By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Andrew J. Bacevich
Narrated by: Rob Shapiro, Andrew J. Bacevich
To put it mildly, this is a difficult audio book to listen to. It rings with historic truth while revealing American ineptitude. Written by a military historian who retired as a Colonel, served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf and, tragically, lost a son in Iraq in 2007. Bacevich implies that America’s wars, since WWII, have been failures. (Though he does not mention Korea, one presumes a temporary peace at the 38th parallel is included.)
Bacevich’s latest book focuses on war in the Middle East; a war of attrition and guerrilla warfare that reminds one of Vietnam. America clearly did not win in Vietnam and is facing a similar loss in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.
To Bacevich, post WWII’ wars are the result of failures of diplomacy, military strategy, and military/civilian intelligence. Bacevich suggests America is in a “no-win” position in the Middle East because of misunderstanding of real-politic and fundamentalist beliefs that fracture nation-state comity.
Bacevich argues that failures of diplomacy come from a belief that removing a nation’s leader will change the nature of governments and the people they lead. He suggests Middle East, history shows that removing leaders only creates chaos and more resistance to American objectives. (In Vietnam, America tries to overcome the chaos of war with puppet government leaders who focused on self-aggrandizement more than public good.)
As a military strategy, America enters the Middle East by using overwhelming force to defeat the Iraq army; to apprehend or kill Saddam Hussein, and remove weapons of mass destruction.
In Afghanistan, the military strategy is to remove the Taliban and encourage the election of a government that would interrupt any terrorist organizations that would disrupt American interests.
In Libya, the military strategy is to bomb forces of Muammar Gaddafi; weaken his control, and allow opposition forces to dethrone or try Gaddafi for crimes against humanity.
In Syria, the military strategy is to bomb ISIS and arm factions opposed to Bashar al-Assad with a goal of Assad’s abdication. Bacevich suggests these strategies are a waste of American blood and treasure because there is no “end-game”.
Removing leaders changes nothing. Military actions are focused on removing leaders as opposed to addressing native cultural imperatives. A new leader will rise based on the culture of the country; not the interests of America or some other foreign combatant.
The use of drones may reduce American casualties but remote killing hardens the enemy and compromises military strategy with collateral damage that kills innocents as well as insurgents. The hardening of the enemy results in more recruits opposing American forces. For these and other reasons (psychological as well as physical), killing by drone is a strategic military and civilian mistake.
What is over-looked is the real-politic of America’s needs and the Middle East’s cultural imperatives. Middle Easterners want their country to be what they want it to be. America wants oil and that oil must come from diplomacy and negotiation, not Middle Eastern regime change. Wars founded on military strategic objectives will ultimately fail.
Great Britain could not hold the American colonies because foreign wars were too expensive. Just as in America’s actions and presumptions in the Middle East, Great Britain fails to address or appreciate colonist’s cultural concerns.
America’s civilian and military intelligence fails our government leaders. An obvious military intelligence failure is NSA’s insistence, and the CIA’s concurrence, that there were WMD in Iraq. Less obvious is America’s failure to recognize every nation in the world wishes to be sovereign; wishes to follow their own traditions, and wishes to grow into their own identity.
It may be dis-proportionally unjust for other governments to be other than democratic but who are we to judge or dictate to another sovereign country? America fought its own war to become a democratic republic. It is not perfect, but most Americans want to live in their own country. Diplomacy is Bacevich’s implied solution. One presumes Bacevich is not implying America should become isolationist. He suggests America needs diplomacy, founded on cultural understanding of other nations; not war, to get what the U.S. needs to prosper.
As countries mature, the common needs of humankind will become more evident. Like a child growing up, countries grow into adulthood. Some will die in the process; many mistakes will be made, but most will grow into maturity based on their own traditions and adopted foreign influences.
Democracy works for America. American democracy does not work for everyone. Countries need to work with each other based on maturity; not infant tantrum. As nations mature, rages will continue to occur because of internal strife. However, Bacevich infers international diplomacy is a better alternative to war for survival of the species.