Monday, June 18, 2007

The Problem Is Militarism, Not 9/11

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Andrew Bacevich has an op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times:

Is the U.S. Army too small?

The Democrats vying to succeed George W. Bush think so. Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama all promise, if elected, to expand our land forces. Clinton has declared it "past time to increase the end-strength of the Army and Marines." Edwards calls for a "substantial increase." Obama offers hard numbers: His program specifies the addition of 92,000 soldiers.

Leading Republicans concur. John McCain has long advocated a bigger Army. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are now chiming in. Giuliani wants to expand the Army with an additional 10 combat brigades. Romney says that "at least 100,000" more troops are needed.

This bipartisan consensus — which even includes Bush, who recently unveiled his own five-year plan to enlarge the Army and Marine Corps — illustrates the inability or refusal of the political class to grasp the true nature of our post-9/11 foreign policy crisis. Any politician who thinks that the chief lesson to be drawn from the last five years is that we need more Americans toting rifles and carrying rucksacks has learned nothing.

In fact, this enthusiasm for putting more Americans in uniform (and for increasing overall military spending) reflects the persistence of a second consensus to which leading Democrats and Republicans alike stubbornly subscribe.

This second consensus consists of two elements. According to the first element, the only way to win the so-called global war on terrorism, thereby precluding another 9/11, is to "fix" whatever ails the Islamic world. According to the second element, the United States possesses the wherewithal to effect just such a transformation. In essence, by employing American power, beginning with military power, to ameliorate the ills afflicting Islam, we will ensure our own safety.

This is sheer twaddle, as events in Iraq have manifestly shown. Yet even today, among mainstream Republicans and Democrats, expectations persist that the United States can somehow reform and therefore pacify the Muslim world.
The underlying problem is that the basic orientation of U.S. policy since 9/11 has been flat wrong. Bush's conception of waging an open-ended global "war" to eliminate terrorism has failed, disastrously and irredeemably. Simply trying harder — no matter how many more soldiers we recruit and no matter how many more Muslim countries we invade and "liberate" — will not reverse that failure. More meddling will evoke more hatred.

The challenge confronting those aspiring to the presidency, therefore, is to devise an alternative to Bush's failed strategy. To pass muster, any such strategy will have to recognize the limits of American power, military and otherwise. It must acknowledge that because the United States cannot change Islam, we have no alternative but to coexist with it.

I have to say, this is pretty tame stuff. First of all, the problem goes much further back than 9/11. It goes back to World War II, which, I am becoming more and more convinced, screwed up our country in ways we have yet to even acknowledge, much less explore.

In his 1994 book, The Best War Ever, the historian Michael C.C. Adams wrote [emphasis mine]:
In creating a usable past, we seek formulas to apply in solving today's problems. Americans believe that World War II proved one rule above all others. It goes like this. By 1938 at the latest it was clear that Hitler was a bully bent on world domination. Britain and France should have stood up to him at the Munich conference [September 1938], when he demanded parts of Czechoslovakia as the price for peace. By their failure, World War II was made bloodier than it might have been. Conclusion: it is usually better to fight than to talk.

The political commentator Andy Rooney said that perhaps Hitler's worst crime was to convince Americans that international opponents are invariably bullies who must be met with military force. Admiral Gene LaRocque, like Rooney a veteran and a dissenter from the mainstream, said that "World War Two has warped our view of how we look at things today. We see things in terms of that war, which in a sense was a good war. But the twisted memory of it encourages the men of my generation to be willing, almost eager, to use military force anywhere in the world. ..."

Our warped view of World War II has been enhanced by the fact that the war turned the United States into an economic and military world power, at a relatively low human cost, compared with the rest of the world:

... [A]bout 300,000 Americans died; a further 1 million were wounded, of whom 500,000 were seriously disabled. Tragic as these figures are, they are dwarfed by those for other belligerents. The Japanese lost 2.3 million, Germany about 5.6 million, China perhaps as many as 10 million, and the Soviet Union a staggering 20 million. Put another way, the death rate in the American Civil War ... was 182 per ten thousand population. For World War II, the proportion of Americans killed was 30 per ten thousand.

Of the major belligerents, the United States was alone in enjoying a higher standard of living as a result of the war. ... The United States was unique among the principal combatants in being neither invaded nor bombed, and most people, in or out of uniform, never saw a fighting front. As a result, the war was for many a prosperous, exciting, even safe change from the "ruined and colorless landscape of the Depression," as Russell Baker, a writer who grew up in the 1930s, termed the decade. ...

This is the underlying problem, not the correctness or incorrectness of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11. If the American political and military establishment is convinced that fatter military budgets and ever-increasing troop levels are the key to winning the "global war on terrorism," it's because that establishment, along with a goodly percentage of the American public, has been believing that for the past 60-plus years -- and very little, if anything, in American society has happened to challenge that belief. Americans still, as in World War II, get to watch war on their television screens and read about war in their newspapers without having to experience war in any direct way at all -- except, of course, for the tiny percentage of the U.S. population that actually fights the wars. And although the vast majority of Americans are not enjoying the economic boom that occurred in the post-World War II years, the defense industry does. And that industry -- what Dwight D. Eisenhower presciently dubbed the "military-industrial complex" -- is orders of magnitude bigger and more powerful than it was when Eisenhower warned us about it in 1961. War is big business.

"It's difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it."

Cross-posted at Shakesville.

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