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Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project) Hardcover – August 3, 2010
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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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Andrew Bacevich traces the development and the durability of the rules, beliefs, and attitudes that put the US in war in Viet Nam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan and other, smaller conflicts. These conflicts arise logically from the Washington rules, which can be summarized as: The whole world is the responsibility of the United States.
This is not heavy reading, but it is on target. The book is not made up of cute anecdotes or side stories. Bacevich stays on task, so that in 250 pages he describes the decisions that have resulted in our country spending more on the military than the rest of the world combined. He is specific and direct: The actions of Allen Dulles and Curtis LeMay continue in a direct line into the Bush and Obama administrations.
Since after World War II, the Washington rules have been supported by each administration, no matter how embarrassing, destructive, or ridiculous the consequences. In Bacevich's view, the reason that the Washington Rules have been so successful is that the American people have abdicated their responsibility to defend the country from both external forces and internal demagogues.
The natural response is then to ask, "So, if we are in this situation, what do we do?" There are no easy answers and his brief attempt to describe a solution is marred by his buying into the current deficit crisis fearmongering. This is forgiveable, however, since it is a small part of a much larger, very valuable work. The purpose of the book is met: The rules and their consequences are clearly and accurately revealed, leaving us as citizens to determine what we should do about them.
The author makes it simple, in a way that the general public, if so motivated, can understand that the quagmire we have inherited, and feed, is of our own making. Many of us have known this for years, and it's frustrating to feel isolated in that recognition. But it was still quite a learning to read the story from a closer source.
One of the most salient points of the book is in the inspired last chapter: we Americans have lost touch with a founding concept of this nation . . . that it was DESIGNED to be a participatory democracy. It is interesting that many Americans who deride the so-called "welfare class" as having a sense of entitlement to their support, do not comprehend that most of us are nurtured into a similar sense of entitlement. I.e., we live our daily lives expecting Big Daddy government to supply our needs as long as taxes are paid, and then it ends at that. To intellectually and emotionally involve ourselves in the self-governing process . . . well, perhaps now we're starting to get angry enough to wake up a little. Bacevich expresses this so well.
Some reviewers imply that we need to keep focused on the insidious security needs overseas, from terrorism and the like. Well, duh! Our original mischief in stirring that pot is still not acknowledged enough, and the arrogance of assuming that more of the same medicine will cure it is one of the points Bacevich is desperately trying to make. Terms like "isolationist" are propaganda, just like "liberal" and "conservative," and they have been used quite effectively over the years by those in power to manipulate public opinion and turn us against ourselves.
Speaking of which, I was surprised, upon researching the author, to see he classifies as a "conservative." Goes to show that the circle comes around again, and that if we citizens were left to our own devices, we could discover much in common, and that labels are usually nonsense. Most of us want the same things . . . we just disagree on how to get them, and a little logic and paying attention to the truth trumps divisive energies.
This book should be read and appreciated by anyone searching for inspiration in the depressingly murky political climate nowadays. As general quality of life in this country decreases, hopefully we'll all wake up and pay attention to where our money and energy (and sometimes children) are being wasted. The sad part is that it DOES demand a good foundation in civics, and our lack of educational focus in that area serves no one but the establishment interests that prefer it that way.
I find it synchronistic that just as I was belatedly reading this book, there is emerging a strong controversy in Washington about "perpetual war." The Libya situation is being challenged (granted, by the politically self-serving), and there is an awakening realization that continual war could become the American way of life, and that the legislature may become powerless to stop it. Bacevich didn't have to be psychic to see that coming . . . he just paid attention, unlike most of us.
If I had one suggestion to make about this book, it would be to put a little more emphasis on the dark contributions of the allied non-military complex. Although Bacevich rightly criticizes Americans for creating all sorts of boogymen for their problems, it is also true that we must of necessity get a handle on the entanglements of corporate America and the usurious moneylenders that have become so vital to propping up this Washington monstrosity. To ignore that is our demise for certain.