Andrew J. Bacevich (born 1947 in Normal, Illinois) is a professor of international relations at Boston University, former director of its Center for International Relations (from 1998 to 2005), and author of several books, including the recently published The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005) and American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (2002).
Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University. (B.S., United States Military Academy; M.A., Ph.D., Princeton).
Specialization: American Diplomatic and Military History, U. S. Foreign Policy, Security Studies
Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of international relations at Boston University. A graduate of the U. S. Military Academy, he received his Ph. D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University in 1998, he taught at West Point and at Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Bacevich is the author most recently of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005). His previous books include American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy (2002) and The Imperial Tense: Problems and Prospects of American Empire (2003). His essays and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of scholarly and general interest publications including The Wilson Quarterly, The National Interest, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The American Conservative, and The New Republic . His op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today, among other newspapers.
Professor Bacevich served for seven years, from 1998 to the summer of 2005, as the Director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University. In 2004, Dr. Bacevich was a Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He has also been a fellow of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Dr. Bacevich has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the Moncado Prize given by the Society for Military History and the Arter-Darby Military History Writing Award.
INTERVIEW FOR THE CARNEGIE COUNCIL
The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War Andrew J. Bacevich, Joanne J. Myers
May 17, 2005
The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War• Introduction • Remarks • Questions and Answers
JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Merrill House Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to welcome our members and guests and to thank you for joining us this morning as we welcome back Andrew Bacevich on the publication of his newest book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, and his book will be available for you to purchase at the end of the program today.Question: What do you do if you have the mind of a historian, the experience of a professor who has taught at several leading universities, a West Point graduate with over twenty years in the military including a stint in Vietnam, and you are troubled about the future of your country?Well, if you have an understanding of the military as an institution and you are a man like Andrew Bacevich, you write a book expressing your concerns. Your tools are history and personal experience, and you use them as your guide to persuasively argue how our nation's leaders, in order to achieve their foreign policy goals, have steadily grown to rely on military force, or the threat of it, as their primary diplomatic tool. In the end, you propose specific remedies aimed at restoring a sense of realism and proportion to U.S. policy, bringing the role of the military into closer harmony with our nation's founding ideals.In The New American Militarism, Professor Bacevich examines the trends — military, political, intellectual, religious, and cultural — that came to see the revival of military power and the celebration of military values as the antidote to all the ills besetting the country as a consequence of the debacle in Vietnam and the antiestablishment move of the 1960s. As a result, he says, both Democrats and Republicans alike came to believe in the overwhelming power of our military and in the unquestioned righteousness of our democratic institutions.Although his book could be read as a timely and provocative commentary on the militarization of American foreign policy during the Bush presidency, it says a great deal more; for when the concerns are voiced by someone who is an acknowledged conservative and an unusually perceptive observer, we should listen carefully to his views about the ways in which our country has been militarized and the ways in which the military has been used as a means of changing the world to conform to our beliefs.For some time now, our speaker has been recognized as a leading critic of America's preoccupation with our military and writes with a clear perspective, knowing what needs to be done to change this mindset. In recognition of his outstanding work, he has been awarded numerous prizes for his writings, including the Moncado Prize, given by the Society for Military History, and the Arter-Darby Military History Writing Award. In addition to The New American Militarism, he is also the author of American Empire: Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy, which he discussed here in April of 2003 and which can be found on our website.Having previously taught at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Johns Hopkins University, our guest is currently Professor of International Relations and Director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University.Please join me in welcoming our guest this morning, Andrew Bacevich.
ANDREW BACEVICH: With that eloquent introduction, I would like to rest my case and take your questions. I am very flattered that you would turn up this early on a weekday to talk about my book.I am not sure I am going to tell you too much that you don't already know. I must say that in my own intellectual journey, one of the things that I have come to believe is that it is not the hidden fact or the secret that is suddenly unearthed that reveals great truths. Rather, it is the things that we already know, that we read about time and again, that we see right in front of our nose, but take for granted and, therefore, don't appreciate — that is what really defines truth. So I am not sure I am going to tell you all that much that you really don't already know, but I am going to invite you to face up to these facts this morning.It seems to me that today, to a really unprecedented extent in our history, U.S. foreign policy has come to be militarized. By that I mean that force has come to be the preferred instrument of U.S. policy. There is a general assumption that alternative instruments are less effective; therefore, when faced with a particular problem, the sensible, logical thing to do is to turn things over to the people in the Department of Defense.Furthermore, I would argue that our policy today has become militarized in a second sense, and that is that there is amongst us — and if I say "us" or "we," I mean the American people — there has come to be amongst us a general expectation that it is through the perpetuation of U.S. military supremacy — underline that three times, not simply U.S. military strength, U.S. military supremacy —that by perpetuating U.S. military supremacy, we will be able to accomplish our purposes in the world, however we define those purposes.My book, in a sense, is an effort to try to answer the question: How did this come about, this circumstance where our policy has come to be so militarized? I think that there is an answer that is offered in the press, in our public discourse, and that common answer is that somehow in the period since 9/11, as the result of some sort of cabal or conspiracy, mostly associated with the Bush Administration, that this new set of attitudes about military power has been imposed on us, and we are caught by surprise.Well, my view is that that common answer is grossly defective, and that a better answer begins by acknowledging that U.S. foreign policy has come to be militarized today as a consequence of ideas about military power that took hold long before George W. Bush was elected President, long before 9/11.To put it bluntly, we, the people — not necessarily you or me as an individual, but many millions of our fellow citizens — we, the people, have become infatuated with military power; and that policymakers, not just in this Administration but in prior administrations, have capitalized on that infatuation to take us down the path that we have followed, a path that has led, for example, to the current quagmire in Iraq.This infatuation with military power ought to be called by what it is. What it is, again at least in one guy's judgment, is a variant of militarism. Now, "militarism" is a loaded term. If you are of my generation, if you say the word "militarism," it probably conjures up images of Wehrmacht soldiers in field gray uniforms goose-stepping down some broad avenue in Europe, circa 1940.When I say "militarism," I don't mean that militarism. Just as we Americans pursue imperial projects in ways that differ rather dramatically from the empires of the British or the French or the Japanese, so too I would argue that our version of militarism is distinctive. Just as we do empire our own way, we do militarism our own way.So the book, which I hope you will have time to take a look at, tries to explain the origins of this new American militarism, suggests that it is at odds with our interests and with our founding traditions, and concludes by offering some ideas about how to restore balance and realism to U.S. military policy. Let me make a point of emphasizing some of the things that this book is not.First of all, it is not an expression of anti-Americanism. I am not some American who somehow harbors some deep-seated loathing of our country. On the contrary.The book is also not, emphatically not, an attack on soldiers. I was once a soldier myself. My son is a soldier, a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. And I, like I suspect many of you, hold in very high regard those Americans who choose to serve this country and to protect this country in uniform. So this is not an attack on soldiers.It is also not a pacifist tract. It is not an argument in favor of disarmament or weakness. In my judgment, humankind, like it or not, is condemned to live in a world in which political competition will never end and in which, like it or not, force will always have a place, will always play a role, if we are to enjoy even a modicum of stability and justice in a fundamentally disordered world.But the key point is this: At the end of the Cold War, Americans said "Yes" to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that informed the American experiment from its founding vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, underlined three times, became enamored with military might.Now, how does this new American militarism, which I define in three ways — first, as having outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force; second, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness; and third, having a romanticized view of soldiers — how does this new American militarism manifest itself?Well, it does so, first of all, in the scope, cost, and configuration of America's present-day military establishment. Here I am going to tell you the things you already know. To the extent that you know U.S. history, you know that through the first two centuries of our history, political leaders in Washington gauged the size and capabilities of America's armed services according to the security tasks immediately at hand. A grave and proximate threat to the nation's well-being might require a large and powerful military establishment.We Americans all know, deep in our hearts and souls, that we are not a peaceful people. We all know that our story over the past two-plus centuries is a story of defining aspirations, setting goals, and seizing them, and we have not hesitated throughout our history to use force for those purposes. We have not hesitated to raise up forces when we needed to. Sometimes the purposes have been great and grand and moral and exalted. And sometimes the purposes have been shabby and less admirable. But here was the pattern: in the absence of such an imperative, in the absence of such immediate requirement, policymakers always scaled down the American military establishment accordingly. That is to say, with the passing of crisis, whatever the crisis was — sometimes it was "we want California" — the army raised up for the crisis went immediately out of existence.This was the case after we took California in 1848; in 1865 at the end of the Civil War; this was the case in 1918 at the end of world War I; and, although we have forgotten it, it was also the case in 1945 at the end of World War II. On VJ Day, there are 12 million American men and women in uniform, having constituted by that time just about the most formidable military force that the world had ever seen up to then. Within six months, it vanished, it went away, very much reflecting the pattern of American history. The general principle was to maintain the minimum force required and no more.Well, that has changed. Since the end of the Cold War, this great crisis previous to the global war on terror, having come to value military power for its own sake, the United States has abandoned this principle and is committed as a matter of policy to maintaining military capabilities far in excess of those of any would-be adversary or combination of adversaries.To put it more bluntly, we are committed as a nation, as a people, to maintaining U.S. military supremacy in perpetuity. I mean you know that and I know that. This commitment finds both qualitative and quantitative expression, with the U.S. military establishment now not only dwarfing that of any potential adversary, but also dwarfing that of the other great power who we generally view to be close friends.When I was a kid, long ago, phrases like "British Empire," "Royal Navy," "Royal Air Force," carried some weight. You know, that was something to be taken seriously. Let's compare U.S. forces today to those of our British ally. This is generally seen, maybe with the exception of Israel, as the next-most-competent and formidable military power in the world. Thus, whereas the United States Navy today maintains a total of twelve large attack aircraft carriers, the once-vaunted Royal Navy has none. Indeed, in all the battle fleets of the world there is no ship even remotely comparable to a Nimitz Class carrier.Today the United States Marine Corps possesses more attack aircraft than does the entire Royal Air Force. And the United States has two other even larger air forces, one an integral part of the United States Navy and the other actually called the United States Air Force. Indeed, in terms of numbers of men and women in uniform, the United States Marine Corps today is half again as large as the British Army. And the Pentagon has a second, even larger army, actually called the United States Army, which, in turn, operates its own Air Force of approximately 5,000 aircraft.All of these massive and redundant capabilities cost money. Thus, notably, the present-day Pentagon budget, adjusted for inflation, is 12 percent larger than the average defense budget of the Cold War era. That figure is now clearly out of date because I wrote this book before the last increase in defense spending. But the key point is if the Cold War was a great crisis that seemed to call upon us to maintain substantial military forces, the Cold War is gone and we are spending even more now.In mentions in today's paper that in 2002, U.S. defense spending exceeded by a factor of twenty-five the combined defense budgets of the seven rogue states then comprising the roster of U.S. enemies. Indeed the United States today spends more on defense than every other nation of the world combined. Again, I don't know why it is in the paper today, because it is not news. It is in my book, which was published a couple months before today's New York Times.One nation spending more on defense than every one of the other nations of the world combined is a circumstance without precedent in modern history. Now, one could conclude, "Well, I endorse that notion." But one at least ought to acknowledge that it is somewhat out of the ordinary.On a day-to-day basis, what do these expensive forces exist to do? Simply put, for the Department of Defense, defense per se figures as little more than an afterthought. What we have done since 9/11 is we have created another whole Cabinet department to defend the United States, called the Department of Homeland Security. Whereas the agency called the Department of Defense doesn't really defend the United States. It exists for what purpose? You know what purpose: for global power projection.The primary mission of America's far-flung military establishment is global power projection, which is a reality tacitly understood in all quarters of American society. Well over a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States continues to maintain bases and military forces in several dozens of countries, and sometimes more than a hundred countries. This rouses minimal controversy, despite the fact that many of these countries are perfectly capable of providing for their own security needs.We are sixty years this month after VE Day, and we still have U.S. forces in Germany. Many of you have been to Germany. You don't have to be a lover of Germany to acknowledge that this is a stable, liberal democracy, affluent, frankly facing almost zero security threats, and is eminently capable of handling its own problems. Sixty years after the end of World War II, we still have forces there. Sixty years after the end of World War II, we still have forces in Japan.Perhaps more troubling is the fact that it is not simply that we maintain these old commitments, but that we continually expand our commitments. Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, a couple of weeks ago solicits the Department of Defense, saying, "Please establish a permanent U.S. base in Afghanistan."You know that one of the aspects of the Uzbekistan story, hovering on the fringes of this civil unrest/massacre, is the fact that we have a U.S. base in Uzbekistan. Again, this is not controversial, but think about it. If you are like me, five years ago you could not have found Uzbekistan on a map. And if somebody had said to you, "I got a great idea. Let's station U.S. forces permanently in Central Asia," you would have said "You're nuts." But we do have U.S. forces in Central Asia, and my bet is that we are going to have U.S. forces in Central Asia long after my children are drawing Social Security, if there is any Social Security for them to draw.Even apart from fighting wars and pursuing terrorists, that U.S. forces are constantly prowling around the globe, training, exercising, planning, posturing, elicits no more notice from the average American than the presence of a cop on a city street corner.Even before the Pentagon officially assigned itself the mission of "shaping the international environment" members of the political elite — and, I would emphasize, liberals as much as conservatives — had reached the common understanding that scattering U.S. troops around the globe to restrain, inspire, influence, persuade, and cajole paid dividends.The indisputable fact of global U.S. military preeminence also affects the global mindset of the officer corps. For the Armed Services, dominance constitutes a baseline. Now, there was a time early in the 20th century — this was, I think, in 1916 — when the Congress passed legislation that committed the United States to building a navy that will be second to none, meaning will be as good as, as strong as, the best. The best at that time was the Royal Navy. That was assumed to be adequacy.Well, now dominance is inadequate in the mindset of the officer corps. Dominance constitutes a baseline, a point of departure from which to scale the heights of ever greater capabilities. Indeed, the Services have come to view supremacy as merely adequate and any hesitation in efforts to increase the margin of supremacy as evidence of falling behind.You've got to pay attention to this debate over the F22, which is the next generation of air superiority fighter that the Air Force is determined to field, at a cost of ungodly sums of money. Is it because we face threats that can shoot down our current fleet of F15s and F16s and F14s? No. Only in the unimaginable scenario of us fighting against the Israeli Air Force. Is there any air force remotely capable of holding its own against ours? No.Notwithstanding that fact, the Air Force is adamant we have to have this new generation of fighter, because mere dominance is not enough. The new American militarism manifests itself through an increased propensity to use force, leading in effect to the normalization of war.I'm going to cut this talk in about half and make these last couple of points and then quit so that we can have some discussion. But I want to talk about this normalization of war.Self-restraint regarding the use of force in our time has now all but disappeared. Whereas during the entire Cold War era large-scale U.S. military actions abroad totaled a scant six in all, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, war has become almost an annual event. The brief period extending from 1989's Operation Just Cause — that was the overthrow of Manuel Noriega — to Operation Iraqi Freedom, which began in 2003, that brief period featured nine major military interventions. And that count, nine, excludes the innumerable lesser actions, such as Bill Clinton's signature Cruise missile attacks against obscure targets in obscure places, the almost daily bombing of Iraq beginning in December of 1998 and extending to the spring of 2003, along with the quasi-combat operations that have been GIs dispatched to Rwanda, Colombia, East Timor, and the Philippines.As crisis became a seemingly permanent condition, so too did war. The Bush Administration has tacitly acknowledged as much in describing the global campaign against terror, as a conflict likely to last decades, and in promulgating and in implementing a doctrine of preventive war.Again, I am not telling you anything you don't know, but think about it. Think about it. The Administration says that we are going to be engaged in a "global" war — "global" is their term, not my term — that is going to last how long? Decades. As a matter of fact, some Administration officials have said perhaps generations.The response of the American people to this notification — and it is simply a notification — that we are going to be engaged in a global war that is going to last decades, if not generations, is basically to say: "Well, okay. If that's what you guys say, that sounds about right." There is really no more serious critical reaction than that, simply to defer to this notification.Policymakers have increasingly come to see coercion as a sort of all-purpose tool. Among American war planners, the assumption has now taken root that wherever and whenever U.S. forces next engage in hostilities it will be the result of the United States consciously choosing to launch a war, as we did against Iraq in 2003.Would it surprise you, would it shock you, would it make you slap your forehead and say, "Boy, I never saw that coming!" if tomorrow morning you opened up your New York Times and read that the United States had launched air strikes against nuclear facilities in Iran? No, it wouldn't surprise you. You wouldn't necessarily approve of that, but that has come to be the way that we have thought about war. That has come to be the sort of prerogatives that we have claimed for ourselves with regard to the U.S. use of force. It is a prerogative claimed by the Bush Administration not simply because President Bush has fallen under the sway of a bunch of crazy neo-conservatives, but rather because we Americans, in the aftermath of Vietnam and especially since the end of the Cold War, have come to have a set of ideas about force that seems to justify and make sensible that sort of behavior.As President Bush has remarked, the big lesson of 9/11 was that "this country must go on the offense and stay on the offense." The American public's ready acceptance of the prospect of war without foreseeable end, and of a policy that abandons even the pretense of the United States fighting defensively, or viewing war as a last resort, shows clearly how far the process of militarization and of militarism has advanced.Well, I could go on to either dazzle you or fail to dazzle you with all kinds of reflections about a new aesthetic of war and of the elevation of the American soldier to the status of cultural icon, and try to persuade you that all of this package of ideas and attitudes constitutes a decisive turning-away from the values that informed the founding of this country, and in particular of the skepticism about military power and of what the Founding Fathers called "standing armies," that until very recently had been deeply inculcated into our national consciousness. But I won't. Rather, I will stop and hope that I have interested you in this, and also very much look forward to taking any questions or comments that you may have.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: Thinking about how we have gotten here, to what extent do you think it is the self-perpetuating phenomenon that to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail; and to what extent do you think it might be the fact that American business, which I think is always at the root of all political decisions, is now a global enterprise, requiring a global military presence, and particularly dependent on oil, which is an increasingly global supply issue; or some other reason?ANDREW BACEVICH: I guess the argument of the book is one that wants to have some understanding of how we came to be so enamored of the hammer, how we came to believe that this is what we are best at, wielding this hammer against nails big and small, wherever we can find them around the world.The answer I give to that, in simplified form, is this: The new American militarism, which is a set of ideas, came about as an unintended consequence of the reaction induced by the 1960s in Vietnam. Let me tell you what I mean by all that. My sense, if I can call myself a historian — it may be overstating it — but my historian's sense of the 1960s is that it was a period of great division in the country, in which, to oversimplify greatly, the country gets divided into two camps. The one camp views the events of the 1960s in very positive terms. To many people who have this memory of the 1960s, the 1960s is a time when the "circle of freedom" opens up to include many Americans who had been excluded before. The 1960s is a time when all sorts of smelly orthodoxies that had outlived their purposes are finally shaken loose, that new ideas are permitted, and it is all a wonderful thing.Well, the other half of the country begs to differ. The other half of the country — honest, well-meaning Americans, probably the kind of Americans that I grew up with in Indiana — say, "Oh my gosh, the 1960s is the time when the country went off the precipice, lost its way, surrendered values that are at the core of our culture, and, perhaps worst of all, suffered humiliating defeat in Vietnam that left us vulnerable and also cost us our sense of self-confidence as a people."Those Americans, my book argues, saw in the reconstitution of American military power the means whereby they hope to roll back the verdict of the 1960s. The reconstitution of American military power was supposed to bring the country back again, to restore its self-confidence, to restore its safety, to be a means to begin to at least preserve, and perhaps revive, a set of values that those Americans felt had been wantonly sacrificed in the 1960s.This effort is undertaken by a whole variety of groups, to include the officer corps, of which I was once a member; to include, yes, that group of literary intellectuals that we now call neo-conservatives; to include the tens of millions of Americans whose world view revolves around evangelical Christianity; to include a set of defense intellectuals who exerted enormous influence on official thinking about strategy. These people set out to reconstitute American military power because they thought it was necessary to save the nation.What they produced was this pernicious set of ideas that I think today we ought to call "militarism": An unintended consequence.The comparison I make is with the New Deal. When Franklin Roosevelt sits down in 1933, just becoming President, with members of the Brain Trust, he doesn't say, "Hey, fellas, give me a set of programs here whereby we can create a bloated federal bureaucracy and a culture of dependency." No. He sits down with the Brain Trust and he says, "Fellows" — or, with Frances Perkins there, "Ma'am" — and he says, "Give me a set of policies and ideas whereby we can respond to this crisis that is afflicting our people, where we can put people to work, where we can establish some sort of a safety net for people who are suffering."Well, what we got, if you fast-forward to about the 1970s, is a bloated federal bureaucracy and a culture of dependency. That's not what Roosevelt intended to do, but that was an unintended consequence.Militarism is an unintended consequence of what in many respects was a well-intentioned — you may not agree with it — but it is an honorably informed effort to revive the military after Vietnam. There are no scapegoats. It is not business in particular.QUESTION: The United States military force did enable us to face the U.S.S.R. over several decades, North Korea, Kosovo, and Serbia, 9/11, and Iraq in 1990. Now, none of these are easy, and almost all of them took heavy forces. Without the United States, how would we have faced these — and I will coin a phrase — evil empires?ANDREW BACEVICH: Without the United States, I am not sure we could have faced these evil empires, although you are mixing sort of a variety of different empires when you say the Soviet Union and Kosovo. It is kind of apples and oranges here.Let me emphasize, the argument of this book is not for military weakness. The argument of this book is not some sort of sneaky, backhanded way of calling into question U.S. policy during the Cold War. I was a Cold Warrior. I still define myself as a Cold Warrior. I think the Cold War was, on balance, a necessary and just cause. We did some very stupid and questionable things in the course of conducting that Cold War, but the overall enterprise was one that certainly gets my continued support.One point is that when this great protracted crisis called the Cold War ended — and note that for the Cold War we had once again raised up a military force for the purpose of containing Communism. The military that went away in 1945 was reconstituted shortly thereafter. We really needed the prod of Korea to make us do that in a forceful way. But the military is reconstituted for the purposes of the Cold War.When the Cold War ends, what happens? There are whispers, around 1989 or 1990, of "peace dividend," meaning there are the beginnings, the inklings, of a debate to reconsider in a substantive way what ought to be U.S. military policy now that the crisis of the Cold War is over.That debate gets nipped in the bud. And who's the nipper? Irony of ironies, the nipper is Saddam Hussein, because Saddam Hussein, probably the world's worst strategist ever, chooses the summer of 1990 to invade Kuwait. This does call forth — and I have no problems with what it calls forth — an effort on the part of the United States, leading a coalition, to turn back this unacceptable act of aggression, which we do.Now, at the time, this seems like an astonishing, unprecedented victory. But parenthetically, in the year 2005 do you still think Desert Storm was the victory that you thought it was in 1991? No, you don't, because you know that the events that will follow for over a decade show that Desert Storm gave rise to all sorts of unintended consequences, unexpected complications, which helped to land us in the predicament we are in right now.There is a lesson there. The lesson is war is never as decisive, as clean, as economical, as it seems. That is a general lesson. End of parentheses.In 1991, Desert Storm seems like a great victory and, therefore, nips this debate in the bud and persuades many Americans that, "Hey, military power is useful. We ought to maintain our globally deployed forces. We ought to continue to spend $300-plus billion (1991 figures) a year on these forces, even though the Soviet Union has vanished." So Saddam Hussein, also in an ironic sense, plays a role in leading us down the path that we are on right now.I am not in favor of disarmament. I am in favor of a balanced and realistic U.S. military policy. What we have today is neither balanced nor realistic.QUESTION: I understand your argument and I admire your ability to marshal your facts behind it. I admire less stretching those facts perhaps beyond their elastic limits. Let me just give you a couple of examples.When I was in the Armed Forces, and probably when you were in the Armed Forces, there was a million-man Army and later there was a 600-ship Navy, which was bandied about as the force that was needed for the United States Navy. We are now at less than 500,000 troops in the United States Army and we are at a 200-and-some-ship Navy.Another example is forces in Germany. There used to be a quarter-of-a-million American troops in Germany. You lead this audience to believe that it has not changed. But you know as well as I do that there are less than 100,000 troops there now and that those troops are being redeployed out of Germany, and they are not there to defend Germany.ANDREW BACEVICH: Some, not all.QUESTIONER: Let me finish my case. So I have quarrels with your facts. Nine interventions since the end of the Cold War — some of those were quite reluctant interventions, for example the Balkans. We came to the Balkans quite late, and only as a last resort when the Europeans failed to go in there. And did you actually mention Rwanda as a place where we deployed military force?ANDREW BACEVICH: Yes, we did.QUESTIONER: Most people believe that Rwanda is a case where the United States should have deployed much greater military force much earlier. So that is hardly an example of rampant militarism on the part of the United States in my view.I guess my problem is that you have a thesis, but you seem to ignore completely the relationship between power projection and what is going on in the world. You cite George Bush saying that now, after 9/11, we have to go on the offensive.What would you have done with the Taliban in Afghanistan harboring Osama bin Laden and an organization, al-Qaeda, which was dedicated to the attack of the United States? What would you have done, if not project force? I think I've said long enough.ANDREW BACEVICH: I think there are three questions: one is the smaller force numerically; one is the frequency of intervention; and one is what would you do after 9/11. Right? That's what I get out of all that.Number one, I do talk in the book about the reconfiguration of U.S. forces in terms of numbers. Absolutely correct there are fewer forces. Why are there fewer forces on active duty today? Well, there are fewer forces on active duty today in large part because ostensibly very bright people propounded a conception of warfare that assumed that an emphasis on technology could reduce the requirements for numbers; that high-tech warfare, that an emphasis on precision weapons, and especially emphasis on air power, had rendered the old-fashioned notions of mechanized warfare obsolete.So it is easy for me to account for the change in numbers and still try to sustain the case that we have become increasingly militarized. You remember the advocacy of the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, and you remember how you were assured by ostensibly sophisticated and smart people that "shock and awe" — remember the phrase of the day? — was going to suffice to topple the Baath Party regime and presumably create conditions out of which a prompt, neat, tidy, political settlement was going to result.Well, that whole image of warfare is false. But we bought into it. And yes, indeed, now we are paying the price. What is the price? The price is we have a ground force that is badly overstretched because it is fighting a kind of war that we never imagined that we would fight again, because we thought we had gained control, we had set the terms of a conflict. Another illusion that we would want to avoid.So I don't have any problem at all explaining the change in numbers.Now, in stating that it was Bill Clinton who made the use of force routine, if you thought you heard me say that Bill Clinton's use of force was effective, then I think you misheard me. Indeed, I would argue that the use of force during the Clinton Administration was remarkably ineffective.I am not sure I understand why it is significant to argue that the intervention in Bosnia was reluctant, as a way of dismissing that. Hey, the entry of the United States into World War II was also reluctant, if my reading of history is correct. The point is that Clinton intervened with greater frequency, in more different places, for more different purposes, than any of his predecessors. It's not a question of whether or not they were effective or not. It's not a question of whether or not they were motivated by some political considerations. He is the guy who ups the ante in Somalia — unilaterally, by the way, without consulting the UN Security Council. He is the guy who takes us into Haiti for about the fourth time in our history, who takes us into Bosnia, who takes us into Kosovo, and on and on and on — and most egregiously.I want to emphasize the bombing of Iraq as the quintessential example of the routinization of war. Remember Operation Desert Fox, brilliantly named after Erwin Rommel, in December of 1998, which was a three-four-day bombing campaign directed against Iraq? In the aftermath of that bombing campaign, we used the enforcement of the "no-fly zones" to bomb Iraq on almost a daily basis.Now again, was it an effective bombing of Iraq? Heck no. Militarily, it was utterly ineffective. But we bombed Iraq on almost a daily basis. You readers of The New York Times had to be paying real close attention to know that, because the only way The Times paid attention was in that column called "The News in Brief," or something like that, a little two-sentence dispatch: "Yesterday U.S. forces bombed a target and Saddam Hussein said two people were killed." That went on day after day after day after day after day for about three and a half years. War with Iraq had become a permanent condition. Effective war? Absolutely not.Now, let me address the post-9/11 question. Again, if there's anything that I have said that suggests to you that I am in favor of weakness, I apologize. I am not in favor of weakness. I am in favor of realism and balance. What should we have done with regard to Afghanistan after 9/11? We should have done pretty much what this Administration did, say to the Taliban "cough him up"; and if the Taliban refuses to cough him up, take that regime down, to make abundantly clear to any other regime around the world that this is the price you pay for harboring terrorists who attack the United States. I have no problem at all with the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.I do have a bit of a problem with what has followed since, which of course is a gradual transformation of our purpose from punishing ne'er-do-wells to a project aimed at transforming Afghanistan into a liberal democracy. I am myself skeptical of whether or not that is going to play out very well. I believe that to some degree efforts to promote democracy there, and much more egregiously in Iraq, in fact serve to take our eye off the ball with regard to who actually poses a threat to us.Now, I would concede that that story, the story in Afghanistan and in Iraq, has a long way to go before it plays itself out. There are those who were arguing as recently as last week that Afghanistan was an unappreciated success story. A little bit harder to make that argument this week, when we have rampant anti-American violence among the Afghan people. I am not suggesting that that most recent set of facts is decisive. I don't know. I just happen to be somebody who is skeptical about the notion of imposing democracy on other people.QUESTION: Unintended consequences has been a theme. Is there any way you could link the acquisition attempts by Iran and North Korea to get nuclear arms as the result of a supreme American power, as the only way to prevent invasion?ANDREW BACEVICH: I understand the logic of that. There is the famous remark made by, I believe, an Indian general in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, who was asked from India's perspective what is the principal lesson of the just-concluded Persian Gulf war. The Indian general's response was, "If you're going to have a problem with the United States, acquire nuclear weapons first." Had Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons in 1990, that would have made that whole situation different. So I understand that logic.I expect that is a factor in explaining the behavior of North Korea and Iran. I am a little bit reluctant, though, to fully endorse the proposition, because it suggests that somehow American power is at the root of the ills that exist in the world today, and I don't think that is true. I think that the explanation for those ills — poverty, failed states, dysfunction, arrogant authoritarian leaders — is a lot more complex, and so I am a little hesitant to say, "Aha! It's American military power that provides the key to understanding what is wrong."Maybe I am reluctant because, in part, if I said, "Oh, you're right," then that would put me in a position where I'd have to retreat from my argument that what we need is balance and realism rather than weakness.QUESTION: I would like to ask one question with an observation in it and a second question, both very brief. One is, accepting your premise that this militarism is now the dominant force, what accounts for the relative passivity of Americans towards this? My reflection is the absence of any demand for sacrifice — no conscription, no tax increase. In the book, near the end you talk about the Congress as what you think is the necessary force to counteract the Executive, but Congress doesn't do anything that I can see. So why?The other question is about the United Nations, because most of the people in this room work for, with, or are concerned about the UN, which is not the subject of your book. But as you know, there is this concept of United Nations peacekeeping, the general view that the United States doesn't have very much to do with that. Even though they went to Goma in Rwanda, they did not go into Rwanda at the time. Darfur, there is some support but there are no U.S. forces in Rwanda. There may be mixed feelings in the audience about whether the U.S. should or should not send troops to these African countries.But I wonder whether you think there is a role for the United States in the United Nations peacekeeping, given this enormous number of troops and military strength that you have described?ANDREW BACEVICH: Again, why have the American people been so passive? My argument is that the American people are part of the problem, that the explanation for American militarism is not to be found in saying, "Oh, it's the dirty rotten neo-cons" or "It's the terrible President Bush," but is to be found in understanding the extent to which we ourselves have become infatuated with military power. There is a fundamental change in our own consciousness that is going to be required to get out of this.In the near term, in the immediate sense, though, I think you are exactly right. Confronted in Iraq with some of the consequences of an unrealistic military policy, which is I think by anybody's measure not going well, how can we explain the fact that Americans haven't risen up and said, "This is stupid; we are never going to do this again?"I think you've put your finger on it. It's because the costs are being paid by some — I hope to put this in a way that is not insulting; I don't mean it to be — the costs are being paid by people unlike us in this room. The all-volunteer force, of which we are very proud, was created in the aftermath of Vietnam as part of the arrangements to bring an end to the conflict of the 1960s. That arrangement basically said that citizenship will no longer entail any obligation to serve the country, that the definition of citizenship now is much narrower. To the extent that the country needs to be defended, that is something that will now be outsourced to a special group.You know and I know that the special group has ended up being disproportionately drawn from minorities and the working class. In the U.S. Army in which I served — this is late Cold War — basically about 25 percent of the enlisted force was black. The country was 13 percent black. So part of the explanation is we, if I may say it this way, the people who most benefit from the abundance and blessings of freedom that we have, are no longer paying the price for defending the country.And, as you suggest, we are no longer even paying the price in a dollar sense, because the honest way to pay for the global war on terror is to say that you're going to pay for it and I'm going to pay for it through taxes. But we have an Administration that basically said somebody else is going to pay for that, some future generation. And so we get tax cuts and the war is being funded through deficit spending. I think that explains why, even when things go awry, there is a certain tolerance.Now, I am not particularly knowledgeable about the UN. I have to say, probably as a typical American, I am not wildly enthusiastic about the ability of the UN to act in an expeditious and effective way. But let me comment very briefly on the question of peacekeeping. First of all, we don't have all these troops. All our troops are either just coming home from Iraq or in Iraq or getting ready to go to Iraq. So we have plenty of high-tech capability — you know, if you would like some air strikes for peacekeeping, we can do that — but at the moment we don't really have a lot of troops, spare capacity in that sense.But let's talk about Rwanda. Actually I am on record — you can go look at a Los Angeles Times op-ed that I wrote eons ago — as saying that we ought to have called it genocide. We ought to have intervened in a timely way in Rwanda. But we ought to have intervened in Rwanda in order to stop the massacre that was going on, with very little expectation that somehow the result of that was going to be to turn Rwanda into a garden of liberal democracy — in other words, having a limited, and I think realistic, understanding of what force can do and what it cannot do. Force in Rwanda could have stopped the killing. No amount of force in Rwanda is going to transform a failed state or a dysfunctional state into one that can stand on its own. So actually, I was in favor of intervening in Rwanda.I could be persuaded, easily persuaded, that we should intervene in Darfur, but again, with no expectation that somehow doing so would, in and of itself, lead to some sort of political outcome that would prevent recurrence of violence in that part of the world.So I am not against the use of force. I am not in favor of being weak. I am not in favor of being passive. I think we need to be realistic in our expectations. Thanks very much for your attention and for your excellent questions.JOANNE MYERS: I'd like to thank you for your very forceful presentation. I just want to remind you that Professor Bacevich's book is available for you to purchase.
Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich on the New American Militarism
We are now in an America where it's a commonplace for our President, wearing a "jacket with ARMY printed over his heart and 'Commander in Chief' printed on his right front," to address vast assemblages of American troops on the virtues of bringing democracy to foreign lands at the point of a missile. As Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post puts it: "Increasingly, the president uses speeches to troops to praise American ideals and send a signal to other nations the administration is targeting for democratic change."
As it happens, the Bush administration has other, no less militarized ways of signaling "change" that are even blunter. We already have, for instance, hundreds and hundreds of military bases, large and small, spread around the world, but never enough, never deeply enough embedded in the former borderlands of the Soviet Union and the energy heartlands of our planet. The military budget soars; planning for high-tech weaponry for the near (and distant) future -- like the Common Aero Vehicle, a suborbital space capsule capable of delivering "conventional" munitions anywhere on the planet within 2 hours and due to come on line by 2010 -- is the normal order of business in Pentagonized Washington. War, in fact, is increasingly the American way of life and, to a certain extent, it's almost as if no one notices.
Well, not quite no one. Andrew J. Bacevich has written a book on militarism, American-style, of surpassing interest. Just published, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War would be critical reading no matter who wrote it. But coming from Bacevich, a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, former contributor to such magazines as the Weekly Standard and the National Review, and former Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, it has special resonance.
Bacevich, a self-professed conservative, has clearly been a man on a journey. He writes that he still situates himself "culturally on the right. And I continue to view the remedies proferred by mainstream liberalism with skepticism. But my disenchantment with what passes for mainstream conservatism, embodied in the present Bush administration and its groupies, is just about absolute. Fiscal irresponsibility, a buccaneering foreign policy, a disregard for the Constitution, the barest lip service as a response to profound moral controversies: these do not qualify as authentically conservative values. On this score my views have come to coincide with the critique long offered by the radical left: it is the mainstream itself, the professional liberals as well as the professional conservatives who define the problem."
I've long recommended Chalmers Johnson's book on American militarism and military-basing policy, The Sorrows of Empire. Bacevich's The New American Militarism, which focuses on the ways Americans have become enthralled by -- and found themselves in thrall to -- military power and the idea of global military supremacy, should be placed right beside it in any library. Below, you'll find the first of two long excerpts (slightly adapated) from the book, and posted with the kind permission of the author and of his publisher, Oxford University Press. This one offers Bacevitch's thoughts on the ways in which, since the Vietnam War, our country has been militarized, a process to which, as he writes, the events of September 11 only added momentum. On Friday, I'll post an excerpt on the second-generation neoconservatives and what they contributed to our new militarism.
Bacevich's book carefully lays out and analyzes the various influences that have fed into the creation and sustenance of the new American militarism over the last decades. It would have been easy enough to create a 4-part or 6-part Tomdispatch series from the book. Bacevich is, for instance, fascinating on evangelical Christianity (and its less than war-like earlier history) as well as on the ways in which the military, after the Vietnam debacle, rebuilt itself as a genuine imperial force, separated from the American people and with an ethos "more akin to that of the French Foreign Legion" -- a force prepared for war without end. But for that, and much else, you'll have to turn to the book itself. Tom
The Normalization of WarBy Andrew J. Bacevich
At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamored with military might.
The ensuing affair had and continues to have a heedless, Gatsby-like aspect, a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue. Few in power have openly considered whether valuing military power for its own sake or cultivating permanent global military superiority might be at odds with American principles. Indeed, one striking aspect of America's drift toward militarism has been the absence of dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature.
For example, when Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, ran for the presidency in 2004, he framed his differences with George W. Bush's national security policies in terms of tactics rather than first principles. Kerry did not question the wisdom of styling the U.S. response to the events of 9/11 as a generations-long "global war on terror." It was not the prospect of open-ended war that drew Kerry's ire. It was rather the fact that the war had been "extraordinarily mismanaged and ineptly prosecuted." Kerry faulted Bush because, in his view, U.S. troops in Iraq lacked "the preparation and hardware they needed to fight as effectively as they could." Bush was expecting too few soldiers to do too much with too little. Declaring that "keeping our military strong and keeping our troops as safe as they can be should be our highest priority," Kerry promised if elected to fix these deficiencies. Americans could count on a President Kerry to expand the armed forces and to improve their ability to fight.
Yet on this score Kerry's circumspection was entirely predictable. It was the candidate's way of signaling that he was sound on defense and had no intention of departing from the prevailing national security consensus.
Under the terms of that consensus, mainstream politicians today take as a given that American military supremacy is an unqualified good, evidence of a larger American superiority. They see this armed might as the key to creating an international order that accommodates American values. One result of that consensus over the past quarter century has been to militarize U.S. policy and to encourage tendencies suggesting that American society itself is increasingly enamored with its self-image as the military power nonpareil
How Much Is Enough?
This new American militarism manifests itself in several different ways. It does so, first of all, in the scope, cost, and configuration of America's present-day military establishment.
Through the first two centuries of U.S. history, political leaders in Washington gauged the size and capabilities of America's armed services according to the security tasks immediately at hand. A grave and proximate threat to the nation's well-being might require a large and powerful military establishment. In the absence of such a threat, policymakers scaled down that establishment accordingly. With the passing of crisis, the army raised up for the crisis went immediately out of existence. This had been the case in 1865, in 1918, and in 1945.
Since the end of the Cold War, having come to value military power for its own sake, the United States has abandoned this principle and is committed as a matter of policy to maintaining military capabilities far in excess of those of any would-be adversary or combination of adversaries. This commitment finds both a qualitative and quantitative expression, with the U.S. military establishment dwarfing that of even America's closest ally. Thus, whereas the U.S. Navy maintains and operates a total of twelve large attack aircraft carriers, the once-vaunted [British] Royal Navy has none -- indeed, in all the battle fleets of the world there is no ship even remotely comparable to a Nimitz-class carrier, weighing in at some ninety-seven thousand tons fully loaded, longer than three football fields, cruising at a speed above thirty knots, and powered by nuclear reactors that give it an essentially infinite radius of action. Today, the U.S. Marine Corps possesses more attack aircraft than does the entire Royal Air Force -- and the United States has two other even larger "air forces," one an integral part of the Navy and the other officially designated as the U.S. Air Force. Indeed, in terms of numbers of men and women in uniform, the U.S. Marine Corps is half again as large as the entire British Army--and the Pentagon has a second, even larger "army" actually called the U.S. Army -- which in turn also operates its own "air force" of some five thousand aircraft.
All of these massive and redundant capabilities cost money. Notably, the present-day Pentagon budget, adjusted for inflation, is 12 percent larger than the average defense budget of the Cold War era. In 2002, American defense spending exceeded by a factor of twenty-five the combined defense budgets of the seven "rogue states" then comprising the roster of U.S. enemies.16 Indeed, by some calculations, the United States spends more on defense than all other nations in the world together. This is a circumstance without historical precedent.
Furthermore, in all likelihood, the gap in military spending between the United States and all other nations will expand further still in the years to come. Projected increases in the defense budget will boost Pentagon spending in real terms to a level higher than it was during the Reagan era. According to the Pentagon's announced long-range plans, by 2009 its budget will exceed the Cold War average by 23 percent -- despite the absence of anything remotely resembling a so-called peer competitor. However astonishing this fact might seem, it elicits little comment, either from political leaders or the press. It is simply taken for granted. The truth is that there no longer exists any meaningful context within which Americans might consider the question "How much is enough?"
On a day-to-day basis, what do these expensive forces exist to do? Simply put, for the Department of Defense and all of its constituent parts, defense per se figures as little more than an afterthought. The primary mission of America's far-flung military establishment is global power projection, a reality tacitly understood in all quarters of American society. To suggest that the U.S. military has become the world's police force may slightly overstate the case, but only slightly.
That well over a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union the United States continues to maintain bases and military forces in several dozens of countries -- by some counts well over a hundred in all -- rouses minimal controversy, despite the fact that many of these countries are perfectly capable of providing for their own security needs. That even apart from fighting wars and pursuing terrorists, U.S. forces are constantly prowling around the globe -- training, exercising, planning, and posturing -- elicits no more notice (and in some cases less) from the average American than the presence of a cop on a city street corner. Even before the Pentagon officially assigned itself the mission of "shaping" the international environment, members of the political elite, liberals and conservatives alike, had reached a common understanding that scattering U.S. troops around the globe to restrain, inspire, influence, persuade, or cajole paid dividends. Whether any correlation exists between this vast panoply of forward-deployed forces on the one hand and antipathy to the United States abroad on the other has remained for the most part a taboo subject.
The Quest for Military Dominion
The indisputable fact of global U.S. military preeminence also affects the collective mindset of the officer corps. For the armed services, dominance constitutes a baseline or a point of departure from which to scale the heights of ever greater military capabilities. Indeed, the services have come to view outright supremacy as merely adequate and any hesitation in efforts to increase the margin of supremacy as evidence of falling behind.
Thus, according to one typical study of the U.S. Navy's future, "sea supremacy beginning at our shore lines and extending outward to distant theaters is a necessary condition for the defense of the U.S." Of course, the U.S. Navy already possesses unquestioned global preeminence; the real point of the study is to argue for the urgency of radical enhancements to that preeminence. The officer-authors of this study express confidence that given sufficient money the Navy can achieve ever greater supremacy, enabling the Navy of the future to enjoy "overwhelming precision firepower," "pervasive surveillance," and "dominant control of a maneuvering area, whether sea, undersea, land, air, space or cyberspace." In this study and in virtually all others, political and strategic questions implicit in the proposition that supremacy in distant theaters forms a prerequisite of "defense" are left begging -- indeed, are probably unrecognized. At times, this quest for military dominion takes on galactic proportions. Acknowledging that the United States enjoys "superiority in many aspects of space capability," a senior defense official nonetheless complains that "we don't have space dominance and we don't have space supremacy." Since outer space is "the ultimate high ground," which the United States must control, he urges immediate action to correct this deficiency. When it comes to military power, mere superiority will not suffice.
The new American militarism also manifests itself through an increased propensity to use force, leading, in effect, to the normalization of war. There was a time in recent memory, most notably while the so-called Vietnam Syndrome infected the American body politic, when Republican and Democratic administrations alike viewed with real trepidation the prospect of sending U.S. troops into action abroad. Since the advent of the new Wilsonianism, however, self-restraint regarding the use of force has all but disappeared. During the entire Cold War era, from 1945 through 1988, large-scale U.S. military actions abroad totaled a scant six. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, they have become almost annual events. The brief period extending from 1989's Operation Just Cause (the overthrow of Manuel Noriega) to 2003's Operation Iraqi Freedom (the overthrow of Saddam Hussein) featured nine major military interventions. And that count does not include innumerable lesser actions such as Bill Clinton's signature cruise missile attacks against obscure targets in obscure places, the almost daily bombing of Iraq throughout the late 1990s, or the quasi-combat missions that have seen GIs dispatched to Rwanda, Colombia, East Timor, and the Philippines. Altogether, the tempo of U.S. military interventionism has become nothing short of frenetic.
As this roster of incidents lengthened, Americans grew accustomed to -- perhaps even comfortable with -- reading in their morning newspapers the latest reports of U.S. soldiers responding to some crisis somewhere on the other side of the globe. As crisis became a seemingly permanent condition so too did war. The Bush administration has tacitly acknowledged as much in describing the global campaign against terror as a conflict likely to last decades and in promulgating -- and in Iraq implementing -- a doctrine of preventive war.
In former times American policymakers treated (or at least pretended to treat) the use of force as evidence that diplomacy had failed. In our own time they have concluded (in the words of Vice President Dick Cheney) that force "makes your diplomacy more effective going forward, dealing with other problems." Policymakers have increasingly come to see coercion as a sort of all-purpose tool. Among American war planners, the assumption has now taken root that whenever and wherever U.S. forces next engage in hostilities, it will be the result of the United States consciously choosing to launch a war. As President Bush has remarked, the big lesson of 9/11 was that "this country must go on the offense and stay on the offense." The American public's ready acceptance of the prospect of war without foreseeable end and of a policy that abandons even the pretense of the United States fighting defensively or viewing war as a last resort shows clearly how far the process of militarization has advanced.
The New Aesthetic of War
Reinforcing this heightened predilection for arms has been the appearance in recent years of a new aesthetic of war. This is the third indication of advancing militarism.
The old twentieth-century aesthetic of armed conflict as barbarism, brutality, ugliness, and sheer waste grew out of World War I, as depicted by writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Erich Maria Remarque, and Robert Graves. World War II, Korea, and Vietnam reaffirmed that aesthetic, in the latter case with films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon, and Full Metal Jacket.
The intersection of art and war gave birth to two large truths. The first was that the modern battlefield was a slaughterhouse, and modern war an orgy of destruction that devoured guilty and innocent alike. The second, stemming from the first, was that military service was an inherently degrading experience and military institutions by their very nature repressive and inhumane. After 1914, only fascists dared to challenge these truths. Only fascists celebrated war and depicted armies as forward-looking -- expressions of national unity and collective purpose that paved the way for utopia. To be a genuine progressive, liberal in instinct, enlightened in sensibility, was to reject such notions as preposterous.
But by the turn of the twenty-first century, a new image of war had emerged, if not fully displacing the old one at least serving as a counterweight. To many observers, events of the 1990s suggested that war's very nature was undergoing a profound change. The era of mass armies, going back to the time of Napoleon, and of mechanized warfare, an offshoot of industrialization, was coming to an end. A new era of high-tech warfare, waged by highly skilled professionals equipped with "smart" weapons, had commenced. Describing the result inspired the creation of a new lexicon of military terms: war was becoming surgical, frictionless, postmodern, even abstract or virtual. It was "coercive diplomacy" -- the object of the exercise no longer to kill but to persuade. By the end of the twentieth century, Michael Ignatieff of Harvard University concluded, war had become "a spectacle." It had transformed itself into a kind of "spectator sport," one offering "the added thrill that it is real for someone, but not, happily, for the spectator." Even for the participants, fighting no longer implied the prospect of dying for some abstract cause, since the very notion of "sacrifice in battle had become implausible or ironic."
Combat in the information age promised to overturn all of "the hoary dictums about the fog and friction" that had traditionally made warfare such a chancy proposition. American commanders, affirmed General Tommy Franks, could expect to enjoy "the kind of Olympian perspective that Homer had given his gods."
In short, by the dawn of the twenty-first century the reigning postulates of technology-as-panacea had knocked away much of the accumulated blood-rust sullying war's reputation. Thus reimagined -- and amidst widespread assurances that the United States could be expected to retain a monopoly on this new way of war -- armed conflict regained an aesthetic respectability, even palatability, that the literary and artistic interpreters of twentieth-century military cataclysms were thought to have demolished once and for all. In the right circumstances, for the right cause, it now turned out, war could actually offer an attractive option--cost-effective, humane, even thrilling. Indeed, as the Anglo-American race to Baghdad conclusively demonstrated in the spring of 2003, in the eyes of many, war has once again become a grand pageant, performance art, or a perhaps temporary diversion from the ennui and boring routine of everyday life. As one observer noted with approval, "public enthusiasm for the whiz-bang technology of the U.S. military" had become "almost boyish." Reinforcing this enthusiasm was the expectation that the great majority of Americans could count on being able to enjoy this new type of war from a safe distance.
The Moral Superiority of the Soldier
This new aesthetic has contributed, in turn, to an appreciable boost in the status of military institutions and soldiers themselves, a fourth manifestation of the new American militarism.
Since the end of the Cold War, opinion polls surveying public attitudes toward national institutions have regularly ranked the armed services first. While confidence in the executive branch, the Congress, the media, and even organized religion is diminishing, confidence in the military continues to climb. Otherwise acutely wary of having their pockets picked, Americans count on men and women in uniform to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. Americans fearful that the rest of society may be teetering on the brink of moral collapse console themselves with the thought that the armed services remain a repository of traditional values and old fashioned virtue.
Confidence in the military has found further expression in a tendency to elevate the soldier to the status of national icon, the apotheosis of all that is great and good about contemporary America. The men and women of the armed services, gushed Newsweek in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, "looked like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. They were young, confident, and hardworking, and they went about their business with poise and élan." A writer for Rolling Stone reported after a more recent and extended immersion in military life that "the Army was not the awful thing that my [anti-military] father had imagined"; it was instead "the sort of America he always pictured when he explained… his best hopes for the country."
According to the old post-Vietnam-era political correctness, the armed services had been a refuge for louts and mediocrities who probably couldn't make it in the real world. By the turn of the twenty-first century a different view had taken hold. Now the United States military was "a place where everyone tried their hardest. A place where everybody… looked out for each other. A place where people -- intelligent, talented people -- said honestly that money wasn't what drove them. A place where people spoke openly about their feelings." Soldiers, it turned out, were not only more virtuous than the rest of us, but also more sensitive and even happier. Contemplating the GIs advancing on Baghdad in March 2003, the classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson saw something more than soldiers in battle. He ascertained "transcendence at work." According to Hanson, the armed services had "somehow distilled from the rest of us an elite cohort" in which virtues cherished by earlier generations of Americans continued to flourish.
Soldiers have tended to concur with this evaluation of their own moral superiority. In a 2003 survey of military personnel, "two-thirds [of those polled] said they think military members have higher moral standards than the nation they serve… Once in the military, many said, members are wrapped in a culture that values honor and morality." Such attitudes leave even some senior officers more than a little uncomfortable. Noting with regret that "the armed forces are no longer representative of the people they serve," retired admiral Stanley Arthur has expressed concern that "more and more, enlisted as well as officers are beginning to feel that they are special, better than the society they serve." Such tendencies, concluded Arthur, are "not healthy in an armed force serving a democracy."
In public life today, paying homage to those in uniform has become obligatory and the one unforgivable sin is to be found guilty of failing to "support the troops." In the realm of partisan politics, the political Right has shown considerable skill in exploiting this dynamic, shamelessly pandering to the military itself and by extension to those members of the public laboring under the misconception, a residue from Vietnam, that the armed services are under siege from a rabidly anti-military Left.
In fact, the Democratic mainstream -- if only to save itself from extinction -- has long since purged itself of any dovish inclinations. "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about," Madeleine Albright demanded of General Colin Powell, "if we can't use it?" As Albright's Question famously attests, when it comes to advocating the use of force, Democrats can be positively gung ho. Moreover, in comparison to their Republican counterparts, they are at least as deferential to military leaders and probably more reluctant to question claims of military expertise.
Even among Left-liberal activists, the reflexive anti-militarism of the 1960s has given way to a more nuanced view. Although hard-pressed to match self-aggrandizing conservative claims of being one with the troops, progressives have come to appreciate the potential for using the armed services to advance their own agenda. Do-gooders want to harness military power to their efforts to do good. Thus, the most persistent calls for U.S. intervention abroad to relieve the plight of the abused and persecuted come from the militant Left. In the present moment, writes Michael Ignatieff, "empire has become a precondition for democracy." Ignatieff, a prominent human rights advocate, summons the United States to "use imperial power to strengthen respect for self-determination [and] to give states back to abused, oppressed people who deserve to rule them for themselves."
The President as Warlord
Occasionally, albeit infrequently, the prospect of an upcoming military adventure still elicits opposition, even from a public grown accustomed to war. For example, during the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, large-scale demonstrations against President Bush's planned intervention filled the streets of many American cities. The prospect of the United States launching a preventive war without the sanction of the U.N. Security Council produced the largest outpouring of public protest that the country had seen since the Vietnam War. Yet the response of the political classes to this phenomenon was essentially to ignore it. No politician of national stature offered himself or herself as the movement's champion. No would-be statesman nursing even the slightest prospects of winning high national office was willing to risk being tagged with not supporting those whom President Bush was ordering into harm's way. When the Congress took up the matter, Democrats who denounced George W. Bush's policies in every other respect dutifully authorized him to invade Iraq. For up-and-coming politicians, opposition to war had become something of a third rail: only the very brave or the very foolhardy dared to venture anywhere near it.
More recently still, this has culminated in George W. Bush styling himself as the nation's first full-fledged warrior-president. The staging of Bush's victory lap shortly after the conquest of Baghdad in the spring of 2003 -- the dramatic landing on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with the president decked out in the full regalia of a naval aviator emerging from the cockpit to bask in the adulation of the crew -- was lifted directly from the triumphant final scenes of the movie Top Gun, with the boyish George Bush standing in for the boyish Tom Cruise. For this nationally televised moment, Bush was not simply mingling with the troops; he had merged his identity with their own and made himself one of them -- the president as warlord. In short order, the marketplace ratified this effort; a toy manufacturer offered for $39.99 a Bush look-alike military action figure advertised as "Elite Force Aviator: George W. Bush -- U.S. President and Naval Aviator."
Thus has the condition that worried C. Wright Mills in 1956 come to pass in our own day. "For the first time in the nation's history," Mills wrote, "men in authority are talking about an ‘emergency' without a foreseeable end." While in earlier times Americans had viewed history as "a peaceful continuum interrupted by war," today planning, preparing, and waging war has become "the normal state and seemingly permanent condition of the United States." And "the only accepted ‘plan' for peace is the loaded pistol."
Andrew J. Bacevich is Professor of International Relations and Director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University. A graduate of West Point and a Vietnam veteran, he has a doctorate in history from Princeton and was a Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He is the author of several books, including the just published The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War.
Copyright 2005 Andrew J. Bacevich
The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War, copyright © 2005 by Andrew J. Bacevich. Used by permission of the author and Oxford University Press, Inc.