Debating the War on Terror: Bacevich vs. Beinart

Tuesday night at 7 p.m., Dr. Andrew Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism, is coming to the University of Richmond (details here) to give a talk on the relationship between the military and American democracy.

It promises to be a very interesting event: Bacevich is a Vietnam veteran and a cultural conservative who has developed a far-reaching and powerful critique of the ways civilian leaders have come to rely on military power in the past 15 years.

Bacevich also is a stern critic of one of the RTD’s “liberal” syndicated columnists, Peter Beinart. Beinart has made a name for himself arguing that liberals can fight the war on terror better and smarter than the right. Bacevich argues that both the liberal and conservative versions of the war on terror are far too confident of the ability of military power to actually change the world in ways to our liking.

For the fuller argument, see this sharp review of Beinart’s book by Bacevich–or come out tomorrow night.

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Published in: on January 29, 2007 at 4:42 pm  Comments (5)  

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  1. Again, be careful about how you use the language.
    Being concerned about possible terrorism and supporting environmental conservation is true conservative, vs. radical liberal calls for invading other countries (that the so-called ‘neo-conservatives’ drum for).

    Don’t surrender the word “conservative” to Bush and the idiots

  2. Scott, I think Bacevich would agree with you; the first sentence of his review of Beinart is:

    “When it comes to foreign policy, the fundamental divide in American politics today is not between left and right but between those who subscribe to the myth of the ‘American Century’ and those who do not.”

    That said, there ARE self-identified “conservatives” who are believers in the myth. (Like Ross Mackenzie.) They may not really be authentic conservatives and may not represent the best of the conservative tradition, but that is what they call themselves and how they are commonly referred to in political reporting.

  3. I was disappointed by Bacevich.

    At one point he said he was a criticizing the Iraq war from the right, next moment he was saying he thought it might be ok to send American troops to Palestine/Israel.

    I get the feeling he is not very different from most of the Republicrats in power: He calls himself conservative and NOW distances himself from Rumsfield but is really in favor of these big liberal ideas like making the U.S. into the world’s police.

    And, if it was not already clear, in terms of American politics, he is a big two party statist and unwilling to recognize anything outside that narrow spectrum.

    On top of that, most of his speech was rehashing his opinion of the war in Iraq and had very little actual political philosophy. No mention of Strauss or Kristol. I got there a little late, did he at least throw in some classic Clausevitz (“War is politics by another means.”)?

    btw, I also got a ticket that night by U or R police for parking in a visitor’s spot after 5 pm. Don’t worry, it has been taken care of, but what is it about U or R?

  4. Scott, he started off his talk by deconstructing the ideas that led the neocons into wanting to invade Iraq. If you missed it, he spent a lot of time talking about the foolishness of the idea that you could achieve “total force supremacy” and simply impose your will on others.

    Anyway, I think he is pretty clearly NOT in favor of the US continuing to project its military power all over the world or embarking on these adventures to re-make the world through military might. In fact, that’s his main point. He does however leave the door open for some interventions for humanitarian purposes which have a sharply defined, limited mission; and he is a pretty much a hawk in terms of going after terrorists.

    I didn’t fully grasp what he was saying about Israel, but I believe it was more along the lines of “I’d rather have my son dying defending an actual nation state that we are an ally of than dying for no reason at all in Iraq.” From having spent the day with him, however, I can assure you he’s not blindly pro-Israel in the least.

    Here is a summary of his reform ideas on the military, taken from the last chapter of his book. I’d really recommend taking a look at the book to get the full sense of his view…

    Andrew Bacevich’s Ten Principles for Military Reform

    (Adapted from the conclusion of “The New American Militarism”)

    1. “Heed the intentions of the Founders.” Re-orient overall strategy towards providing “common defense” for the homeland of the United States, not projection of worldwide military power

    2. “Realize the concept of separation of powers.” Congress should be more assertive about exercising its constitutional right and responsibility to declare war; the effective prerogative power of presidents to initiate conflict should be curtailed.

    3. “View force as a last resort.” Use of force should be limited to a) literal self-defense; b) dealing with immediate threats; c) humanitarian interventions in case of genocide, etc., in cooperation with other countries.

    4. “Enhance U.S. strategic self-sufficiency.” Reduce American dependence on foreign oil.

    5. “Organize U.S. forces explicitly for national defense.” This means abandoning the rubric of “national security,” which has been used to justify a vast worldwide network of military bases. The U.S. should close unneeded bases and ask other countries as needed to bear more responsibility for regional security.

    6. “Devise an appropriate gauge for the level of military spending.” The U.S. now accounts for over half the world’s military spending. Rather than assuming constantly rising military budgets, we should peg military spending to what others (potential adversaries) are spending. Bacevich suggests total spending should not exceed that of the next ten biggest military powers combined.

    7. “Enhance alternative instruments of statecraft.” The U.S. should pay more attention to ways to employ “soft power” (i.e. persuasion rather than coercion). In particular, more effort should be placed into assisting development efforts. “When it comes to funding new weapons, profligacy is the rule; when it comes to funding diplomatic missions or development programs, parsimony reigns.”

    8. “Revive the moribund concept of the citizen-soldier.” Take steps (short of a draft) to make the military more representative (in terms of social class) of the entirety of the American public, via incentives (college grants, etc.).

    9. “Re-examine the role of the National Guard and the reserves.” Don’t rely on part-time soldiers to finish wars; increase the role of National Guard in providing homeland security.

    10. “Reconcile the American military profession to American society.” Take steps to better integrate those who serve, especially officers, with civilian American society; avoid a situation in which the military feels separate from the civilian world. All officers should have a liberal arts education.

  5. If he really wanted to deconstruct neocons, he would have mentioned Struass and Kristol and be very up front with how much the neocons are similar to the very Muslim fundamentalists they claim to be at war with.

    Most of his military reform ideas sound ok but I get the impression that he is just floating around with the political winds- like the Clintons, he says whatever he thinks Americans want to hear. This whole ‘I think Bush is wrong but I am not willing to impeach him/I am critical of the war from the right but I do not think we just withdraw’ gets tiring.

    Tons of Democrats say these sort of things but when push comes to shove they will do whatever they can to support their corporate paymasters and avoid looking ‘soft’. We don’t need these wishy washy liberals.

    We need true conservatives who will openly brand Bush as a dangerous radical, impeach him for his illegal acts, and put an immediate end to the Iraq war- like yesterday.


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