198 of 209 people found the following review helpful
Five ENGROSSING Stars!! This is Andrew J Bacevich's outstanding, deeply researched, hard-hitting work of scholarship, assessing America's national and foreign policies as well as the personalities and groups that have led us into the business of confrontation, power projection, and war, time and time again. Essentially this book is the outgrowth of Mr. Bacevich's 20 year self-education, which began at the age of 41 as a military officer who began to see the international world in a new light based on an epiphany at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Looking at well over six decades of wartime policy and actions in the "American Century", Mr Bacevich discloses the "Washington Rules" and the credo wherein the USA has assumed the mantle of attempting to "lead, save, liberate, and transform" the world to assure international order and peace. He takes us from the Truman-era administrations to the Obama administration, detailing how the "sacred trinity" of global military presence, global power projection, global interventionism is used to achieve those ends, using his "Washington Rules" as the template. The Jimmy Carter segment was particularly eye-opening. Mr Bacevich shows that regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are in power, the US has had an attitude that we are uniquely qualified to take on the worldwide foes of peace and democracy, forgetting, revising, or ignoring the painful lessons of World War II, Vietnam, and beyond that might have taken the USA into periods of unprecedented peace, instead of numerous conflicts. Lessons that the author shows President Obama is clearly in the midst of learning, using a modified sacred trinity. Written in engaging prose, this is a very absorbing work of research with sections that some may find very troubling based on the decisions of our leaders. If I could recommend one book that President Obama and the Congress should read, this is it. But it should also be read by those who were and were not alive during our 20th Century to 21st Century wars and military encounters. My Highest Recommendation! Five ABSORBING Stars!! (This review is based on a Kindle download in iPhone mode and Kindle text-to-speech mode.)
95 of 100 people found the following review helpful
Andrew Bacevich offers an explanation of what is putting our way of life at risk. If he is correct, the Afghan War has no end in sight as did the Iraq War (see Charles Ferguson's book: No End in Sight: Iraq's Descent into Chaos). In fact, the Afghan War is now the longest war in U.S. history.
Retired U.S. military and intelligence personnel have written prolifically about the current wars and what they mean for the U.S. They educate the public about connecting foreign policy to war strategy to what our young enlisted men and women do in the wars. Examples include books by Wesley Clark (A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and Country), Michael Scheuer (Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq) and David Bellavia (HOUSE TO HOUSE: A TALE OF MODERN WAR). In the history of warfare, there has probably never been a population with as much access to information about their wars.
Washington Rules provides analysis of the considerations that President Obama faced when he made the decision to expand the military effort in Afghanistan. Whereas the consensus holds that this president grasps issues and is not primarily informed by ideology, there may have been a dominant domestic political calculation to this war decision. Bacevich identifies pressures imposed on our president by the "military industrial complex" and the "national security apparatus." These loaded terms summarize privileged powers within the U.S. that seek global military engagement in part to maintain the status quo within. This is the Status Quo argument that has been used to explain some U.S. motives in the wars.
Andrew Bacevich has patriotic credentials to state the Status Quo argument. He has been doing this for some time. (See his previous book: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project)). His son was killed in Iraq while serving as a 1st Lt. in the Army. Andrew Bacevich is a veteran of the Vietnam War, a graduate of West Point and he taught at both West Point and Johns Hopkins. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. He is a retired Army Colonel.
Bacevich is critical of George W. Bush and Barack Obama but for completely different reasons. Bacevich addresses the question debated from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the gulf stream waters: which is worse, the president who sends young people into harm's way due to misguided notions or the president who sends young people into harm's way because of political calculation? Of course, this question is framed in a simple way in order to introduce debate. Bacevich is more appalled by the latter, however.
Washington Rules traces America's overreliance on military power from the administration of Woodrow Wilson right up to that of Barack Obama. Over time the U.S. presidency morphed into an imperial presidency with a self-imposed mission to intervene in problems throughout the world irrespective of long-term U.S. interests. An exaggerated sense of what the military can accomplish went unquestioned until recently. Bacevich makes history come alive with applications of the lessons of the Vietnam War along with several other wars.
Washington Rules addresses the following questions. What did we get out of Desert Storm? What should our role be with regard to the Islamic World? What happens if we back down in Afghanistan? Bacevich asks tough questions and that's healthy. It's taking me time to digest his solutions to these issues although I'm excited about changes to the status quo. With regard to the Middle East, Bacevich says our role should be to demonstrate that liberalism can coexist with religion.
Finally, Washington Rules is entertaining because it's almost a horror story in real time. These issues affect our way of life right now. Teachers across the country are being laid off as the States struggle with their budgets, and I wonder how that might be related to federal debt accumulated to finance the wars. Bacevich is a Declinist in that he flatly states that the American Century is over and we have reached certain limits.
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2010
Bacevich is a genius in his own right. He see's though the night like an infrared scope. I am going to read his book a second time to pick up what I missed. Bacevich takes us down the memory hole of the past and reminds us what was said as if all of it forgotten.
I think the most salient point he makes is that of the domino effect in reverse. He explains how we entered the Vietnam war at that time on this propaganda and how we fell for the reverse propaganda that we could create a new new domino effect of "democracy" by preemptive war, and most all of us fell for it, including me.
I however want to do this cursory review upon my first reading, but may edit it on the second as there is so much that he says that is not only prudent and relevant to our time, while simultaneously exposes the misjudgment, however one may see it.
Edit: It takes a while to fully Grok Bacevich, who tells us it is not Washington that makes us what we are it is us. And until we decide to stop the madness, the madness will not stop. Bacevich ends his book with these four words. "We too, must choose" And we must, shall we continue down this line and break ourselves or shall we become a great and prosperous country once again? It is up to us not Washington, it is up to me an you. A prophet is without honor in his own land. We can wish all we want, but practical realities define our position.
The brilliance of this piece is that it is not judgmental nor partisan, it is just the truth. He lays out the facts in such a succinct way that it mesmerized me. Bacevich will be remembered as a patriot and a true military man in search of truth, not unlike Smedley Butler.
55 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Time has expired on the 'American Century,' says retired Col. Bacevich, and this is the time to reject militarism and recognize that fixing Detroit takes precedence over Afghanistan. Bacevich's aim is to re-examine assumptions, habits, and precepts that have defined our foreign/military policy since the end of WWII. All well and good, but Bacevich devotes too many pages to recounting how we got to this point post-WWII, mostly focused on individuals such as Curtis LeMay, Allen Dulles, Maxwell Taylor, etc. Almost no attention is given to how support for Israel, Iraq War I and the subsequent stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia, etc. brought us 9/11, a never-ending state of War on Terrorism, and the organizational monstrosity known as the Dept. of Homeland Security with its 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies consuming unknown billions of dollars.
Our self-appointed role of leading, liberating, and saving the world through activism, hard power, and negotiating from strength continues today - DOD has become the Department of Global Policing, and President Obama finds himself continuing the model laid down since 1945. The author also skims over too quickly how we have exhausted the authority and goodwill acquired immediately after WWII - via the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan I and II, the 2007 Recession, going from the world's largest creditor to debtor nation, decades of trade and government deficits, energy profligacy, decaying cities, manufacturing, and infrastructure, Katrina, supporting dictators and human rights abusers, etc.
DOD consumes $700 billion/year (I'm assuming that includes Iraq and Afghanistan), while stationing 300,000 troops abroad in 761 sites in 39 nations, plus 90,000 sailors and marines at sea. Our expenditures approximate those of the rest of the world combined. and are propelling us towards insolvency and perpetual war.
An excellent example of how we are digging ourselves into a hole occurred just this week when the U.S. announced the State Department is in advanced discussions with Vietnam to share nuclear fuels and technologies in a deal that would preserve Hanoi's right to enrich uranium indigenously. This obviously undermines our containment stance vs. North Korea and Iran, and is intended to somehow intimidate China. Similarly, the U.S. is also supporting India's enrichment and military-fuel capability efforts - again to somehow intimidate China. Meanwhile, we also parade a flotilla of ships nearby off South Korea to intimidate North Korea, and further irritate China.(They now have, or soon will have, supersonic missiles capable of raining down on our aircraft carrier task forces - a great example of asymmetric warfare that makes our Navy look obsolete and a near total waste.) And then we wonder why China is modernizing its military.
Col. Bacevich's conclusion - "It's time (for America) to choose."
53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2010
First off, I agree with most of Bacevich's points. However, if you have read two of his previous books, "The New American Militarism" and "The Limits of Power," you'll notice something...that all three of his books basically say the SAME THING. Also, he doesn't really provide too many answers on how to fix the problem, other than to say that Americans need to consume less (good luck with that). Taken in isolation, this book would be 5 stars, but when you read his prior books, this current offering lacks enough originality to get more than 3 stars.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
When you spend the better part of a balmy Sunday indoors engrossed in the fascination of wanting to find out what is on the next page, page after page, you know you have a great book that opens your eyes and your mind to fresh ideas, a book that makes you question your most basic assumptions of how you see things as an American and beckons you to look at yourself in a different light. Andrew Bacevich achieves this in just 250 pages.
His real education began where no NATO soldier had been previously free to roam. The place was East Germany and the time was after the Berlin Wall came down. It continued as he earned a Ph.D. at Princeton and with a professorship at Boston College where he teaches and writes today. From that education, Professor Bacevich made some startling discoveries.
He defines this discovery as the credo and the trinity. "The credo summons the United States--and the United States alone--to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world." The sacred trinity requires the United States to "maintain a global presence, to configure its forces for global projection, and to anticipate threats with a policy of global interventionism." This relationship is symbiotic, according to Bacevich. "The trinity adds plausibility to the credo, and the credo justifies the trinity's... exertions." Implicit in both is the government's and people's tacit acceptance that the U.S. is called upon to do this, is the only nation capable of doing this, and that other nations really want the United States to do it. This is how Washington rules and this is America's path to permanent war.
Such interventionism began with possessions obtained from the Spanish-American War and Theodore Roosevelt's corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. Following World War II, this became the American way of thinking, that protection of America's vital interests meant we had the right to interfere in the political or economic direction of other countries, and most importantly, that the United States "exempts itself from the norms with which it expects others to comply."
It also meant that the best way to protect America was to establish bases in far off lands where we could strike an enemy before it struck us. This also meant ratcheting up the fear. First it was the fear of communism, then the fear of nuclear annihilation, then it was the domino theory that would eventually reach our border, and finally, the war on terrorism, which like all the others, has become a drain of human and economic resources, and an abject failure.
Andrew Bacevich achieves something few other authors do. He speaks from his heart and his mind. From both you get a glimpse of the man's soul. I could almost sense an anger from trying to convince the deaf to listen and make the blind see. (He has spoken in front of Congress more than once). He recognizes what few Americans do, that we are not a nation of unlimited manpower and economic resources that can sustain a permanent state of war, that costs so much to so many, and benefits so few--politicians and profiteers. He is a man engaged who wishes that Americans would become engaged by not thinking about what they want, but how they can serve, by not just paying lip service to our servicemen, but making their own sacrifices, as he and his son did. Bacevich wants a fiscally responsible America that finds its spirit in renewing itself and revitalizing its own democratic ideals rather than imposing them on others.
That is the way America was meant to be.
"Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?"
George Washington in his Farewell Address.
Bacevich, Andrew, "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism," Metropolitan Books, 2008.
Fullbright, William, J., "The Arrogance of Power." Random House, New York, NY 1966.
Gore, Al, "The Assault on Reason." Penguin Books, 2008.
Moyers, Bill, "Moyers on America: A Journalist and his Times," Anchor Books, 2005.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2011
In Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, Andrew Bacevich examines U.S. foreign policy and argues that there exists a sacrosanct set of rules in Washington that policymakers, regardless of political party, always adhere to. These rules, he asserts, are and have been the impetus behind over sixty years of the U.S. projection of global power in various forms and are always behind the rational for going to war. Bacevich warns that unless an informed citizenry wakes up and challenges the status quo of conventional wisdom, the U.S. will perpetually over extend itself, financially and militarily, as it meddles in world affairs that are negligible to national interests.
Washington Rules covers the time period from the end of World War Two to the Obama administration. In endeavoring to understand the "assumptions, habits, and precepts that have defined the tradition of statecraft," Bacevich identifies what he calls the American credo and its sacred trinity. (11) He describes the credo as a mandate for "the United States--and the United States alone--to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world" in its image. (12) The sacred trinity, composed of a U.S. global military presence, global power projection, and global interventionism, he defines as the apparatus through which the U.S. must maintain international peace and thus domestic security. Bacevich explains that the credo and the trinity, or the purpose and the means, make up what he calls the Washington consensus. It is, in essence, an ideology that "defines the rules to which Washington adheres; it determines the precepts by which Washington rules." (15)
Several themes recur throughout the book. Namely that America's self-appointed role as the world's policeman and over reliance on military power is leading the U.S. towards insolvency and a state of perpetual war; that when a crises occurs, such as the Bay of Pigs, the Gulf of Tonkin, or 9/11, Washington's solution is always increased military action rather than a reevaluation of foreign policy; and that Washington's national security policies typically create more national threats rather than less. He supports his analysis with a mix of primary and secondary sources.
Bacevich's analytic talent is most apparent in the last two chapters of the book. Here he skillfully proves his argument by revealing how contemporary policymakers reconfigure, reinvent, and thus reincarnate the Washington consensus. He deftly alternates between conservatives and liberals, revealing how policymakers of both parties consistently adhere to the consensus. Bacevich's treatment of the Bush Doctrine of preventative war, for example, and the Obama administration's policies regarding the war in Afghanistan are particularly insightful and intriguing.
Washington Rules concludes by suggesting an alternative credo and trinity. The credo calls for America to live up to its ideals, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence and a Constitution that is reinterpreted as necessary, and then to model instead of impose its example to the world. (237) The prescription for a new trinity includes that the military be used only for protecting vital national interests and for national defense, and for U.S. soldiers not to serve as occupation forces, except for temporary, specific, and extraordinary reasons and with the approval of Congress. In implementing these new policies, Bacevich suggests priority be given to withdrawing troops from "regions where the American presence costs the most while accomplishing the least, [such as] the Persian Gulf." (239)
Bacevich's recommendations leave significant questions unanswered. He does not specify what would qualify as a vital national interest worth protecting, or what cause would justify U.S. forces being stationed away from home. Would oil qualify? If yes, then the current U.S. presence--of which he complains--in the Persian Gulf is justified.
He also disagrees with the Washington rules that dictate the U.S. military must be staffed with professional soldiers and kept at maximum readiness at all times. Yet he does not address the pragmatic reasoning behind these dictates such as the devastation to untrained, disorganized, and ill-prepared citizen-soldiers in earlier American conflicts and the tragic vulnerability and slow defensive response at Pearl Harbor. Bacevich claims there is little evidence that the U.S. can fix the problems of other nations or remake them in its image. Are the Marshall Plan, West Germany, and Japan little evidence? What of American influence in the development of South Korea and Taiwan? Lastly, what effect could a judiciary sympathetic to the Washington consensus have on a living Constitution and thus the new trinity?
Overall, Washington Rules is engaging and thought provoking, but Bacevich does not follow through on what implications or consequences might follow his proposals. At only 250 pages, Bacevich could easily expand his work and speak to the counter arguments and questions it raises.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2010
Professor Andrew Bacevich's latest book describes the nature of the US national security elite as he sees it. Washington rules are the list of assumptions necessary to gain admittance to the leadership cadre of the US, that is "rules" functions as both a noun and verb. The rules are based on what Bacevich describes as the credo - essentially that the US alone among nations has the responsibility, morality, wisdom and power to not only lead, but change the world. This credo pertains to purpose, while the other componet of the rules, the "sacred trinity", pertains to the means. The trinity consists of "global military presence, global power projection and global interventionism". Together the credo and trinity provide the intellectual grounding of the Washington rules.
So far so good, but the problem arose with the Vietnam war which showed the rules - both purpose and means - to be highly questionable and even self-defeating, according to Bacevich, and in need of revision or even replacement. Instead of a national debate to decide how to go forward, our elite, which had nothing to gain by replacing the rules and much to gain with their retention, reduced the defeat in Vietnam to one of "tactics" and found a few scapegoats to take the blame. By 1982, the US was back on the same track it had been in 1965, as if Vietnam had never happened.
In all this book is an attempt by Bacevich to educate the American public as to the actual nature of what US national security/foreign policy has steadily become since its beginning in 1945. At this point in time the Washington rules drive not only these areas, but domestic US policy as well.
The time has come for the public to demand an actual accounting of the results of Washington rules, including especially the senseless wars since 2001. Whether that does in fact occur will define the future of this country. The book is well worth the cost and hopefully will achieve something along the lines that the author hopes.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2010
I've just finished this holiday reading while cycling up the eastern seaboard of the United States. Having started my journey eight weeks ago in Washington DC, I picked up this book in an independent book shop in Brookline, near Boston, Mass. It seemed to stand out.
It is an incredibly well written, fluid and perceptive review of post WWII foreign policy escalation from the dropping of "Little Boy" on Hiroshima through to the current state of never-ending war that the US occupies itself with.
The author is a very good story teller. His narrative starts from the first page and does not stop or delay in delivering an insightful and meaningful history and commentary on what is fundamentally wrong with foreign policies pursued by the US.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it in just over 100 miles on a bike, or about four days. I'd happily recommend this book. Indeed, because I only have space for one book on my bicycle, I gave this book to a teacher I met in Biddeford, MA on his way to Acadia National Park on holidays.
He said he had nothing to read and was looking for a decent book. I gave it to him and told him if he liked politics (he did), he would love this book.
I hope he reads it and I'm sure he will love it if he does. You will too.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2010
Andrew Bacevich has authored another excellent book on American foreign policy that effectively explains the thinking that led us since World War II.
There is a lot of history involving the CIA and SAC.
Some of the topics Mr. Bacevich covers are:
*The definition of semiwarriors.
*How Obama has conformed on military global leadership.
*How Viet Nam became irrelevant in foreign policy decisions due to revision.
*Explains who benefits from the perpetuation of Washington Rules.
On the Viet Nam war the author states that the war was fought to "sustain the Washington consensus".
He's correct also in his view that fixing Afghanistan and Iraq has taken priority over domestic problems.
On page 237 Mr. Bacevich writes "The proper aim of American statecraft, therefore, is not to redeem humankind or to prescribe some specific world order, nor to police the planet by force of arms."
Our government has returned to a failed ideology that we can make other nations in our image by force.
He cautions that the Washington Rules rather than delivering on promises of peace and prosperity, will ruin the United States economically and give us never ending wars.
Another great foreign policy book from one of the best authors on the subject!
Other books that I recommend on the subject of American foreign policy are:
American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Blowback, Second Edition: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (American Empire Project)