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Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project) [Bargain Price] [Hardcover]

Andrew Bacevich
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

U.S. Army colonel turned academic, Bacevich (The Limits of Power) offers an unsparing, cogent, and important critique of assumptions guiding American military policy. These central tenets, the "Washington rules"--such as the belief that the world order depends on America maintaining a massive military capable of rapid and forceful interventions anywhere in the world--have dominated national security policy since the start of the cold war and have condemned the U.S. to "insolvency and perpetual war." Despite such disasters as America's defeat in Vietnam and the Cuban missile crisis, the self-perpetuating policy is so entrenched that no president or influential critic has been able to alter it. Bacevich argues that while the Washington rules found their most pernicious expression in the Bush doctrine of preventive war, Barack Obama's expansion of the Afghan War is also cause for pessimism: "We should be grateful to him for making at least one thing unmistakably clear: to imagine that Washington will ever tolerate second thoughts about the Washington rules is to engage in willful self-deception. Washington itself has too much to lose."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The U.S. spends more on the military than the entire rest of the world combined and maintains 300,000 troops abroad in an “empire of bases,” all part of a credo of global leadership and a consensus that the U.S. must maintain a state of semiwar. The Washington consensus, across administrations dating back to the cold war, is that the world must be organized in alignment with American principles, even if it means using force. Bacevich, with background in the military at the rank of retired army colonel and the perspective afforded by academia, offers a vivid and critical analysis of the assumptions behind the credo of global leadership and eternal military vigilance that has become increasingly expensive and unsustainable. He details American misadventures from the Bay of Pigs to the invasion in Iraq, and the most prominent figures (“semiwarriors par excellence”) behind the credo, notably Allen Dulles, director of the CIA in the 1950s, and Curtis LeMay, director of the Strategic Air Command during the same period. The credo of global leadership and hyper-militarism is so ingrained and resilient in the U.S. psyche that it survived even the doubts that surfaced after the miserable failure of U.S. military might in Vietnam. Whatever their party or philosophy, all presidents want to project an image of toughness that has made them vulnerable to the credo, at great cost in American dollars and lives. Bacevich challenges Washington (the president, Congress, and the military industrial complex) as well as citizens to rethink the credo that has directed national security for generations. --Vanessa Bush

Review

"Washington Rules is a tough-minded, bracing and intelligent polemic against some 60 years of American militarism. . . . As foreign policy debates in the run-up to the November elections degenerate into Muslim-bashing bombast, the country is lucky to have a fierce, smart peacemonger like Bacevich."
New York Times Book Review
 
"Eloquent and, above all, passionate. . . Any serious foreign-policy thinker should heed his call."
Newsweek
 
"Brilliant. . . A convincing critique of America's conduct of war since 1941. . . . Bacevich advocates a more level-headed assessment of danger, advice all the more cogent since it comes from a former soldier."
Washington Post
 
"A reader doesn’t have to be a policy wonk to appreciate Bacevich’s methodical analysis. It’s a reality check: crisp, cogent and straightforward."
The Buffalo News
 
"Engaging and insightful. . . A timely analysis and critique of contemporary and historical defense policies. His writing style is anything but wonkish, and he is great at the clever turn of phrase. . . . Thought provoking."
The Washington Times
 
"Bacevich, who has excellent credentials and writes with authority about military strategy and international politics, deserves a hearing."
The Boston Globe
 
Bacevich hits upon a truth that cannot be dismissed. . . Eloquent and damning. . . impressively reader-friendly. Bacevich writes with a gut-wrenching honesty that gives his charges a credibility frequently missing in pop denunciations of America’s imperial outreach. . . . One of the best accounts we have of our childlike dependence on the security war-making seems to offer but never quite delivers."
Commonweal

“Bacevich comes with more than just book smarts to question American military power. . . Bacevich is right: there is something un-American about maintaining a huge presence around the world and pursuing endless war without sharp focus or clear goals.”
Air Force Times
 
“Passionate, personal, and polemical. . . a sophisticated critique of the United States’ global ambitions.”
Wilson Quarterly
 
"Vivid and critical analysis of the assumptions behind the credo of global leadership and eternal military vigilance that has become increasingly expensive and unsustainable. . . . Bacevich challenges Washington (the president, Congress, and the military industrial complex) as well as citizens to rethink the credo that has directed national security for generations."
Booklist (starred review)
 
"Valiant. . . Discards long-held 'habits of conformity,' rethinking America's mission abroad. . . Welcome thinking by a former military man who has seen the light."
Kirkus
 
"An unsparing, cogent, and important critique of assumptions guiding American military policy."
Publishers Weekly
 
"Provocative. . . well-articulated. . . Bacevich makes his powerful critique of American foreign and military policy in a clear analytical fashion. . . As an initial project for [a] more informed citizenry, I would suggest reading Andrew Bacevich's Washington Rules."
History News Network
 
“To say that Washington Rules is a breath of fresh air in the debate over U.S. foreign policy would be like comparing a zephyr to a hurricane. Writing with Force-Five fury, Andrew Bacevich lays bare the dogmas and shibboleths that have animated national security doctrine for the last half century and produced an Orwellian nightmare of permanent war in the name of permanent peace. This passionate, often discomforting book brings rare clarity to a subject of urgent importance for all Americans.”
—David M. Kennedy, author of Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
 
“Against a national strategy gone astray, Bacevich offers a unique combination of rigorous analysis and emotion-powered protest. May it be widely read, may it disenthrall us from the academic generals, militant academics, and cynical politicians who insist that we must invest blood and treasure in mud-brick Afghan villages, while China invests in advanced technology.”
—Edward N. Luttwak author of The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire 
 
“‘Washington Rules’ is the author's shorthand for the American conviction that we always represent the good and the pure in international affairs. His powerful book clearly demonstrates how threadbare this idea has become.”
—Chalmers Johnson, author of the Blowback Trilogy and Dismantling the Empire
 
“The hard-earned insights of this veteran, analyst, insider, and parent will resonate with people across the political spectrum and offer a serious, riveting, and authentically personal critique of U.S. power.”
—Amy Goodman, host and executive producer, Democracy Now!
 
“Bacevich presents compelling and alarming evidence that our nation is locked into a counterproductive global military presence sustained by power projection and interventionism by military force. A must-read for all those concerned with America’s future.”
—Lt. General (USA, Ret.) Robert G. Gard, Jr., PhD
 
Washington Rules dissects the convictions that have turned the United States into a warrior nation—a country devoted to military solutions that do little, if anything, to enhance its security or advance the well-being of its citizens or the foreign peoples on whom we inflict our illusory benevolence. A brilliant historian’s analysis of what ails America, this book should be read by every national officeholder and and by all who care about America’s future safety and prosperity.”
—Robert Dallek, author of The Lost Peace: Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope, 1945-1953
 
Washington Rules exposes well-entrenched assumptions that for decades have underlain ineffective and costly U.S. policies. Bacevich shines a bright light on the meaning of national security and what it requires, while addressing fundamental but long-ignored questions about America's place in the world and the role of military power.”
—Paul R. Pillar author of Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy

About the Author

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel. He is the author of Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War and The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism and The New American Militarism. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. He holds a Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University, and taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins University prior to joining the faculty at Boston University in 1998. He is the recipient of a Lannan Award and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction: Slow Learner

Worldly ambition inhibits true learning. Ask me. I know. A young man in a hurry is nearly uneducable: He knows what he wants and where he's headed; when it comes to looking back or entertaining heretical thoughts, he has neither the time nor the inclination. All that counts is that he is going somewhere. Only as ambition wanes does education become a possibility.

My own education did not commence until I had reached middle age. I can fix its start date with precision: For me, education began in Berlin, on a winter's evening, at the Brandenburg Gate, not long after the Berlin Wall had fallen.

As an officer in the U.S. Army I had spent considerable time in Germany. Until that moment, however, my family and I had never had occasion to visit this most famous of German cities, still littered with artifacts of a deeply repellent history. At the end of a long day of exploration, we found ourselves in what had, until just months before, been the communist East. It was late and we were hungry, but I insisted on walking the length of the Unter den Linden, from the River Spree to the gate itself. A cold rain was falling and the pavement glistened. The buildings lining the avenue, dating from the era of Prussian kings, were dark, dirty, and pitted. Few people were about. It was hardly a night for sightseeing.

For as long as I could remember, the Brandenburg Gate had been the preeminent symbol of the age and Berlin the epicenter of contemporary history. Yet by the time I made it to the once and future German capital, history was already moving on. The Cold War had abruptly ended. A divided city and a divided nation had re united.

For Americans who had known Berlin only from a distance, the city existed primarily as a metaphor. Pick a date— 1933, 1942, 1945, 1948, 1961, 1989—and Berlin becomes an instructive symbol of power, depravity, tragedy, defiance, endurance, or vindication. For those inclined to view the past as a chronicle of parables, the modern history of Berlin offered an abundance of material. The greatest of those parables emerged from the events of 1933 to 1945, an epic tale of evil ascendant, belatedly confronted, then heroically overthrown. A second narrative, woven from events during the intense period immediately following World War II, saw hopes for peace dashed, yielding bitter antagonism but also great resolve. The ensuing stand-off—the "long twilight struggle," in John Kennedy's memorable phrase— formed the centerpiece of the third parable, its central theme stubborn courage in the face of looming peril. Finally came the exhilarating events of 1989, with freedom ultimately prevailing, not only in Berlin, but throughout Eastern Europe.

What exactly was I looking for at the Brandenburg Gate? Perhaps confirmation that those parables, which I had absorbed and accepted as true, were just that. Whatever I expected, what I actually found was a cluster of shabby- looking young men, not German, hawking badges, medallions, hats, bits of uniforms, and other artifacts of the mighty Red Army. It was all junk, cheaply made and shoddy. For a handful of deutsche marks, I bought a wristwatch emblazoned with the symbol of the Soviet armored corps. Within days, it ceased to work.

Huddling among the scarred columns, those peddlers— almost certainly off-duty Russian soldiers awaiting redeployment home—constituted a subversive presence. They were loose ends of a story that was supposed to have ended neatly when the Berlin Wall came down. As we hurried off to find warmth and a meal, this disconcerting encounter stuck with me, and I began to entertain this possibility: that the truths I had accumulated over the previous twenty years as a professional soldier—especially truths about the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy— might not be entirely true.

By temperament and upbringing, I had always taken comfort in orthodoxy. In a life spent subject to authority, deference had become a deeply ingrained habit. I found assurance in conventional wisdom. Now, I started, however hesitantly, to suspect that orthodoxy might be a sham. I began to appreciate that authentic truth is never simple and that any version of truth handed down from on high— whether by presidents, prime ministers, or archbishops— is inherently suspect. The powerful, I came to see, reveal truth only to the extent that it suits them. Even then, the truths to which they testify come wrapped in a nearly invisible filament of dissembling, deception, and duplicity. The exercise of power necessarily involves manipulation and is antithetical to candor.

I came to these obvious points embarrassingly late in life. "Nothing is so astonishing in education," the historian Henry Adams once wrote, "as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts."1 Until that moment I had too often confused education with accumulating and cataloging facts. In Berlin, at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate, I began to realize that I had been a navØf. And so, at age forty-one, I set out, in a halting and haphazard fashion, to acquire a genuine education.

Twenty years later I've made only modest progress. This book provides an accounting of what I have learned thus far.

*

In October 1990, I'd gotten a preliminary hint that something might be amiss in my prior education. On October 3, communist East Germany—formally the German Democratic Republic (GDR)—ceased to exist and German reunification was officially secured. That very week I accompanied a group of American military officers to the city of Jena in what had been the GDR. Our purpose was self-consciously educational— to study the famous battle of Jena-Auerstädt in which Napoleon Bonaparte and his marshals had inflicted an epic defeat on Prussian forces commanded by the Duke of Brunswick. (The outcome of that 1806 battle inspired the philosopher Hegel, then residing in Jena, to declare that the "end of history" was at hand. The conclusion of the Cold War had only recently elicited a similarly exuberant judgment from the American scholar Francis Fukuyama.)

On this trip we did learn a lot about the conduct of that battle, although mainly inert facts possessing little real educational value. Inadvertently, we also gained insight into the reality of life on the far side of what Americans had habitually called the Iron Curtain, known in U.S. military vernacular as "the trace." In this regard, the trip proved nothing less than revelatory. The educational content of this excursion would— for me—be difficult to exaggerate.

As soon as our bus crossed the old Inner German Border, we entered a time warp. For U.S. troops garrisoned throughout Bavaria and Hesse, West Germany had for decades served as a sort of theme park—a giant Epcot filled with quaint villages, stunning scenery, and superb highways, along with ample supplies of quite decent food, excellent beer, and accommodating women. Now, we found ourselves face-to-face with an altogether different Germany. Although commonly depicted as the most advanced and successful component of the Soviet Empire, East Germany more closely resembled part of the undeveloped world.

The roads—even the main highways—were narrow and visibly crumbling. Traffic posed little problem. Apart from a few sluggish Trabants and Wartburgs—East German automobiles that tended to a retro primitivism—and an occasional exhaust-spewing truck, the way was clear. The villages through which we passed were forlorn and the small farms down at the heels. For lunch we stopped at a roadside stand. The proprietor happily accepted our D-marks, offering us inedible sausages in exchange. Although the signs assured us that we remained in a land of German speakers, it was a country that had not yet recovered from World War II.

Upon arrival in Jena, we checked into the Hotel Schwarzer Bär, identified by our advance party as the best hostelry in town. It turned out to be a rundown fleabag. As the senior officer present, I was privileged to have a room in which the plumbing functioned. Others were not so lucky.

Jena itself was a midsized university city, with its main academic complex immediately opposite our hotel. A very large bust of Karl Marx, mounted on a granite pedestal and badly in need of cleaning, stood on the edge of the campus.

Briquettes of soft coal used for home heating made the air all but unbreathable and coated everything with soot. In the German cities we knew, pastels predominated—houses and apartment blocks painted pale green, muted salmon, and soft yellow. Here everything was brown and gray.

That evening we set out in search of dinner. The restaurants within walking distance were few and unattractive. We chose badly, a drab establishment in which fresh vegetables were unavailable and the wurst inferior. The adequacy of the local beer provided the sole consolation.

The following morning, on the way to the battlefield, we noted a significant Soviet military presence, mostly in the form of trucks passing by— to judge by their appearance, designs that dated from the 1950s. To our surprise, we discovered that the Soviets had established a small training area adjacent to where Napoleon had vanquished the Prussians. Although we had orders to avoid contact with any Russians, the presence of their armored troops going through their paces riveted us. Here was something of far greater immediacy than Bonaparte and the Duke of Brunswick: "the other," about which we had for so long heard so much but knew so little. Through binoculars, we watched a column of Russian armored vehicles— BMPs, in NATO parlance— traversing what appeared to be a drivers' training course. Suddenly, one of them began spewing smoke. Soon thereafter, it burst into flames.

Here was education, although at the time I had only the vaguest sense of its significance.

*

These visits to Jena and Berlin offered glimpses of a reality radically at odds with my mos...

From AudioFile

Andrew Bacevich takes issue with such actions as the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Vietnam War, President Bush's strategy in Iraq, and President Obama's strategy in Afghanistan, seeing both parties as supporters of the federal government as a militaristic industry. The former soldier's words are voiced by Sean Runnette in a hard-driving, often angry or sarcastic narration, with the occasional shift to gentleness to hit home a point. Bacevich has developed an opinionated worldview, and he shares that view strongly in both his rhetoric and research. While Bacevich's words will likely reach only listeners who already share his opinions, his book provides much to think about. Listeners across the political spectrum will find his words disconcerting. J.A.S. © AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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