Wednesday, August 20, 2008


A conservative historian on Afghanistan, Iraq, and more

by Larry Geller

I found myself glued to my mp3 player as I listened to today’s Democracy Now interview with Andrew Bacevich, “Retired colonel who spent twenty-three years in the US Army. He is professor of history and international relations at Boston University…” and author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. An audio link is here.  Video is here. Better, go to today’s program page for the full program video, or move the slider along to about 32 minutes for this segment. You can watch the program tonight on Oahu at 10 p.m. Channel 56.

The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism
by Andrew Bacevich

Read more about this title...

A complete transcript is here. Snippets can’t do justice to the conversation, but here are a few:

AMY GOODMAN: You say the Department of Defense didn’t actually do defense. It was prepared—it specialized in power projection.

ANDREW BACEVICH: It still doesn’t do defense. I mean, it is a remarkable thing, I think, that the reflexive response to 9/11 is, first of all, to create a new bureaucratic entity that supposedly does defend the country—that’s the Department of Homeland Security, as we call it—but to continue to see the purpose of the Department of Defense, so-called, as power projection.

So, what has the Department of Defense been doing for the last seven years since 9/11? Well, been fighting a war in—where? Afghanistan. And a second one in Iraq. Now, I think you can make the case for Afghanistan, at least in terms of you can make a case for the necessity of holding the Taliban accountable for having given sanctuary to al-Qaeda. You can’t make any case for the invasion of Iraq as related to the global war on terror. And frankly, it’s becoming rather difficult, I think, to make a case for the continuation of the Afghanistan war as part of the global war on terror….

…if we look at Afghanistan today, we have to see a country that historically, at least as I understand Afghan history, has never really functioned as an integrated and coherent nation state. It’s never been ruled from Kabul. It’s always been ruled from the—in the provinces by people you might call tribal chiefs. You might call them warlords, you can call them local bosses, but authority has been widely distributed. But we are engaged in a project in which we insist that we’re going to transform Afghanistan into something more or less like a modern, coherent nation state, and indeed, we insist that it has to conform to our notions of liberal democracy.

Were we able to actually do that, I think it would be a wonderful thing. But seven years or so into this project, I’m not sure we can do it. Matter of fact, I’m increasingly persuaded that we can’t do it…

Skipping ahead:

AMY GOODMAN: So how is this narrowness [between the positions of presidential candidates] taking place? I mean, yes, you have McCain saying we’ll be in Iraq for a hundred years. You have Obama speaking out against the war, but he votes with McCain for funding for the war all through the years—

ANDREW BACEVICH: Right, right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —as a senator, and then he says we’ll send thousands more, we should send thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

ANDREW BACEVICH: Right, right. I think there are differences between the two, but I think we should see the differences as differences in operational priorities. McCain insists that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror and that it must be won, and it’s clear that if we, the American people, elect him, that we will be engaged in Iraq for a long, long time. Senator Obama says, “No, Afghanistan is the central front in the global war on terror. Elect me and will shift our military effort to Afghanistan.” It’s a difference, but it’s a difference in operational priorities; it’s not a difference in strategy.

Both of them—McCain explicitly, I think Obama implicitly—endorse the notion that a global war on terror really provides the right frame for thinking about US national security policy going forward. A real debate would be one in which we would have one candidate, and certainly it would be McCain, arguing for the global war on terror and an opponent who was questioning whether the global war on terror makes sense. I don’t think it makes sense.

I think you’ll enjoy the whole interview. Please check it out.


Bill Moyers also did an extended conversation. I don't have a tv, I only listen to the podcast. I thought it was excellent.

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