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.
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 anti-establishment 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 12 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.
It mentions in today's paper that in 2002, U.S. defense spending exceeded by a factor of 25 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 100 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 60 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.