If you read nothing else today, make it the entire Phil Donahue interview with Andrew Bacevich. It is tremendous stuff. I was especially struck by this passage in which Prof. Bacevich talks about how we, the people, have failed our military and ourselves with our characteristic amnesia. Excerpts:
ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I mean, if I could have five minutes of the president’s time, I’d say, “Mr. President, the issue really is not Syria. I mean, you’re being told that it’s Syria. You’re being told you have to do something about Syria, that you have to make a decision about Syria. That somehow your credibility is on the line.”
But I’d say, “Mr. President, that’s not true. The issue really here is whether or not an effort over the course of several decades, dating back to the promulgation of the Carter Doctrine in 1980, an effort that extends over several decades to employ American power, military power, overt, covert military power exercise through proxies, an effort to use military power to somehow stabilize or fix or liberate or transform the greater Middle East hasn’t worked.
“And if you think back to 1980, and just sort of tick off the number of military enterprises that we have been engaged in that part of the world, large and small, you know, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and on and on, and ask yourself, ‘What have we got done? What have we achieved? Is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more Democratic? Are we enhancing America’s standing in the eyes of the people of the Islamic world?’
“The answers are, ‘No, no, and no.’ So why, Mr. President, do you think that initiating yet another war, ’cause if we bomb Syria, it’s a war, why do you think that initiating yet another war in this protracted enterprise is going to produce a different outcome? Wouldn’t it be perhaps wise to ask ourselves if this militarized approach to the region maybe is a fool’s errand.
ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I’d back up from Syria a little bit. And I think I’d want to tell a story that begins really back at the end of the Vietnam War. A war that divided the country, a war that in many respects shattered the United States military. And part of the response to that war was that the American people decided to jettison the longstanding tradition of the citizen soldier.
Richard Nixon endorsed that when he ended the draft and declared the creation of an all-volunteer force. And for some considerable period of time, this seemed like a smart move, a good thing for the country. It let citizens off the hook, also gave us highly capable and well-trained and well-disciplined soldiers. What only became evident after the Cold War ended, however was that this new professional army really was no longer America’s army. It was Washington’s army. And Washington began to–
PHIL DONAHUE: As in Washington DC?
ANDREW BACEVICH: As in Washington DC. And Washington began to do with that army whatever they wanted, regardless of whether the people had signed up to the enterprise. And this greater
pensionpenchant [Error in the original transcript. — RD] for war I think really reached its zenith after 9/11 with President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, as so many people have said, a country totally uninvolved in 9/11.
And this was the ultimately testing time for this great, professional army of ours. And I’m sorry to say it failed the test. We were supposed to win quickly, economically, easily. We didn’t win. And instead, we ended up with a protracted war. Part of a series of post 9/11 wars where — bringing us to where we are today where Syria may well be yet another one of these wars waged by Washington with its army while the people are left sitting on the sidelines.
PHIL DONAHUE: And making no real sacrifice – was it one percent of our citizens?
ANDREW BACEVICH: Yeah, it’s interesting. You know, sort of the inverse of the complaint of the Occupy Movement. You know, the Occupy Movement said there’s the one percent of the rich people who are screwing the 99 percent. And when it comes to basic military policy, we have the 99 percent screwing the one percent. It’s the one percent who gets sent off to fight these endless wars.
PHIL DONAHUE: So it’s going to be easier then to have another one and another one. We haven’t even, it seems to me, we haven’t even looked at ourselves regarding the wars that we’ve had.
ANDREW BACEVICH: That’s–
PHIL DONAHUE: Nobody–
ANDREW BACEVICH: That’s one of the most troubling aspects of this whole thing. It staggers me that the American people have so quickly put the Iraq War in the rearview mirror. Indeed, won’t even look in the rearview mirror.
Because if they did, they could see in the rearview mirror the smoking ruin that we left behind. Instead, there is this preoccupation to deal with the next crisis, which as we speak, is Syria. Six months from now, it’ll probably be something else.
Please, read the whole thing, and share it with your friends.
I am reminded of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, from The Great Gatsby:
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
And I am reminded of Jay Gatsby and the green light:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. … And then one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
We may think we are done with Iraq. But we haven’t even begun to reckon with it.
UPDATE: At the French Foreign Ministry today, Sec. of State John Kerry said, absurdly, that “we are not going to war.” What on earth does he think hurling Tomahawk missiles at the government of a sovereign state is? He also called this the global community’s “Munich moment,” and described opposition to the war plan as “appeasement.” What a transparent debasement of history and of language. Here, by the way, is an image our reader Fred shot of Kerry leaving the Tuileries today: