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Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project) Hardcover – August 3, 2010
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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."
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*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
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Each chapter in Bacevich’ story unfolds in its own way, but leads to the same ending. For all the wreckage America’s missteps may have caused, the hubris of our foreign policy elite always springs back to life.
Implicit in Bacevich’s book is an acknowledgment that America has absorbed all too well the imperial outlook of the British Empire and its clubby spirit of limitless entitlement.
But his focus on the twists and turns of military doctrine in a wholly American setting misses something important. Yes, we have lived for five centuries in a world of imperial European invasions, but we also live for a very long time in a world of anti-imperial resistance movements. What has been missing from the thinking of our foreign policy elites – an awareness of the dynamic between empire and resistance – is also missing from Washington Rules. While Bacevich recounts the Washington perspective in great detail; he never examines the world's resistance leaders to see if there’s something to be learned from those who dislike empire and prefer resistance.
And there’s a second blind spot in the Bacevich analysis – a lack of attention to soft power. The film "Charlie Wilson’s War" ends with a lament about America’s failure to use soft power in Afghanistan when it might still have made a difference. It's a chronic problem. America’s policy elites have little interest in whether soft power might be the smarter choice; alas, Bacevich neglects this theme as well.