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4/4/16

The Middle East : Let’s End America’s Hopeless Wars and Europe's refugee crises - by Andrew J. Bacevich

Total Failure Folks - It is all "Bla-Bla-Bla-Bla"
A hundred years ago, the armies of World War I fought to a bloody stalemate on the Western Front and desperately searched for ways to break it and gain an edge. They field-tested tanks and poison gas, rolling barrages and storm-trooper tactics.

Today, the United States is stuck in an analogous stalemate in the Middle East and Islamic world in general. And we are field-testing all manner of novelties, much like the great armies of Europe mired in the trenches: the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs and counterinsurgency, precision-guided munitions and unmanned aerial vehicles, not to mention such passing fancies as “overwhelming force,” “shock and awe,” and “air occupation.”

Yet as was the case a century ago, the introduction of some new battlefield technique does not necessarily signify progress. On the contrary, it only deepens the stalemate.

To reflect on this longest of American wars—why it goes on and on, and at such a cost of blood and treasure—is to confront two questions. First, why has the world’s mightiest military achieved so little even while absorbing very considerable losses and inflicting even greater damage on the subjects of America’s supposed beneficence? Second, why in the face of such unsatisfactory outcomes has the United States refused to chart a different course? In short, why can’t we win? And since we haven’t won, why can’t we get out?

The answer to these questions starts with questioning the premise. The tendency to see the region and Islamic world primarily as a problem that will yield to an American military solution is, in fact, precisely the problem. To an unseemly and ultimately self-destructive degree, we have endorsed the misguided militarization of U.S. foreign policy. As a consequence, we have allowed our country to be pulled into the impossible task of trying to “shape” the region through martial means.

It’s long past time to stop trying (a conclusion that even President Obama appears to be edging his way toward, judging from his recent comments to The Atlantic). 

The United States plunged militarily into the Middle East out of the mistaken belief that the privileged status that Americans take as their birthright was at risk. Way back in 1948, George Kennan, State Department director of policy planning, noted that the United States then possessed “about 50 percent of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 percent of its population.” The challenge facing U.S. policymakers, he believed, was “to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.” The overarching aim of American statecraft, in other words, was to sustain the uniquely favorable situation to which the United States had ascended by the end of World War II.

A half century later, that strategy succeeded and the Soviet Union collapsed.

But the passing of the Cold War period left our massive national security apparatus underemployed while rendering obsolete the policy underlying postwar U.S. military policy—energetically preparing for global war in order to prevent it.

The armed services and their various clients came face to face with a crisis of the first order. With the likelihood of World War III subsiding to somewhere between remote and infinitesimal—with the overarching purpose for which the postwar U.S. military establishment had been created thereby fulfilled—what exactly did that establishment and all of its ancillary agencies, institutes, collaborators, and profit-making auxiliaries exist to do?

The US Pentagon wasted no time in providing an answer to that question. Rather than keeping the peace, it declared, the new key to perpetuating Kennan’s position of disparity was to “shape” the global order. Shaping now became the military’s primary job. In 1992, the Defense Planning Guidance drafted under the aegis of Paul Wolfowitz spelled out this argument in detail. Pointing proudly to the “new international environment” that had already “been shaped by the victory” over Saddam Hussein the year before, that document provided a blueprint explaining how American power could “shape the future.”

The Greater Middle East was to serve—indeed, was even then already serving—as the chosen arena for honing military power into a utensil that would maintain America’s privileged position and, not so incidentally, provide a continuing rationale for the entire apparatus of national security. That region’s predominantly Muslim population thereby became the subjects of experiments ranging from the nominally benign—peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian intervention—to the nakedly coercive. Beginning in 1980, U.S. forces ventured into the Greater Middle East to reassure, warn, intimidate, suppress, pacify, rescue, liberate, eliminate, transform and overawe.

They bombed, raided, invaded, occupied and worked through proxies of various stripes. In 1992, Wolfowitz had expressed the earnest hope of American might addressing the “sources of regional instability in ways that promote international law, limit international violence, and encourage the spread of democratic government and open economic systems.” The results actually produced over the course of several decades of trying have never come even remotely close to satisfying such expectations.

The events that first drew the United States military into the Greater Middle East and that seemed so extraordinary at the time—the Iranian Revolution and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan—turned out to be mere harbingers. Subsequent upheavals have swept through the region in waves: revolutions and counterrevolutions, episodes of terror and counterterror, grotesque barbarism and vast suffering.

Through it all, a succession of American leaders—Republican and Democratic, conservative and liberal, calculating and naive—persisted in the belief that the determined exercise of U.S. military power will somehow put things right. None have seen their hopes fulfilled.

In the 21st century, the prerequisites of freedom, abundance and security are changing. Geopolitically, Asia is eclipsing in importance all other regions apart perhaps from North America itself. The emerging problem set—coping with the effects of climate change, for example—is global and will require a global response. Whether Americans are able to preserve the privileged position to which they are accustomed will depend on how well and how quickly the United States adapts the existing “pattern of relationships” to fit these fresh circumstances.

Amid such challenges, the afflictions besetting large portions of the Islamic world will undoubtedly persist. But their relative importance to the United States as determinants of American well-being will diminish, a process even today already well advanced even if U.S. national security priorities have yet to reflect this fact.

In this context, the War for the Greater Middle East becomes a diversion that Americans "and Europe, which has blindly followed the US's lead in this drama can ill afford".

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