Fine geopolitical writing is rare, requiring both broad knowledge and insight. This is one of the best I have seen in many months, discussing a subject of great importance: “The American Military Crisis“, Andrew Bacevich, TomDispatch, 11 August 2008.
Excerpt from the introduction by Tom Engelhardt:
All you really need to know is that, at Robert Gates’s Pentagon, they’re still high on the term “the Long War.” It’s a phrase that first crept into our official vocabulary back in 2002, but was popularized by CENTCOM commander John Abizaid, in 2004 — already a fairly long(-war-)time ago. Now, Secretary of Defense Gates himself is plugging the term, as he did in April at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, quoting no less an authority than Leon Trotsky:
“What has been called the Long War is likely to be many years of persistent, engaged combat all around the world in differing degrees of size and intensity. This generational campaign cannot be wished away or put on a timetable. There are no exit strategies. To paraphrase the Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, we may not be interested in the Long War, but the Long War is interested in us.”
The Long War has also made it front and center in the new “national defense strategy,” which is essentially a call to prepare for a future of two, three, many Afghanistans. (“For the foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent extremist movements will be the central objective of the U.S.”).
And here’s a riddle for our moment: How long is a Long War, when you’ve been there before (as were, in the case of Afghanistan, Alexander the Great, the imperial Brits, and the Soviets)?
On the illusions of victory and the many miscalculations of the Bush administration when it came to the nature of American military power, no one in recent years has been more incisive than Andrew Bacevich, who experienced an earlier version of the Long War firsthand in Vietnam. His new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, has just been published. Short, sharp, to the point, it should be the book of the election season, if only anyone in power, or who might come to power, were listening. (The following piece, the first of two parts this week at Tomdispatch, is adapted from section three of that book, “The Military Crisis.”)
Andrew Bacevich’s essay is too difficult to adequately summarize. Here is the opening:
“War is the great auditor of institutions,” the historian Corelli Barnett once observed. Since 9/11, the United States has undergone such an audit and been found wanting. That adverse judgment applies in full to America’s armed forces.
Valor does not offer the measure of an army’s greatness, nor does fortitude, nor durability, nor technological sophistication. A great army is one that accomplishes its assigned mission. Since George W. Bush inaugurated his global war on terror, the armed forces of the United States have failed to meet that standard.
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Bush conceived of a bold, offensive strategy, vowing to “take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” The military offered the principal means for undertaking this offensive, and U.S. forces soon found themselves engaged on several fronts.
Two of those fronts — Afghanistan and Iraq — commanded priority attention. In each case, the assigned task was to deliver a knockout blow, leading to a quick, decisive, economical, politically meaningful victory. In each case, despite impressive displays of valor, fortitude, durability, and technological sophistication, America’s military came up short. The problem lay not with the level of exertion but with the results achieved.
He rapidly picks up speed from here, delivering some powerful insights along the way. I recommend reading the full essay.
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Prevous posts about America’s grand strategy
A related question concerns grand strategy. Does America need a grand strategy? If so, what should it be? Answers to these questions illuminate many of the questions hotly debated about foreign policy and national security. Here are a few of my posts on this subject.
- The Myth of Grand Strategy (31 January 2006)
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy (1 March 2006)
- America takes another step towards the “Long War” (24 July 2007)
- One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? (28 October 2007)
- ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy (21 February 2008)
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I (19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008)
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II (14 June 2008)
- America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past (30 June 2008) – chapter 1 in a series of notes
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris (1 July 2008) – chapter 2
- America’s grand strategy, now in shambles (2 July 2008) — chapter 3
- America’s grand strategy, insanity at work (7 July 2008) — chapter 4
- Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus (11 August 2008)
Click here to see a list of all posts about strategy and military theory.