- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 15 hours and 12 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Random House Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: April 5, 2016
- Language: English
- ASIN: B01DCNDZ0I
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America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History Audiobook – Unabridged
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Bacevich also points out that Carter's predecessors going back to WWII had done him no favors with their forging ill-advised relationships and foolhardy commitments. Nonetheless, Carter had launched America's War for the Greater Middle East, compounding those inherited errors. That war continues today, with no end in sight.
America's War for the Greater Middle East was a war to preserve the American way of life, rooted in an abundance of cheap energy. In 1969, imports already accounted for 20% of American consumption, and the next year U.S. domestic oil production peaked. By 1973, in retaliation for U.S. support for Israel in the October War, Arabs suspended oil exports to the U.S. and the West. Eventually, oil imports resumed, but the availability and price of gasoline had now become a matter of national concern. The hierarchy of national security priorities was beginning to shift from nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union.
President Nixon launched a plan to insure that Americans would not have to rely on any source of energy beyond our own (Project Independence), but the idea that retrenchment was needed did not sit well with some. There was a strong sense of entitlement, notwithstanding Britain's prior experiences. However, the just-concluded war in Vietnam effectively dampened any enthusiasm for further military adventurism.
From the end of WWII to 1980, virtually no American soldiers were KIA in the Greater Middle East. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere except in the Greater Middle East.
When Carter became president, he first had to confront what he called an 'inordinate fear of communism' that had found the U.S. in bed with corrupt, repressive regimes. However, he hadn't figured on the Iranian Revolution. Previously the CIA helped engineer a coup that returned the Shah to his throne while overthrowing a democratically elected Iranian government. Nixon sold top-line American weapons to Iran, now flush with cash thanks to booming oil exports - envisioning Iran as ensuring stability in the gulf, along with Saudi Arabia.
The Shah, however, was losing his grip on power - having previously alienated segments of society ranging from secularized liberals to religious conservatives. All saw the Shah as an American lackey, the U.S. as parasitic. Both the Shah and Washington dithered. On 1/16/79, he fled into exile.
The Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah triggered a second 'oil shock' as Iranian production fell off sharply, and OPEC announced a succession of price increases. Carter's ratings sank. Prior to addressing the nation, he concluded that America's oil addiction was the underlying problem and had led to losing our moral bearings. 'Too many of us now worshipped self-indulgence and consumption.' Carter saw one path - constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility, and another with us united in control of our destiny via conservation. It became a conflict between self-interest and self-sacrifice. Eventually, the speech became known as Carter's "crisis of confidence" (malaise) speech. With that refusal, the Persian Gulf and its environs acquired massively heightened significance.
Carter had just previously signed off on a memo committed the U.S. to assist Afghan insurgents warring against the Soviet-supported regime in Kabul. The amount was small - only $500,000, and material provided primarily medical supplies and communications equipment. Brezinski saw this as needed to dissuade the Soviets from meddling in the Persian Gulf. On 11/1/79, Brezinski met with Iran's prime minister, in an effort to forge a new positive relationship. However, on 11/4, Iranian students opposed to Carter's allowing the Shah to enter the U.S. for medical treatment, overran the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The Carter administration had no intention of another coup, feared by the students, and the Ayatollah had not ordered the seizure or even prior knowledge of it. Unfortunately, he soon endorsed what the students had one and transformed a difficult problem into a much bigger one. Carter then switched to a goal of maintaining a military preponderance in the region.
Adding the Persian Gulf to the list of U.S. strategic priorities added to defending Western Europe and Northeast Asia. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Reagan's election combined to revive the Cold War. The task, however, was complicated by the fact that states receiving U.S. 'protection' such as Iran, did not want or cooperate with it. The U.S. began with upgrading ports and airfields to which it had been promised access in Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Oman, and Somalia. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia undertook building bases far beyond its needs or ability to operate. A series of training exercises was programmed to cycle U.S. forces through the region - aimed to acclimate U.S. troops to conditions in the region and promote an increasing tolerance for their presence. The U.S. also began poring billions in military aid into the area - $9.1 billion in 1984, $11 billion the next year. It was assumed that memory of prior upheavals dismantling the Ottoman Empire after WWI, creation of Israel in 1948, overthrowing Iran's government in 1953, the Suez Crisis of 1956, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973 would fade away. It was also assumed that Kremlin leaders would play their assigned role as bogeymen - that changed with Gorbachev becoming leader (March, 1985) and working to call off the Cold War.
While Weinberger continued to warn of Soviet military threats, Gorbachev accepted U.S. terms in 1987 for a treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear missiles from Europe, and announced plans to end occupation of Afghanistan. In February 1989, the final contingent of Soviet forces left Afghanistan. By end of 1989, our army found itself with more tanks and tank crews than it knew what to do with - made redundant by the sudden end of the Cold War.
We then quickly fingered Saddam's Iraq as the new Public Enemy #1, and the peace dividend never materialized. To this point, U.S. containment efforts had been directed against states. Reality was that religion (Sunni vs. Shiite), and resentment over Western meddling, including border changes, which the U.S. had become heir to were to play a far stronger role than ever imagined. Iraq, Israel-Palestine, and Pakistan were prime examples of the latter.
U.S. assistance to the mujahedin during the 1980s totaled between $4 - $5 billion, matched by Saudi Arabia.
The Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon (had been placed there as a poorly thought through means of ending conflict in Lebanon) was not avenged, nor were additional Marine deaths by Syrian artillery fire at the Lebanon airport, or the two U.S. aircraft shot down by Syrian air defenses east of Beirut. Thomas Friedman wrote that the Marines had 'accomplished virtually nothing.' Hezbollah could reasonably claim to have inflicted a decisive defeat on the world's preeminent superpower - a conclusion not lost on other U.S. opponents.
By 1979, Libya's efforts towards liberating Palestine etc. had earned it a place on our list of state sponsors of terrorism. Reagan concluded Gaddafi needed to be taught a lesson. In 1973, Gaddafi had claimed ownership of the Gulf of Sidra. The U.S. had rejected Gaddafi's claim without pressing the issue. Reagan changed that by having the U.S. Navy progressively challenging Gaddafi, dispatching carriers Forrestal and Nimitz across the 'line of death.' Two responding Libyan fighters were shot down. A later attack in response to the West Berlin disco bombing and against Gaddafi personally at Benghazi (18 F-111s from Britain - 2 turned back due to equipment failures, four aborted while on target approach, a 7th missed its assigned target, and an 8th shot down; 15 A-6 Intruders from aircraft carriers destroyed the airfield) - overall achieving little, as Gaddafi was apparently warned in advance. That was the inauguration of an extended and futile experiment in employing military might to defeat terrorism - even though Reagan was pleased.
To me the overarching theme of Western intervention has been counterproductive at nearly every turn. From the Crusades, which had no benefit to the West but did manage to bring Muslims together to oppose and defeat the Christian armies but did manage to ravage Constantinople -- the last Eastern Christian bulwark -- and eliminate its effectiveness as a buffer state protecting Europe, to the utterly insane break up of the Ottoman Empire following World War II that included the enshrinement of the Saudis, the United States' worst ally in the history of allies, to overthrowing Iran's elected government and installing a dictator in 1953.
Bacevich's book starts later in the time line, around the time of the Iranian hostage crisis and U.S. support and arming of the USSR's enemies in Afghanistan. The pattern of eff-ups continues, whether they're launched with the best of intentions or in a naked grab at controlling oil or to fend off a perceived Soviet threat.
Most of these events are familiar to me. Where Bacevich is instructive, at least to me, is the military history he is able to bring to bear on the subject.
Unfortunately, even as I read this I can formulate what the next few chapters of this book would look like if updated 10 or 20 years from now as the current clueless moron in the White House flounders in foreign policy. Without learning about -- and for the most part being utterly ignorant of history -- the United States is doomed to fail in this region over and over.
May you live in interesting times, indeed.