Scott Horton Interviews Andrew Bacevich
Andrew Bacevich, Professor of International Relations at Boston University and author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, discusses the end of (military) history, the bipartisan business of war-making, the destructive patriotism of Washington power elites, why military power is useless at effecting positive social change and how formerly mainstream war skeptics have been relegated to the lunatic fringe.
MP3 here. (9:41) Transcript below.
Andrew J. Bacevich is Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he received his PhD in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University, he taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins.
Bacevich is the author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (2010). His previous books include The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008); The Long War: A New History of US National Security Policy since World War II (2007) (editor); The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005); and American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy (2002). His essays and reviews have appeared in a variety of scholarly and general interest publications including The Wilson Quarterly, The National Interest, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Nation, and The New Republic. His op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Boston Globe, and Los Angeles Times, among other newspapers.
In 2004, Dr. Bacevich was a Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He has also held fellowships at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and the Council on Foreign Relations.
Transcript – Scott Horton Interviews Andrew Bacevich, August 9, 2010
Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio, I’m Scott Horton, and our next guest on the show is Andrew Bacevich, former Lieutenant Colonel, Retired. He’s the author of the new book, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. Previously he wrote The New American Militarism and The Limits of Power. And he has an article, it’s under Tom Englehardt’s name, at Antiwar.com right now called “The End of (Military) History?” I forget if there was a question mark on that or not. Welcome to the show, Andrew. How are you?
Andrew Bacevich: Well, thanks very much. I’m fine.
Horton: I really appreciate you joining us on the show today. So: Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. I guess the real bottom line here is the bipartisan nature of the War Party and the inability of either side to put an end to this when the power switches back and forth. It seems like we just go on and on and on.
Bacevich: Yes. You’ve actually summarized a core message of the book, the fact that since the end of World War II a national security consensus really has prevailed, leading to the excessive militarization of U.S. policy and I think bringing it to where we are today, where war has become a normal condition.
The one additional thing I would want to emphasize is that it’s not simply that Washington is doing these things to us; rather, we the people become complicit because it’s happening right in front of our noses, and we really don’t ask the critical questions about whether or not things like war in Afghanistan, now in its ninth year, actually make any sense whatsoever.
Horton: Yeah, well, I’m afraid that’s too true. And I think people tend to just go along with the consensus. It seems like if you don’t really – if you’re not expert in something, you go along with what the experts seem to think about it, I guess, is the way most people look at things, you know? I mean, if you were teaching me how to scuba dive, I wouldn’t just question you. I don’t know, you’re the expert, right? That’s the attitude.
And I think also that people believe – and it’s interesting, I’ve read your work for many years, and you always write from this sort of, this point of view of a detached, almost like a narrator in the interests of the nation. And yet, I kind of – and I think that that’s what people really believe, right? Is that the people who run the government have the national interest in mind. But I’m of the idea that the people who are really the richest and most powerful in our society aren’t patriotic at all. And they don’t really care about America at all. They’d just as soon throw us away and move to China.
Bacevich: I’m not sure I agree with you. And what I would say is that they actually see themselves as patriotic. George Bush, our last president, genuinely believed, in my view, that in invading Iraq in 2003 he was doing something that was consistent with the interests of the nation. Now he was wildly wrong on that, and he also was utterly blind to the fact that his convictions in many respects derived from a set of other considerations at odds with the well-being of the nation.
So, yes, if you’re a general, you believe that it makes sense for us to be spending 700 billion dollars on the Pentagon budget. But of course if you’re a general, you have an interest in the Pentagon continuing to be able to command those kinds of resources. So convictions and interests blur in ways that make it difficult for people to recognize how utterly irrational or counterproductive some aspects of our policy have become.
Horton: Yeah, that’s an interesting way to put it. A man with a hammer, everything’s a nail kind of thing. I remember actually reading a Tom Clancy novel, oh, I don’t know, 12 years ago or something, long ago – that’s a long time to me – where the people from the biggest corporations and the government are this revolving door and whatever, but it just is completely accepted as of course legitimate. These are the best and brightest of us all, so of course they run TRW and the Defense Department, etc.
Bacevich: That’s – well, I mean, I think that we’re oversimplifying a little bit, but there’s a core truth in what you say. The people who run Wall Street and the people who run Washington share a common worldview, and that common world view very much informs the way Wall Street and Washington view our military power, its purposes, and the amount that we should be investing in military power.
Horton: And your purpose, in this article as well as in your recent book, is to explain that from your view American military power is really not good for anything in terms of going around the world in order to gain at the expense of other people in these wars. If it’s good for anything, it’s good for defense, and that’s about it, right?
Bacevich: Well, essentially yes. I mean, I am not a pacifist. I don’t wish to see us disarm. I would like to see us have a strong and effective military, but I am absolutely persuaded that force is useful, only in very limited and specific circumstances. The belief that military power can effectively be used to shape the international order, to transform societies like Afghanistan, is a great illusion, and it’s an illusion that we can no longer afford to indulge.
Horton: Well, you know, I’ve always thought that you set a really great example because in the most simple TV narrative, to be antiwar means that you’re like Michael Moore or something like that, and then there’s no “Look, there’s Andrew Bacevich, and he’s calm and he’s patient and he’s methodically explaining to you what’s good for the American republic and what’s not.” It doesn’t have to be a liberal or a conservative thing, but you always put it across in a way that I like to believe can appeal to conservatives and nationalists and people who would tend to go along with what the War Party says.
Bacevich: Well, I thank you very much for that, and I hope that people do view my writing in that way, but, I mean, I would want to reinforce the point that you just made. I think that the notion that “questioning war or being skeptical about military power should qualify as a radical or off-the-wall kind of view” is itself I think deeply un-American. We have forgotten that we have a very rich history in this country in which patriotic Americans were profoundly skeptical of war and of military institutions, and it’s time, I think, for us to recover a certain amount of that skepticism.
Horton: Well it seems like it’s really a threat to our traditions, isn’t it, to have so many people engaged in warfare all the time and then coming home, or even while they’re gone their family’s breaking up, and people being unfaithful, and then they come home, and they’re cops, and they abuse people on the side of the road, and you have more and more, you know, racism because people who started out nice kids come back detesting the “hajis” as they’ve been trained to do while they’re in the war. This is really polluting who we are here, while we’re waging these wars over there. Never mind all the violations of our Bill of Rights that goes along, and all the rest of that.
Bacevich: Well I think one of the really most troubling results of this perpetual war in which we find ourselves involved is that our soldiers have to deal with the consequences, and I think increasingly we’re beginning to appreciate this, even in reports that we see in the mainstream media.
Whether you’re talking about the prevalence of PTSD, whether you’re talking about the epidemic, really, of prescription drugs being used by American soldiers to deal with anxiety, depression, other problems resulting from their combat deployment, we’re creating a substantial community of our fellow citizens who are being seriously damaged as a consequence of their participation in war, and that very much demands our attention. It’s not something that you can simply sweep under the table by saying, “You know, I support the troops, hurrah.”
Horton: All right, everybody, that is Andrew Bacevich. He’s the author of Washington Rules: American’s Path to Permanent War, which, by the way, that’s a premium, you get the book if you donate to Antiwar.com this week more than $100, and we really thank you for your participation in that. And thank you very much for your time on the show today, Andrew.
Bacevich: Thank you.