Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"The Folly of the Administration's Attempts To Manage History"

I haven't felt much like writing anything in the last couple of days, but this op-ed by Andrew Bacevich in the Los Angeles Times is too outstanding to let pass without note:

Viewed from a historian's perspective, the Bush administration since 9/11 has ransacked the past to conjure up comforting expectations for the future. President Bush excels in this exercise, expressing confidence that the "untamed fire of freedom" will one day soon "reach the darkest corners of our world." Yet as the assassination of Benazir Bhutto reminds us yet again, events refuse to play along. History remains stubbornly recalcitrant.

Bush would have us believe otherwise. History, he insists, "has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty." That direction, the president believes, tends toward peace, democracy and freedom for all humankind. America's purpose, assigned by the Author of Liberty, is to nudge history toward its intended destination. More immediately, America's ostensible aim since 9/11 has been to make the blessings of liberty available to the Islamic world. As democracy spreads there, the threat posed by terrorism will diminish. Such at least has been the assumption underlying Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the two wars begun on Bush's watch.

This strategy of militarized liberation has been fraught with contradictions, not the least of which has been the partnership forged between the United States and Pakistan. Bush has repeatedly declared Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf a valued and trusted ally. Since 9/11, the U.S. has provided Pakistan with at least $10 billion in aid, most of it going to the army. In hopes of ensuring Pakistani cooperation in the global war on terrorism, Washington has ignored that nation's record as perhaps the world's most egregious nuclear weapons proliferator.
At the beginning of his second term, Bush spoke confidently of the United States sponsoring a global democratic revolution "with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Ever since that hopeful moment, developments across the greater Middle East -- above all, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and on the West Bank -- have exposed the very real limits of U.S. wisdom and power.

Now the virtual impotence of the U.S. in the face of the crisis enveloping Pakistan -- along with its complicity in creating that crisis -- ought to discredit once and for all any notions of America fixing the world's ills.

Bush dreamed of managing history. It turns out that he cannot even manage Pakistan. Thus does the Author of Liberty mock the pretensions of those who presume to understand his intentions and to interpret his will.


Joan said...

Hi There!

The problem with this op-ed is that it is based on erroneous premises such as Bush genuinely believed that he was fixing the middle east and bringing democracy to one and all. Bush was never under any such illusion. No politician of EITHER political party believes that Americans can bring democracy to the world. All politicans of both parties understand that America must keep a foothold in the middle east to protect its interest in oil. All politicians of both parties understand the need for permanent military bases in the middle east. All politicians of both parties understand that you cannot invade a country and tell everyone you are doing to protect your interest in the reigon's natural resources and that it must put in a permanent military base. Hence, the discussion about liberty is used.

Op-eds like this are completely useless. Why waste your time discussing America's rationale for being in the reigon as though it were real? Why not discuss the REAL reason America is there and what should be done about it. Does America need to be there? Are there other ways of protecting its interests in the reigon? What are the implications if there are no other ways to protect American interests other than to invade innocent countries and create havoc? Does this mean that Democratic candidates are being disingenuous when some of them speak of leaving Iraq?

I remember earlier in the year you mentioned you were feeling a little depressed about the situation and that you felt that no progess was being made towards peace. You were correct. No progress is being made towards peace. That is not the current goal of the Americans. That is not the goal of any of the presidential candidates (at least of those with a chance of being elected). We will not see peace in the middle east in our life time. If we see America leave Iraq during our life time, it will be one desperate and protracted fight. America will literally have to be forced out.

These are the real issues that need to be discussed. So why aren't Americans discussing them? It is like a 500 pound gorilla in the room that everyone ignores.

Take Care

Kathy said...


I think the problem with what you write here is the same one I've pointed out before: your tendency to see things on a very literal level.

Bacevich's op-ed is absolutely NOT based on the premise that Bush genuinely wanted democracy. The fact that Bush cozied up to dictators (like Musharraf) to achieve his so-called goal of democratic reform reveals that democracy was never his real motive for invading Iraq, or any of the other aspects of his foreign policy.That's *implied* in the critique.

In fairness, I am familiar with Bacevich's writing and thinking, and I know he is fully aware of the hypocrisy and mendaciousness of Bush's position. He wrote a book about the growing militarism of U.S. foreign policy, and his own son died in Iraq as a result of Bush's folly. He has opposed the war for a long time, if not from the start, and he is not naive enough to believe that Bush was sincere about anything he said.

I disagree with your implication that Bacevich thinks we need permanent military bases in the Middle East to protect our oil interests. He does not express that idea at all, either directly or by implication. He's saying exactly the opposite.

I don't understand why you feel so strongly that there needs to be a discussion about the reason America is there and what should be done about it. Everybody KNOWS why America is there. America is there for oil and power. Everybody KNOWS what should be done about it. The U.S. should withdraw from Iraq and let Iraqis manage their natural resources for themselves. The U.S. should stop torturing detainees, restore habeus corpus, stop secret spy programs on Americans, etc., etc. We absolutely DON'T need to spend one more second on discussions about America's true motives or what to do about them. We know the motives and we know what to do. We simply need to DO IT.

Joan said...

Hi There!

Well we are now getting closer to an understanding. I now know what you mean when you say I am too "literal minded". To be honest, I did not completely understand what you meant before. I re-read the op-ed piece, and I still do not know how to interpret it any other way than to take what he says. I need your help here, and I am being honest in asking for it. I am not saying your interpretation is wrong. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that Bacevich knows America is in the middle east to get oil and not to promote democracy, but he critiques Bush for not accomplishing those aims.

I did not mean to say that Bacevich believes America SHOULD be in the middle east protecting oil interests, I meant to say that right or wrong that is currently what America is doing.

I think this needs to be discussed because right now there is not one political candidate in either party who will let go of this policy. No matter who you vote for, America stays in Iraq and eyes Iran greedily.

I agree that torture is completely unacceptable, but this is not new for the USA. This is the policy that has been followed in Central and South America. Put in a gov't that is friendly to the USA, claim they are for democracy despite the fact that they put their own people in jail for forming trade unions, and to further intimidate the people send around roving death squads.

Once again I am not saying America SHOULD do this, I am saying that they ARE doing this. So the question becomes how do we stop the American gov't from continuing this policy of human rights abuses and torture?

Right now everyone is voting for "lesser evils" rather than voting for people who will stop this policy and refusing to vote for those who are willing to continue this policy. Do you really think the world is anywhere close to that? I don't, but I do admire you optimism.

The American gov't under either Democratic or Republican leadership is holding its own people hostage to these policies? What is to be done?

Take Care

Kathy said...

If I understand you correctly, you are saying that Bacevich knows America is in the middle east to get oil and not to promote democracy, but he critiques Bush for not accomplishing those aims.

Nope. Wasn't saying that. I don't think Bacevich -- from what I have read of him -- ever thought that Bush could accomplish his stated goals in Iraq. I think what he's saying (or a major part of what he's saying) is that Bush, and others in his administration, did what they did in Iraq because they were acting in the arrogant assumption, or belief, that they could somehow remake the Middle East into something that would align with their idea of America's "national interests." They (meaning Bush et al.) packaged that "something" as "democracy," because that's what they felt would play best with the American public. And in the specific instance of George W. Bush, he framed the whole business with his fanatical, extremist, right-wing Christian religiosity, which led him to believe (or convince himself) that the so-called "global war on terror" is an apocalyptic battle between Good and Evil, and that God has designated the U.S. as his instrument for defeating the Evil, and has further designated George W. Bush to lead the nation in this battle.

Bacevich doesn't go into all this detail, but it's clear that's what he's talking about, because he directly refers to Bush's invocation of the "Author of Liberty" and Bush's arrogant assumption that he knew what God wanted.

Obviously, this entire framework for Bush's foreign policy was fatally flawed. And not just flawed, but totally illegitimate. That's what Bacevich is saying. It's not that he would not like to see democracy in the Middle East, but that's not his point. His point is that Bush's actions were never about democracy, and that the entire proposition on which he premised his actions (the world is divided into Good and Evil; the U.S. is the Good and has been assigned by God to battle the Evil) was and is entirely false. How could anything good ever have come out of that? Both the intention and the methods used to realize that intention were utterly corrupt and dishonest.

Right now everyone is voting for "lesser evils" rather than voting for people who will stop this policy and refusing to vote for those who are willing to continue this policy. Do you really think the world is anywhere close to that? I don't, but I do admire you optimism.

I'm not optimistic at all. At least, it's not how I feel inside, however it might appear to others.

Where I disagree with you is in what I take to be your belief that everyone knows that U.S. foreign policy (current and past) is stupid and wrong and immoral, so all we need to do is talk about how to change that. It's not possible, as the U.S. political system is currently configured,to "vote for people who will stop this policy and refuse to vote for those who are willing to continue this policy." I mean, one can try, but no matter who gets into office, and no matter how sincere and well-intentioned they are, once they get into office they will change. They will move to the right. They will cave under pressure from right-wingers (whether Republican or Democrat) and K Street lobbyists and the defense industry.

Voting for a third party candidate won't change that, at least not in the short run, because even if one could get elected, he or she would face the same pressure for "compromise" that a major party candidate would face.

In my opinion, this country (mine) has become such an oligarchy that no single candidate can effect the policies you and I would want them to. It's the oligarchy itself, and the arcane and undemocratic electoral system in the U.S., that need to be addressed before any changes will occur no matter who is elected.

And look, I say this as someone who fully intends to vote for Barack Obama, who is looking more and more like the one who will win the Democratic nomination. But I have no illusions that his policies would be substantially different from any of the Republican candidates. The most I can believe is that he would not make things worse -- which I do think someone like Giuliani or Huckabee or Romney would do.

Who are these people you see in U.S. electoral politics right now who will "stop this policy" if we will only vote for them and get them into office? I don't see them.

Joan said...

Hey Kathy!

I am sorry it took me so long to get back to you, we have been having some drama in our house with our kids!

I understand better what you are saying now that explained Bacevich's op-ed to me. I do wonder why he just didn't come out and say just that. I would not have understood that if you had not explained it to me, and I thank you for taking the time to do that.

I also agree with you that no matter which candidate Americans vote in at this point will continue the present policy in the middle east, just as the one in central and South America have been continued. Certainly this policy is not one of any specific party, but it is a policy of corporate America. Even Jimmy Carter, who claims to be a proponant of human rights was directly repsonsible for the death and torture of thousands, just as the other presidents were. The difference is that Carter has conveniantly forgotten that part of his history.

I wonder if Americans would stand a better chance voting in a candidate that is at least willing to make changes within the country such as universal health care. The Republicans were quite worried when conservative Christian groups threatened to withdraw their support and votes if a more liberal candidate is elected to represent the Republicans. They really seemed to take this threat seriously. I think they took it seriously because they knew if the cosnervative Christians walked, they would lose significant votes, probably enough to throw the election.

The interesting thing is that the conservative Christains did not care if a Democrat got into office if voting for the Republicans meant voting in a pro-choice candidate such as Gulianni (did I spell that right?). They were going to launch an independent candidate and that is all there was to it. This may be the only solution for those on the left. If these policies are going to continue regardless of who is in office, than perhaps the solution is a mass "spoil your ballot" campaign. I think the Democracts will move a bit if they see they are going to lose elections until they take account of their voters further to the left. Right now they are courting the votes more to the right, becuase they are trying to woo these people away from the Republican party. They know people on the left will vote for them no matter WHAT they do. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I don't understand why the left doesn't at least start to DISCUSS how to break this oligarchy.

Take Care