one Sunday morning…by the end of that famous night, every Frenchman on the island had lost his head, literally. Sicily and Palestine have something in common, that of having their country given away by some outside entity…


  6. cludlow says:

    “American exceptionalism has been replaced with American humility and the searing realization that imperialism, predation, and world domination are NOT in the peoples best interests.”
    You think? I wish.


  7. TonyForesta says:

    True that cludlow. American exceptionalism has been replaced with American humility and the searing realization that imperialism, predation, and world domination are NOT in the peoples best interests. Better to repair our own glass houses, than to continue hurling stones at our competitors or percieved enemies. America can only lead by example, and tragically the example we have set in blood and stone over the last eight years is one of tyranny, lawlessness, perversion, treason, and wanton profiteering. How can any nation look to America for guidance or some sense of justice and order? How can we teach our children about America and ignore or shadow or shield thier ears and eyes from the horrors, perversions, radical deceptions, betrayals, and wanton profiteering of the America in the last eight years. Reconciliation is a bitter pill I am willing to swallow, – but allowing the fascists in the bushgov to escape accountability is off the table. Accountability to our own laws, the principles of the rule of law, and the Constitution are non-negotiable. If we barter away these laws, these principles, and the Constitution for political expediency – then what are we as a nation? What do we teach out children? What image do we project to the rest of the civilized world?


  8. cludlow says:

    There is a way we Americans are taught to think, that we are the best, everyone loves us, wants to be like us, would love to abandon their birthplaces to come and live among us. This is what I believed and I was not even aware that I believed it until I moved to abroad and circumstances laid bare my prejudices. In my 11 years away from the US, I shed these notions, realized how ruinous they are. These beliefs cause us to project our desires as a nation onto others and make us think that we can convince everyone to live and think as we do. We fail to realize that we can no more force democracy on others than we can force our own friends and neighbors to change behaviors we find objectionable. At its most malignant this feeling of being chosen, of being both saved and savior, leads us also to believe that our special place in the world entitles us to special privileges. We can consume what we want and we can take from others what we need, so long as we save them from themselves in the process. This crazy feeling of exceptionalism, this constant drive to remake the world in our image and strip it of the things we need to live the American way is leading us down the same path on which other empires met their ruin. Andrew Bacevich’s book makes these points very clearly and forcefully. It is a most important book and I wish everyone would read it, especially our new president.


  9. JohnH says:

    Maybe we should call them the Dupont-Foggy Bottom Mob, since that’s where the Nero conmen and their fellow travelers, the “realists” are mostly based together with their elite university training programs (SAIS, GWU), stink tanks (AEI, Heritage, Brookings), etc.
    BTW, Kathleen, have you heard the Sicilian expression, equivalent to the French “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose?” It goes something like, “now we have to change everything” (so that we can continue to do what we’ve been doing all along). Or the American version, “change you can believe in.”
    Chris Hedges notes that “The corporate forces that control the state will never permit real reform. This is the Faustian bargain made between these corporate forces and the Republican and Democratic parties. We will never, under the current system, achieve energy independence. Energy independence would devastate the profits of the oil and gas industry. It would wipe out tens of billions of dollars in weapons contracts, spoil the financial health of a host of private contractors from Halliburton to Blackwater and render obsolete the existence of U.S. Central Command.”


  10. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    JohnH…thanks..I appreciate your reconsideration.. there are all kinds of secret socieities that want to achieve world domination. …and kill for the fun of it…mafia is not one of them…Klan/Nazi, works for me…also there is a difference between mafiosa and mobster…one is anrachist, one is criminal…..the criminals are more accurately called the Cosa Nostra in Sicily and the US, the Cammorra in Naples….when a group of people defy church and state, it behooves the powers that be to portray them as criminals and to conflate the terms…in the US during prohibition, Italians were also anarchists…and you know, we can’t have that, so a couple of them got executed. to drive home the point….
    DonS… there is no AIPAC mafia because mafia is strictly Sicilian and the only true mafiosa are those who can trace their ancestry back to the Night of the Sicilian Vespers…everyone else is just a common criminal trying to glamorize themselves by calling themsleves mafiaosa.
    Carroll. Klan works for me for conjuring up secret, dastardly folk.
    Sorry to harp on this, guys, but it does get tedious to have one’s ancestry so regulalry misrepresented and used as the ultimate insult as though there are no worse people on the face of the earth….as a child, my grandfather used to tell me the story of how Sicilians got rid of the French, he said, as told to him by his grandmother…it’s kind of a humorous story involving chick peas, of all things…it wasn’t until I was much older and studied Medieval hisotry that I realized what he was teaching me.
    To be perfectly honest,. since it appears criminals rule the world, if I had my d’ruthers, I’d rather have the Italian Mob in charge… they have funnier nick names and better food and don’t kill as the Klan, the Pentagon or even the Carlyle Group.
    Incidentally, the most active Sicilian prosecutor pursuing organized crime is also named Grasso.


  11. John Crandell says:

    It isn’t hard to see how things will unfold. Anyone at State or Defense who begins asking questions, raising issues similar to Bacevich’s, anytime such questions get asked, the rejoinder will be about drama. The rug will get pulled right out from beneath them: “let’s not have any drama here.” or “Cut the drama. Let’s be more sober.”
    Yes, get with the program. Out with the old; in with the new. My greatest fear is that as far as the Mideast is concerned, the new boss will quickly become the same old boss. The careerism that ran rampant in Vietnam is no stranger to the District of Columbia.


  12. Purple Haze says:

    “Outright corruption — people being on the take — is relatively rare. So too is blatant lying.”
    Andrew: how about investment advisors at financial institutions of wall street? How about landscape architects in Palm Beach?


  13. TonyForesta says:

    Indira Singh (google Ptech if you dare) calls them accurately “The Bush Crime Family Cabals”. Look into the Bush Crime Family Cabals purchases and machinations in Peru Cahuachi and Paraguay Guarani aquifers for proof. Look to the fascist and pernicious language of the PNAC pipedreams for proof. If there ever is a real investigation into the horrors and mayhem of 9/11 the “Bush Crime Familiy Cabals” will be forever damned to the fire and brimstone hell they deserve. Impeachment will be the least of their collective problems. “The Bush Crime Family Cabals” and Cheney is their warlor are seeking world domination through the terrible swift sword of America’s hypersuperior military, and criminal control of the worlds oil, energy, and drinkable water resources. Like the nazi predecessors they harbored and adore, these fiends and criminals are, in spite of the current turbulence largely succeeding, because we the American people refuse to hold them accountable and foolishly allow thier predatory machinations to continue unchecked. Reconciliation is NOT an option. The fascists in the bushgov, and the “Bush Crime Family Cabals must be held accountable. Then we can honor our laws, the rule of law, and the Constitution. Failure here and we are a nation of lawlessness and criminal regimes bent on their advancing their own singular power and wealth, and completely obdurate to the sufferings, burdens, deprivations, and oppression of the other 99.9% of the worlds population.
    “Deliver us from evil!”


  14. Carroll says:

    I am trying to think of something to replace ‘mafia’…although I do think mafia conjures up a certain hollywood drama similar to the government gangs idea of themselves as stars.
    Cartel ..would be appropiate.
    Personally I also like the tried and true ‘Monsters’.
    Now I will be up all night trying to think of something bad enough to call our psychopaths.
    Maybe we should just call them psychopaths.


  15. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Fascist lyin’ egotistical monsters?
    Thats, uh, FLEM for short.


  16. Dan Kervick says:

    “The problem is finding another word to describe a malevolent, secret society intent on world domination, a secret society that lauds itself for promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, etc. while dropping 500# bombs on wedding parties with no remorse.”
    Yale graduates?


  17. JohnH says:

    It has occurred to me that associating the foreign policy establishment with the term ‘mafia’ is unduly insulting to mafiosos. Certainly the mafia has never presided over the killing of perhaps a million people, mostly innocent civilians, just because they had convinced themselves that pre-emptively invading another country seemed like a good idea at the time.
    The problem is finding another word to describe a malevolent, secret society intent on world domination, a secret society that lauds itself for promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, etc. while dropping 500# bombs on wedding parties with no remorse.
    Any ideas?


  18. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Change, my ass. We gotta assume that Donilon filled out one of Obama’s volumnous questionaires, don’t we? So, apparently, this is A-OK with Obama. Or maybe Donilon lied on the questionaire??? In which case Obama will fire him immediately. Right? Uh huh.
    Report: Top Obama Transition Staffer
    Led “Backdoor” Lobbying Campaign For Fannie Mae
    By Zachary Roth – November 17, 2008, 11:12AM
    Change we can believe in?
    Last week, the Obama transition team announced that it had tapped veteran Beltway Democrat Thomas Donilon to help lead its review of operations at the State Department. As multiple news outlets quickly pointed out, until 2005 Donilon helped oversee the aggressive lobbying operation of troubled mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
    Now, has fleshed out the picture a bit, reporting that Donilon oversaw what it describes as a “backdoor lobbying campaign … to undermine the credibility of a probe into the firm’s accounting irregularities.”
    The details, which center on a campaign to discredit an agency charged with overseeing the company:
    The effort — which reportedly included attacks on the funding for the oversight agency, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, and an attempt to launch a separate investigation into OFHEO itself — was ultimately unsuccessful, and regulators eventually discovered top Fannie Mae executives had been manipulating the company’s financial reporting to maximize their bonuses.
    Donilon was not found to be involved in the financial manipulations, but he did help give Fannie’s board the misimpression that the company was in good financial health, according to the OFHEO investigation.
    Donilon did not comment to


  19. DonS says:

    OT. Kathleen, all very intersting,and OT like me but,
    what about the AIPAC mafia and Liberman
    Is it too late for cowardly Senators to show some spine?


  20. Kathleen Grasso Andersen says:

    “Conspicuous consumption’…sounds like Bacevich has read The Status Seeekers by Vance Packard…test marketing language to market the idea of war on Iran falls right into line with the usual marketing techniques used to sell us on candidates and policies….as Bacevich says, reducing citizens to consumers is not good, but it is what it is….Pavlavain talking points and sound bytes…repeated over and over at our expense…millions in campaign contributions to help them fuck with our heads….
    pathetic…conventional stupidity at work…again. I’m glad I’m not alone in my sketicism about what to expect from BO.
    I wish people who bandy about the term “mafia” would do a little research before they just rely on Hollyweird’s distorted defamtory deptictions… Look up the Night of the Sicilian Vespers…March 31, 1283 and you’ll see that MAFIA stands for Morta alla Francia, Italia anella or Death to the French, Italy’s desire…like the Iraqis are trying to get their foreign invaders out of their country, Sicilians got rid of the French when the Pope gave their island to the brother of King Charles of Anjou.
    I think “foreign policy Klan” would be more accurate for this discussion. Sicilians have never invaded anyone else’s country. but they have been used, throughout history, as the stepping stone from North, South, East and West. In fact, in history Siciliy’s indigenous people, the Sicani and the Siculi have always abhored war…we would actually be far better off if our foreign policy Klan had the same sentiments about war and imperialism.


  21. DonS says:

    Here I was just getting ready to be worked up about the whole spectrum of “exceptionalist” arguments, left and right, philosophical and pragmatic, etc. .. really tantalizing stuff
    . . . and then THIS catches my eye:
    Liberman to keep Homeland Security Chairmanship . .
    Let’s hope the secret ballot may yet provide cover for these yellow bellied Senators to strip Joe, eh? Talk about a big “fuck you” to progressives everywhere.


  22. JohnH says:

    Dan, it’s also complicated by peoples’ inherent need to trust in the good intentions of elected leaders and to believe whatever they say, malarky that it is. I think it’s less a question of people creating their own illusions than of not having skills or interest in getting enough information to identify malarky.
    Current times are pretty revelatory. The plug has been pulled–Iraq has been exposed as a scam. Everyone pretty much accepts that they have been told a bunch of whoppers. So you would expect that the elaborate self-deception would unravel. People would hunger to know what Iraq was really about and why the US government will spend $Trillions on the scam before it’s over.
    But no, the foreign policy mafia still holds sway, refusing to acknowledge that Iraq was undertaken for any reason at all! Worse, they’re trying to perpetrate the same scam on Iran. Worse yet, people are willing to believe the foreign policy mafia. The bridge people are buying this time is not the bridge they got sold last time, so the deal that was a scam last time must not be a scam this time!
    The only way path to change is for honorable, credible people to start framing American foreign policy as it actually conducted. Only then will gullible Americans have a different lens with which to see the world and the illusionists in the US government and in the foreign policy mafia.


  23. Dan Kervick says:

    John H,
    I think you make a good point about the foreign policy mafia, but I would add that the problem is complicated by the fact that the fantasy is a fantasy of elaborate self-deception that we all spin for ourselves. Even many in the foreign policy mafia actually seem believe their own fantasy.
    It’s like someone who finally pulls the plug on a relative in a permanent vegetative state. Probably their chief motive is bringing an end to their own onerous and pointless financial obligation to a relative that is already gone. But they may talk themselves into believing that they are ending their relatives suffering.


  24. JohnH says:

    While I agree with most everything Bacevich says, I do quibble with the notion the WE the people think of America as exceptional. While most Americans think that we are a good people and a good model for other nations, I doubt that many would agree that our goodness justifies our lording it over others or taking control of their nations.
    Rather, it is because imperialism is fundamentally contrary to American cultural instincts that the US government has been forced into a propaganda campaign that required lying about the American governments fundamental goals and ambitions. Were the truth ever told about America’s true goals in Iraq, support for the venture would evaporate, which is why Bush’s whole justification had to be invented.
    The American government’s need for lying and decption has fostered an extremely well compensated propaganda industry–I call it the foreign policy mafia– to create a foreign policy fantasy that is acceptable to people against their better judgement. For those who pay attention it’s easy to point out the constant hypocrisy stemming from the disconnect between the US government’s noble rhetoric and its ignoble behavior.
    What is required is not for Americans to adopt a new cultural identity, but for the US government to behave in ways that are consistent with American cultural identity.
    Alternatively, we could honorable people in the propaganda industry–elite universities, stink tanks, and hired pens in the media–begin to call it as it is, call American rhetoric and behavior what it is and then to advocate for behavior that is truly representative of American values.
    That place could be the New America Foundation.


  25. ManagedChaos says:

    I put in the request to have a book salon for Andrew Bacevich at FireDogLake. Good to see that they finally had him on there. I put in the request after catching the end of a great interview with Bill Moyers…
    Hopefully Rachael Maddow is reading this, as she said she does, and invites Andrew Bacevich on her show for a splash of some cold reality.


  26. DonS says:

    Whether or not Obama is a Trojan horse, he is certainly in a different position than when he advocated against going into Iraq. To wit, he has inherited a military and diplomatic steamroller, fully engaged, with plenty of momentum to trumpet the idea or US exceptionalism, regardless of whether the wheels are falling off at the margins.
    The more dire the economy gets, the more possible foreign distractions become, not the opposite, as acting like a “normal” nation would suggest.
    Even with intentions to bring the US back into the fold of normalcy — and talking about gearing up in Afghanistan doesn’t sound too much like that — steering the nation in a direction not seen for decades, if one looks at a history of swagger from Reagan on, is another story. Like the proverbial supertanker, only worse.


  27. Paul Norheim says:

    Sorry, what I meant was that Condoleezza Rice may have been the
    Unitary Executive`s Albert Speer.


  28. Paul Norheim says:

    I agree with those above who said that Bacevich`s comments are
    excellent – and that American exceptionalism is at the core of
    the problem. I admire his analytical approach: not
    overcomplicating, not oversimplifying.
    And Dan Kervick, your comment was brilliant.
    Re Rice: We may like or dislike her, and it`s easy to point out
    her failures – most prominent among them her carte blanche to
    the Israeli attack on Lebanon in August 2006.
    But it may also be that her successes are yet unknown. She
    MAY have played a crucial role in convincing Bush that attacking
    Iran or North Korea was not such a good idea. Her biggest
    achievements may have been in helping to contain the rabies
    dogs at Cheney`s office from creating even more mayhem – and
    not in any tangible successes of actions or initiatives. Most of
    the failures and crimes of the Bush era were committed during
    his first term (especially from 2001 to 2003), and history may
    show that his most loyal admirer and believer – Condi – because
    of her total loyalty, was able to stop him from more destruction
    in the last years of his regime — the Unitary Executor`s Albert


  29. Carroll says:

    I also agree with Bacevich that Obama might be a huge disappoinment. When he first came out of the gate I called him a possible trogan horse.
    Yes I know we ‘should’ wait and see. But I am begining to wonder about his animal farm of advisors and appointees…the team of rivals method of decision making and etc,etc,. If the mule is louder than the other barnyard advisors does the mule set US policy?
    I have the distinct feeling that what we might have here is going to be a schizophrenic adm and congress with multiple personality disorder who think they won by being ‘centrist’…they didn’t.
    They won on Obama’s ‘uniquness’ and because after 8 years of Bush there was no other alternative.


  30. Carroll says:

    I love Andrew Bacevich. He is so right. I nominate him to be the George Washington of our next Revolution.
    I thought Obama might be our Revolution but that doesn’t look likely now..
    But someone better get to work on one if the US is to survive.
    Our enemies never sleep…
    “Focus Grouping War with Iran ”
    Washington Dispatch: A recent Virginia focus group test-marketed language to get tougher on Iran. UPDATED.
    By Laura Rozen
    November 19, 2007
    The following article is an updated and revised version of a piece first posted on November 19, 2007. That piece misidentified Freedom’s Watch as the sponsor of the focus group described below. We regret the error.
    Laura Sonnenmark is a focus group regular. “I’ve been asked to talk about orange juice, cell phone service, furniture,” the Fairfax County, Virginia-based children’s book author and Democratic Party volunteer says. But when she was called by a focus group organizer for a prospective assignment earlier this month, she was told the questions this time would be about something “political.”
    On November 1, she went to the offices of Martin Focus Groups in Alexandria, Virginia, knowing she would be paid $150 for two hours of her time. After joining a half dozen other women in a conference room, she discovered that she had been called in for what seemed an unusual assignment: to help test-market language that could be used to sell military action against Iran to the American public. “The whole basis of the whole thing was, ‘we’re going to go into Iran and what do we have to do to get you guys to along with it?” says Sonnenmark, 49.
    Soon after the leader of the focus group began the discussion, according to Sonnenmark, he directed the conversation toward recent tensions between Iran and the United States. “He was asking questions about [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad going to speak at Columbia University, how terrible it was that he was able to go to Columbia and was invited,” Sonnenmark says. “And he used lots of catch phrases, like ‘victory’ and ‘failure is not an option.'”
    According to Sonnenmark, two fliers distributed at the focus group session bore the logo and name of Freedom’s Watch, a high-powered, well-connected group of hawks. This summer, Freedom’s Watch launched a $15 million ad campaign to support the escalation of troops in Iraq. It counts former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and former deputy assistant to President Bush Bradley A. Blakeman among its leaders.
    The first flier handed to the group bearing Freedom’s Watch’s logo, Sonnenmark recalls, raised questions about Ahmadinejad’s recent appearance at Columbia University. The second one was also related to Iran. Sonnenmark assumed Freedom’s Watch had arranged for the session.
    And the upshot of this focus group? “After two hours, [the leader] asked three final questions,” Sonnenmark recalls: “How would you feel if Hillary [Clinton] bombed Iran? How would you feel if George Bush bombed Iran? And how would you feel if Israel bombed Iran?” Sonnenmark says she responded, “It would depend on the circumstances.
    When asked by Mother Jones about this focus group, Freedom’s Watch spokesman Matt David responded, “As a general policy we won’t comment on our internal strategy.” And an employee at Martin Focus Groups who only gave his name as Steve declined to say anything about the session.
    After an earlier version of this story attributing the focus group to Freedom’s Watch was posted, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder and president of the Israel Project, contacted Mother Jones and said that her group had commissioned the focus group and that it was designed by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm.
    The Israel Project is a nonprofit group that supports Israel and conducts extensive polling on American public attitudes toward Israel and the Middle East. Its board of advisers includes 15 Democratic and Republican members of the House and the Senate.
    Mizrahi says that her group and Freedom’s Watch share a common interest in “thwarting the threat of Islamic extremism” and in “dealing with the threat of Iran.” But the two outfits, she said, “shared information” produced by this focus group. She insisted the focus group was designed to help the Israel Project promote “our belief in pushing sanctions.” She added, “We’re working day and night to persuade people the options [concerning Iran] are very limited. We’re pushing really aggressively on the economic and diplomatic fronts.”
    Mizrahi confirmed that Freedom’s Watch material was distributed to members of the focus group but insisted that ads from “lots of other groups” were handed out. “We test a lot of messages,” she said.
    “Of all the focus groups I’ve ever been to,” Sonnenmark wrote in a subsequent email to a group of fellow volunteers for the 2006 Senate campaign of Jim Webb, “I’ve never seen a moderator who was so persistent in manipulating and leading the participants.” The gist of the event was “anti-Iranian,” says Sonnenmark.
    Sonnenmark left the session wondering if foreign policy hawks would soon be pushing publicly for military action against Iran using language that had been tested on her. But, she says, “It is not going to be so easy this time around.”


  31. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Zathras, I heartily recommend that you immediately join a think tank of your choice. Not only will it aid you in overcomplicating reality, which seems to be one of your finely tuned skills, but it will also lubricate the final push your head needs to become fully inserted.


  32. TonyForesta says:

    What exactly did Rice accomplish as SecState Zathras? She, like all the fascists in the bushgov FAILED miserably on every front. Wingnut partisan blandishments aside, name one single success that Rice can claim. ZERO! Name on single influential accomplishment or any practicle accomplishment that Rice can claim. I double dare you! Name one! Rice is part and parcel of a fascist regime that failed, FAILED in every respect, in every corner, and in every endeavor. This sad reality in no way diminshes her monumental FAILURES with the NSA. Wingnuts must acknowledge that there vaunted saints, glorious champions, and dear leader FAILED in every way, in every arena. They FAILED! A normal nation lives by, abide by the rule of law. Absent that basic fact and reality, said nation is NOT normal. Hence, the costly bloody failures and wanton profiteering of the fascists in the the bushgov including Rice and our dread concern.


  33. Zathras says:

    It’s probably not fair to comment on Andrew Bacevich’s thinking without having read his book. Chat comments can be misleading, for various reasons with which readers of this site are all familiar.
    I’d say this, though: if the United States had ever been a normal nation, Bacevich’s idea of the normal nation could not exist. Further, most of the people who think they agree with Bacevich now base their criticism of American foreign policy on the conviction that the United States has acted far too often like a normal nation motivated by interests, as opposed to acting exceptionally on behalf of values.
    The last point I’d make is about Cordell Hull. Hull was a major political figure in his native Tennesee, named Roosvelt’s Secretary of State for that reason and throughout his long tenure at the Department often bypassed by a President who wanted to make his own foreign policy and who did not respect subordinates nor prepared, as Hull usually was not, to insist on his prerogatives. But Hull was very far from inconsequential. His great cause as Secretary of State was the liberalization of world trade; an entire generation of diplomats was exposed to Hull’s passionate belief that the reduction of trade barriers leads to a reduction in the number of things nations have to go to war over. And trade liberalization subsequently became a cause of postwar American administrations of both parties, and arguably a greater influence on our modern world than the policies in other areas from which Cordell Hull was sometimes excluded.
    This is a long way of saying that Bacevich’s judgement of more recent Secretaries of State is not something I regard as fully reliable. Specifically, while I agree with his assessment of Condoleeza Rice’s performance as National Security Adviser, the State Department certainly appears to have become more influential in George Bush’s second term than it was during the tenure of Rice’s overpraised predecessor at State. Personally I tend toward the belief that this had more to do with changes in Bush’s own thinking and the arrival of Robert Gates at the Pentagon than it did with Rice. However, it seems clear that it had something to do with Rice, who while not really a success as Secretary of State has clearly done much better in that position than she did as NSA.


  34. TonyForesta says:

    The socalled “war on terror”, what I call the neverendingwaronterror, is an Hegellian dynamic wherein the fascists of the bushgov, created a pearlharborlikeevent or Riechstadt fire to use as a ghoulish excuse to advance the policies and wanton profiteering from said neverenddingwaronterror to perpetuate their own singular and exclusive power and said wanton profiteering.
    Echoing POA’s commentay above – Peteaus did betray us, sacrificing strategic ends and the best interests of our troops for the political choice of bowing and cowtowing to the pernicious, criminal, costly, and bloody policies of the fascists in the bushgov.
    Iraq was at the beginning, is now, and always will be a crime scene. If we only dare to investigate the manipulative and deceptive justifications and grotesque mass marketing of the Iraq war, or the wanton profiteering, or the woefull mismanagement, or the radical partisanship, and the betrayal of every principle and law that formally defined America – this terrible truth will be recognized.
    The fascists in the bushgov must pay! They must pay for their crimes! They must pay for betraying and ruthlessly decieving America, and they must pay for the ocean of innocent blood and treasure wasted on a war that did not need to be fought, that was NOT justified, and that only benefitted the fascists in the bushgov. Walking away from this “payment”, is walking away from justice, – it is walking away from all we stand on, and honor as a nation. Either we live and abide by the rule of law, and our Constitition, or we don’t. If we do, – the fascists in the bushgov must pay! If we don’t – then what do we teach our children. That certain elitists and blessed kings are above and beyond the law, and that the law itself, – the Constitution itself has no real meaning. Criminals must be held accountable for their crimes. Pathological liars must be held accountable for pathological lying. Traitors must be held accountable for acts of treasons – or there is no law, there is no Constitution. If not, then what are we as a nation and a people?


  35. PissedOffAmerican says:

    I found nothing to disagree with in Andrew Bacevich’s comments. I am suprised Steve included Bacevich’s comment about Rice, as Steve seems to have entertained a higher opinion of her than Bacevich does.
    His comment about Petreaus strikes me as being right on the mark. Petreaus is a political animal, and will, (has), put his political ambitions above his military loyalty. I’d go further, and say he’d sacrifice troops to satisfy political considerations. And the so called “success” of the surge cannot be long lived, because we will not pay off the “insurgents” for eternity. When the money stops flowing, they’ll go right back to shooting American soldiers and rival Muslims.
    His comments about the state of our military are interesting. I am suprised he doesn’t mention the lowered recruiting standards. Or, perhaps he did, and Steve didn’t include the references to this issue. Re-enlistments may not have suffered, due to the incentives, but recruiting has definitely been dealt a blow, resulting in the lowered standards.


  36. Dan Kervick says:

    Great stuff Steve. I’m also a huge fan of Bacevich and Bacevichism. In fact, he is speaking tomorrow night not five miles from my house, and I am hoping to go.
    The nub of our dilemma, it seems to me, comes where Bacevich says,
    “We need to shed our sense of uniqueness and our sense of entitlement. We need to become a normal nation.”
    “Of course, that’s akin to saying that we should abandon our identity — which isn’t likely to happen.”
    Indeed. While one not very successful president did famously campaign on a call for a “return to normalcy”, no president has ever inspired the American masses with a “Let’s be Normal!” call. Even in Lake Wobegon, all of the children are above average. To inspire people, presidents are forced to pluck the heartstrings of myth and memory, and rely on the old-time American religion of a special destiny, an evangelical calling, moral exceptionalism and political superiority.
    Yet what I take to be the alternative Bacevich vision of modesty, self-restraint, sobriety, community, equality of station, democratic and republican virtue, neighborliness and good citizenship does still have a great deal of resonant appeal, and also has deep roots in the American tradition. Obama often taps into that tradition in his speeches. Maybe he will find some way to elevate that ideal, while at the same time satisfying people with enough of the unique destiny talk to keep them inspired, but not carried away with fantastic visions of dominating others into perfection. Maybe he will find some way of moving people to think less about themselves and their wants and needs, and more about service to others, without pushing them into an all-consuming zeal to rectify others’ imperfections.
    It seems like a difficult task.
    It is striking that despite the continuing, but wavering appeal of those democratic and republican principles at home, anyone who suggests we try to build a governed community of nations organized around the same principles in the wider world is seen as a dangerous radical. That the United States might assume an equal position at the world’s round table as a “normal nation”, a good global citizen in a community of equals, seems intolerable to the people who dominate our foreign affairs. The perpetual expansion of our interests, the continual pressing of competition and drive to out-perform competitors, the ceaseless creation of new wants and new tools for their satisfaction, the boundless urge to surpass the frontier and fill up all available space with our influence, our culture and our political system – these are the impulses that seem to guide our foreign policy mandarins.
    We can see in those patterns the structural behaviors of, not a democratic or republican society, but a corporation. And corporations, as any of us who work in them every day can tell you, are thoroughly hierarchical power structures, and among the least democratic institutions ever created. The competitive struggle of corporations might have some salutatory benefits, but that’s in part because that struggle takes place within a constraining boundary of law and government power, which prevents the most violent, extreme and rapacious competitive drives from expressing themselves. Not so with states competing in an ungoverned or impotent international framework. When they fail to get their way with the pen or the checkbook, they pick up a gun.
    I sometimes wonder if one of the reasons elite foreign policy practitioners seem so viscerally opposed to striving for balance and equality is that they themselves tend to be the most privileged princes of the realm, and simply don’t understand the feelings of modesty and equality. And most of them are trained, directly or indirectly, for success in the corporate world, and have internalized that corporate ethos. I’ve noticed that many foreign policy professionals, when not working for the government, are working in strategic consultancies advising corporations on how to expand their interests and defeat their competitors abroad. It’s all one seamless system. You can’t be working for a global corporate system grounded in a ethos of continuous expansion, and then step through the revolving door into the government designed to protect the interests American individuals and firms operating abroad, without practicing the same ethic of continuous expansion.
    The most profound idea the founders ever had was the idea of “checks and balances”, the notion that power in a society should be institutionally balanced in such a way as to prevent some power centers from dominating and destroying other power centers. But the idea that the United States might itself become part of a global system in which its own power is checked and balanced in this way, seems anathema to crusading exceptionalists, liberal and conservative alike.
    I suppose the idea is that since Americans are united in their superiority to everyone else, we are willing to accept checks and balances among ourselves, but it is unthinkable that our power should be checked our balanced by the morally unenlightened, illiberal and subhuman races beyond our borders.


  37. Mohammad Alireza says:

    “What is the war on terror “about”?
    “My own view is this: the object of the exercise is to transform the Greater Middle East, thereby ensuring that this part of the world will no longer breed terrorists intent on killing us while also ensuring our access to strategically critical resources.”
    The follow up question could have maybe been:
    What’s the difference between the war on terror and imperialism or colonialism?


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