Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Andrew Bacevich on Afghanistan War: "The President Lacks the Guts to Get Out"

AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a piece called "The End of Military History?" comparing the United States, Israel and the failure of the Western way of war, paralleling the failures of Israel and US military involvement in the last two decades.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, the point of the piece, I think, is to argue that Western nations, democratic nations, generally, took from the whole experience of the twentieth century. They concluded that war really doesn’t work very well. War is something to be avoided if at all possible. Israel and the United States, I think, took a different conclusion from the twentieth century. And the conclusion that both Israel and the United States drew was that war can work, victory is feasible, and that victory achieved can translate into political advantage. And from, I think, our present perspective, both looking at the dilemmas that Israel faces and the dilemmas that we face, the evidence is pretty clear: victory is almost impossible to achieve in a really meaningful way. And even when you think you’ve achieved a great victory, somehow the political benefits turn out to be very ephemeral.

I mean, in many respects, the Six-Day War of 1967 is viewed as one of the great military triumphs of the contemporary era, when David defeated Goliath. But if we look at the problems that beset Israel today, in many respects I think they grow directly from that ostensibly great victory, because out of victory came the conviction that a greater Israel was a feasible project. Out of greater Israel—that out of that comes the settlement movement. Out of that becomes Israel having shackled itself to the Palestinian people, whose birth rate is so much higher than that of Israeli Jews. So, you know, what exactly did they get out of the 1967 war? What did we get out of a comparably great triumph—was perceived at the time—in Operation Desert Storm back in 1991? All we did was find ourselves more deeply embedded in the greater Middle East.

And on the leaked Pentagon documents....

ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I mean, there are competing imperatives here. I mean, in many respects, I think I’m a First Amendment—I don’t know if "radical" is the correct term, but I mean, I—there are—the government lies to us. The government conceals. And anything that can help to reveal information to the public that is of relevance to our understanding of ongoing affairs, that information—people who release it, I think, in some senses, are serving the public interest.

The other issue, though, is we want to have—if we’re going to have a military, we need to have a military in which there is good order and discipline. And we want to have a military in which civilian authorities are the ones who make decisions. In that regard, having a PFC who’s leaking 90,000 classified documents, I do think—

AMY GOODMAN: If, in fact, Manning is the one who did it.

ANDREW BACEVICH: If he’s the one—I do think is a reprehensible action. But it’s also reprehensible when, in the summer of 2009, before President Obama had made his Afghanistan decision, that the McChrystal recommendation was leaked to the Washington Post, which effectively hijacked the debate over what the Obama administration should do about the Afghanistan war. And I don’t remember Admiral Mullen or Secretary Gates or these other people deciding that they were going to go find out who leaked the McChrystal recommendations, because I believe that that is as reprehensible as this leak of the 90,000 documents. That was a direct assault on civilian control of the military. So if you’re going to get upset about one, you ought to get upset about the other, too.