America’s War for the Greater Middle East
A Military History
An influential historian, Andrew Bacevich sees the political, military, and economic crises that face America as deeply interconnected. Applauded for reaching across political lines and speaking blunt truth to power, regardless of who is in office, Bacevich offers bracingly pragmatic talks that will help steer the country back on course.
“In any sane political system, Bacevich would be immediately recruited to run policymaking at the Pentagon.”— The Washington Post
Andrew Bacevich is Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University; he previously taught at Johns Hopkins University and at West Point, where he graduated in 1969. Time calls him “one of the most provocative—as in thought-provoking—national-security writers out there today.” His book Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country is a blistering critique of the gulf between America’s soldiers and the society that sends them off to war. His most recent book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, one of Kirkus Review’s Best Non-Fiction of 2016, is a searing reassessment of U.S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East over the past four decades.
Bacevich’s bestseller, Washington Rules, is a critique of the country’s military industrial complex. In his book The Limits of Power, he deconstructed decades of disastrous foreign policies, arguing that America’s lust for empire and its sense of entitlement, coupled with its myth of indestructibility, has deluded and diminished the nation, at home and in the eyes of the world. “This compact, meaty volume ought to be on the reading list of every candidate for national office,” The Washington Post writes.
Bacevich also holds a Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton. With the US Army, he served during the Vietnam War, and has held posts in Germany and the Persian Gulf; he retired, as a Colonel, in the early 1990s. Bacevich’s catalog includes The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, and American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy. Bacevich has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, and The New York Times, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
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? In this keynote, Andrew Bacevich offers an incisive critical history of this ongoing military enterprise—now more than 30 years old and with no end in sight.
During the ’80s, Bacevich argues, a great transition occurred. As the Cold War wound down, the US initiated a new conflict—a War for the Greater Middle East—that continues to the present day. The long struggle with the Soviet Union had involved only occasional, sporadic fighting. But as this new war unfolded, hostilities became persistent. From the Balkans and East Africa to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, US forces embarked upon a seemingly endless series of campaigns across the Islamic world. Few achieved anything remotely like conclusive success. Instead, initiatives to promote peace and stability produced just the opposite. As a consequence, phrases like “permanent war” and “open-ended war” have become part of everyday discourse.
Throughout this talk, Bacevich weaves a compelling narrative out of episodes as varied as the Beirut bombing of ’83, the Mogadishu firefight of ’93, the invasion of Iraq in ’03, 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. A 20-year army veteran who served in Vietnam, Bacevich brings the full weight of his expertise to this vitally important subject.
Andrew Bacevich gives an uncompromising critique of the guiding assumptions that lead America's foreign policy and military strategy—what he dubs the “Washington rules,” a set of principles that have dominated America's direction for over half a century. Bacevich argues that these rules—that America must always have a massive military capable of rapid engagement, that global stability is dependent on America’s military might—are so entrenched that no elected official or policy maker has been able to alter them. These rules have led America to insolvency and perpetual war. How have the “Washington rules” shaped history, and can these rules ever be changed? Bacevich takes audiences on a journey into the heart of American doctrine to help us understand who we are as a nation, and where we go from here.
America is suffering a triple crisis. Our government, led astray by years of an imperialistic presidency, is now a democracy in name only. Our military is overstretched and exhausted. Our economy, buckling under the weight of a uniquely American urge to over-consume, is in a tailspin. How did we get here, and how do we fix it? In this talk, Andrew Bacevich shows you how previous administrations, dating back as far as the end of the Second World War, have led America on this increasingly unsustainable path. This is how we reverse it, Bacevich says: we must look to the neglected tradition of realism. In short, we must respect power and its limits; suppress claims of American Exceptionalism; be skeptical of easy solutions, especially those involving force; and make sure that the books balance. Bacevich's talk, far from an exercise in finger pointing, is an indispensable outline to fixing America's urgent problems before the damage becomes irreparable.
The United States has been “at war” for more than a decade. Yet as war has become normalized, a yawning gap has opened between America’s soldiers and the society in whose name they fight. For ordinary citizens, as former secretary of defense Robert Gates has acknowledged, armed conflict has become an “abstraction” and military service “something for other people to do.”
Drawing from Breach of Trust, bestselling author Andrew Bacevich takes stock of the separation between Americans and their military, tracing its origins to the Vietnam era and exploring its pernicious implications: a nation with an abiding appetite for war waged at enormous expense by a standing army demonstrably unable to achieve victory. Among the collateral casualties are values once considered central to democratic practice, including the principle that responsibility for defending the country should rest with its citizens.
Citing figures as diverse as the martyr-theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the marine-turned-anti-warrior Smedley Butler, Bacevich summons Americans to restore that principle. Rather than something for “other people” to do, national defense should become the business of “we the people.” Should Americans refuse to shoulder this responsibility, Bacevich warns, the prospect of endless war, waged by a “foreign legion” of professionals and contractor-mercenaries, beckons. So too does bankruptcy—moral as well as fiscal.