Bacevich in “Guernica”

The other night I overheard someone recommending the online journal Guernica, so I checked it out.  Imagine my pleasure in seeing there an interview with Andrew Bacevich, whose most recent book, Washington Rules, I’ve written about here.

This passage, in particular, excited me:

”Anybody who questions [the United States’] militarized approach to global leadership is immediately labeled an isolationist—as if there were no alternatives between global militarism and pulling up the drawbridges and turning inward. There are all kinds of alternatives. Where we the people have fallen down—and where the media have fallen down and where the people who write books have fallen down—is in failing to articulate those alternatives so that the national security debate could be richer. Because there really is no national security debate.”

This strikes at the heart of my inquiry. Especially, “Where we the people have fallen down….”  My whole point in starting this blog was to move beyond feeling uneasy about American militarism overseas to explore, as one of “the people”, other ways of being.  By doing this publicly, I hoped to inspire others to share their ideas as well. 

Toward this end, I tried to infer from the interview how Bacevich would articulate an alternative approach.  It would

  • focus resources where they count (on the Pacific theater, for example, instead of Afghanistan)
  • occasionally look to non-military interventions to increase stability (he suggests Mexican political instability is a bigger threat–which clearly cannot be solved militarily)
  • find savings where they can logically be found (Europe no longer needs so large a military presence to ensure the peace there), and
  • rely on people who are familiar with a region, its people, traditions, etc., to plan foreign policy. (Someone like  Juan Cole should have been involved in planning Middle East policy, instead of Douglas Feith and his ilk).

These are all things I can get behind.  Still, I’d appreciate having a simple conceptual formula or principle (under which such tactics would fall) that could displace the current idea, which as I understand it is something like this:  America’s military makes the world safe for democracy.


Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell? Don’t Look!

The years-long debate about whether gay men and women should be knowingly allowed to serve in the military is heating up again. 

What a red herring!

The debate we should be having is whether or not we need a military so large that it depends on gay men and women to fill its ranks (even though many want to pretend they’re not there).

Personally, I have no objection to gay men and women in the military.  What I do object to is millions of people around the world displaced, hundreds of thousands killed, and America’s moral, intellectual, and (perhaps) economic  integrity squandered.

The upside?  Corporate America has cheap access to resources from the rest of the world?

What “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” really means is, “Don’t look at that elephant in the room.”

Clues in the Rare Earth?

I’ve been remotely aware of a controversy around so-called “rare earth minerals” for some weeks now.  As today is a holiday for me, I took extra time to read the New York Times article “China’s Ban on Selling Rare Earth Minerals to Japan Continues”

My initial question in embarking on this blog was, if the Iraqi’s have oil to sell, and we want to buy it, why do we need a military presence there to do so?  This article seems to hold a clue.

My earlier reading on the subject indicated that the U.S. no longer mines or manufactures these minerals because it’s a lot cheaper to buy them from China.  Apparently, the Japanese–always dependent on others for natural resources–have no choice but to buy them from China.  

The problem is, China can choose to not sell–which, reportedly, is what they are doing in order to force another issue:  territorial claims on islands and fishing rights.  It’s a form of blackmail, I guess:  either the Japanese can acquiesce on the territorial dispute, or they can live without the minerals they need to sustain their high-tech industries, like electronics and energy.

This is a simple equation.  Too simple, I’d guess.  Surely there are international rules or conventions, or economic principles that make this sort of thing untenable. 

I don’t really have readers–to date, I have only told only handful of people about this blog (and have an intentionally obscure title).  But if I did, I’d ask them to share what they know or think about this kind of situation, and the mitigating factors I’ve speculated about.

Reviewing the Contract

So I finally got around to reading the Contract From America. My first impression is that it seems like pretty thin gruel. Not much there, except a bunch of faddish issues masquerading as a platform of sorts.

As I understand it, the thing they’re so angry about is the deficit. So where is the military budget in the document?

I recently finished Andrew Bacevich’s terrific book, Washington Rules, and I’m pretty sympathetic to his assertion that a real policy change would be to move away from the U.S. holding the planet in a military headlock–something that I’m guessing would save a lot of dough.
What, I wonder, would the Tea Party folks say about that?

P.S.  Coincidentally, William Pfaff just blogged about Bacevich’s book.  Read all about it.

A Soldiers’ View?

Most of the books I have or am reading to date are unsympathetic to to the imperial impulse.  To balance things up, I tried to read Lone Survivor, a book given as a gift to my fiance.  The author (who wrote “with Patrick Robinson”) was a Navy SEAL who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The book is his account of a disastrous mission in which he and three others set out to track down an al Qaeda leader, and only he survived.

The Iliad is the tale of a ferocious fighter, Achilles, who eventually learns that war sucks, even though he is very good at it.  While Luttrell’s book starts out much the same way, he lacks Homer’s story telling skill and his sensitive understanding of human motives and feelings. Worse, I got a sinking feeling that Luttrell wasn’t going to learn anything.   

On page 12 he describes the flight from  Bahrain as follows:  “There were no other passengers on board, just the flight crew and, in the rear, us, headed out to do God’s work on behalf of the U.S. government and our commander in chief, President George W. Bush. In a sense, we were all alone.  As usual.”

Reads like petulant child with a chip on his shoulder ’cause no one appreciates how special he is.

A few pages earlier he describes a town where shopkeepers hung black flags in thier windows to indicate that Americans were unwelcome, and then comments:  “I guess it wasn’t quite as vicious as Juden Verboten was in Hitler’s Germany.  But there are undercurrents of hatred all over the Arab world….”

Kind of ballsy to compare the U.S. army in Iraq to Jews in Germany circa World War II.

I thought reading this book would give me a sense of what an on-the-ground fighter thought and felt.  But, frankly, I didn’t get very far. Or rather, I got far enough.  This book didn’t promise anything I didn’t already know from the most basic stereotypes.

No thanks, Luttrell (and Robinson).  I’ll look for balance elsewhere.

What We Learn from WikiLinks

The so-called “WikiLinks” have focused media attention on the viability of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.  This has provided David E. Sanger occasion in today’s Week in Review to play Monday Night Quarterback on the nearly 10 year campaign.  He asks, What if we hadn’t decided to use minimal force at the outset, or had not relied on misleading metrics to gauge the war’s progress, or had been more focused in our mission, or not hamstrung by arbitrary deadlines?  Could things have turned out differently (i.e., better)? The question he fails to ask is, what if we hadn’t invaded in the first place? Sergeant Mitchell LaFortune’s prescription also fails to ask this question, offering, instead, a new course of continued military action.

(In his column in the same section, though, Thomas Friedman, who I usually cannot countenance, makes a relevant observation:  “The terrorist attack [of 9/11] was basically planned, executed, and funded by radical Pakistanis and Saudis. And we responded by invading Iraq and Afghanistan.”)

I remember feeling ambivalent about that attack, myself.  Military action seemed like a justifiable response, but was it the most compelling one?

Time has begun to give us an answer, and I turn for perspective to Eric Hobsbawm, whose potent, slender book of essays, On Empire, I am now reading:

“Historically, empires may have been conquered by military force and established by terror (“shock and awe,” in the phrase of the Pentagon), but if they wanted to last, they have had to rely on two main instruments—cooperation with local interests and the legitimacy of effective power—while also exploiting the disunity of their adversaries and their subjects….”

From what I’ve read, it seems like we have achieved none of these conditions in Afghanistan.  The allegiance of local elites seems unreliable (Hobsbawm has interesting things to say about this, which I hope to cover in a later posting), our claim to legitimacy seems no more solid than that of countless others who have invaded that region over the centuries, and the only constructive success we seem to be able to point to is building an increasingly unified opposition to our presence there.

What is so appealing about military action?  Sure, it seems simple and straightforward, but aren’t there alternatives?

Hobsbawm promises to discuss these later in his book, and I’m looking forward to what he has to say.

Residents cum Collaborators?

I came across this from William Pfaff’s terrific blog:

“…Europe dominated the world from the Renaissance…because the Europeans…organized their own societies in ways never before known…providing a quality of life for their populations that maintained the allegiance of their societies.”

The key part–for my inquiry–is the last clause.  It seems like governments struggle to maintain public support, and much of that support is premised on quality of life.  My reading to date suggests that access to resources–foreign and domestic–is a central factor.

To what extent, then, are residents of an empire collaborators with their expansionist government?  Or even, indirectly, in the drivers seat?

P.S.  I’ve been on vacation for the past week.  I didn’t realize that blogging would require so much attention. I’ll try to be more diligent in posting more regularly.