Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History

Academic journal article The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies

America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History

Article excerpt

America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History Andrew J. Bacevich Random House, 2016

This book is an odd mixture of iconoclasm and conventionality, but its central point is of such importance and value that we will place it at the start of this review. Bacevich repeatedly criticizes the wisdom and efficacy of the United States' many interventions into the Islamic world. In a chronological account that goes back well before 9/11, he critiques the U.S. actions as often based on an ignorance of history and culture, shallow moralistic impulses, interventions without thought being given to their endgame, and the false assumption that peoples everywhere welcome being made over into the American image (or, we might add, into whatever has passed for the American image in the ever-changing program of the American opinion-elite).

We regret that Bacevich has not reinforced these criticisms with an in-depth analysis of each, and that he makes them with only the most passing statement of what he thinks a sound approach would be. He is the author of eight other books, and a scholar conversant with all of them would almost certainly know his thinking in greater depth than this book conveys. Because the author assumes the reader already knows the premises that inform his criticisms, this is not a "stand alone" book. For those of us who need to be filled in, it helps that we have found the kernel of his thinking in an opinion piece he wrote for the November 14, 2015 edition of the Boston Globe: "Rather than assuming an offensive posture, the West should revert to a defensive one. Instead of attempting to impose its will on the Greater Middle East, it should erect barriers to protect itself... Such barriers... will produce greater security at a more affordable cost. Rather than vainly attempting to police or control, this revised strategy should seek to contain." He adds that the indigenous peoples of the Middle East will be better at solving their own problems than outsiders can be.

This explains much that Bacevich is saying. It obviously does not amount to a full exploration of what he has in mind by "containment." Limiting his book to "a military history," he makes no mention of the Muslim invasion of Europe, the depth of its cultural impact within Europe, or of the growing Muslim population in the United States. One would presume that "containment" would amount to more than simply "vetting" the mass population transfers to weed out the more palpable cases of threatened violence. It could mean seriously limiting the number of Islamic immigrants into the West. Bacevich, after all, is no friend to "multiculturalism," as we see when he says that it is "one of the prevailing shibboleths of the present age" that the "commingling of cultures is inherently good." The implications of containment may for him run the gamut between rather narrow or very broad.

Bacevich doesn't use this analogy, but we suggest it might be well to think of the United States as having for several years stomped around in a large nest of fire ants, at much cost and pain but without appreciable effect other than seriously to agitate the ants. This suggests that the best alternative may be, as Bacevich suggests, to stop stomping around at all, and simply to let the mound exist on its own.

Andrew Bacevich's credentials are impressive. He has every reason to "know whereof he speaks." Now a retired Boston University professor, he entered academic life after 23 years' service as an Army officer. He is a graduate both of the West Point military academy and Princeton University (at which he earned a doctorate in diplomatic history). A prolific writer, he supplements his nine books with innumerable articles and commentaries, including some in National Review and The American Conservative.

It is not possible anymore to say just what American "conservatism" amounts to, but it is clear that Bacevich is an unorthodox "conservative" in any case, as witness his 2008 support for Barack Obama for president. …

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