politics | March 02, 2016

First Look: Andrew Bacevich’s New Book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East

For the past 35 years, the U.S. has been in a perpetual state of warfare in the Middle East. From the Carter Doctrine to Operation Desert Storm, the bombing of Beirut to the covert support of jihadists in Afghanistan, and from ‘Black Hawk Down’ in Somalia to the collapse of Iraq, America has enforced its interests across the Muslim world for generations. Now, military historian and bestselling author Andrew Bacevich takes on the full scope of this protean conflict in his new book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. Arriving this April, America’s War promises a bracing, searing critique of U.S. foreign policy in the region—and its seemingly endless campaigns.

Bacevich—professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University, and member of the Council on Foreign Relations—helps us shake the cobwebs from public discourse. As Syrian refugees continue to seek a better life, and as ISIS and the Taliban continue to mutate and destabilize vast areas, his percipient (and often inconvenient) assessments help us make sense of equivocal policy with grave consequences. In recent articles like “The Pretend War” in The Spectator, “How the U.S. Can Exit a Permanent State of War in the Middle East” in TIME, or “A War the West Cannot Win” in The Boston Globe, he reminds the west of the role it’s played in shaping the most urgent conflicts. And in articles like “What Trumpism Means for Democracy” in The Guardian, he weighs in on domestic politics with an equally sure, analytic hand.

The accumulating praise for America’s War already paints it as a must-read. Richard K. Betts, director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia, calls it Bacevich’s “sad crowning achievement: the story of our long and growing military entanglement in the region of the most tragic, bitter, and intractable of conflicts.” Lieutenant General Pul K. Van Riper of the U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) describes it as “an unparalleled historical tour de force certain to affect the formation of future U.S. foreign policy ... Every citizen aspiring to high office needs not only to read but to study and learn from this important book. This is one of the most serious and essential books I have read in more than half a century of public service.”

Bacevich’s previous books—Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013); Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (2010); and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008)—are thought-provoking, vociferous critiques of American international relations, military engagements, and sense of entitlement. They also each made the New York Times bestseller list. An earlier work, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005), won the Lannan Literary Award for an Especially Notable Book. Not merely a scholar and academic, Bacevich also concluded a 23-year career as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army in the early 90s, after serving in the Vietnam War and holding posts in Germany and the Persian Gulf. Along with the publications listed above, his writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and more.

Here’s the full, extended description of America’s War for the Greater Middle East from the publisher, Random House:

“From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in the Greater Middle East. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere else. What caused this shift? Andrew J. Bacevich, one of the country’s most respected voices on foreign affairs, offers an incisive critical history of this ongoing military enterprise—now more than 30 years old and with no end in sight.

During the 1980s, Bacevich argues, a great transition occurred. As the Cold War wound down, the United States initiated a new conflict—a War for the Greater Middle East—that continues to the present day. The long twilight struggle with the Soviet Union had involved only occasional and sporadic fighting. But as this new war unfolded, hostilities became persistent. From the Balkans and East Africa to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, U.S. forces embarked upon a seemingly endless series of campaigns across the Islamic world. Few achieved anything remotely like conclusive success. Instead, actions undertaken with expectations of promoting peace and stability produced just the opposite. As a consequence, phrases like ‘permanent war’ and ‘open-ended war’ have become part of everyday discourse.

Connecting the dots in a way no other historian has done before, Bacevich weaves a compelling narrative out of episodes as varied as the Beirut bombing of 1983, the Mogadishu firefight of 1993, the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the rise of ISIS in the present decade. Understanding what America’s costly military exertions have wrought requires seeing these seemingly discrete events as parts of a single war. It also requires identifying the errors of judgment made by political leaders in both parties and by senior military officers who share responsibility for what has become a monumental march to folly. This Bacevich unflinchingly does. 

A 20-year army veteran who served in Vietnam, Andrew J. Bacevich brings the full weight of his expertise to this vitally important subject. America’s War for the Greater Middle East is a bracing after-action report from the front lines of history. It will fundamentally change the way we view America’s engagement in the world’s most volatile region.”

To book politics speaker Andrew Bacevich for a keynote on American foreign policy, military engagements, diplomacy, and national security for your next event, contact the Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

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