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Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War

09/14/2010 4:30 PM 66"110
Andrew J. Bacevich, Professor, International Relations and History, Boston University

Description: Washington stubbornly sticks to national security policies that don't work, are devoid of moral considerations, and rob future generations, says Andrew J. Bacevich. In a brief talk that leads to a candid and sometimes impassioned give and take with his audience, Bacevich describes a national security consensus that has over time "thrust us into a situation which is really akin to permanent war."

Since World War II, the nation has elected to pursue a singular mission to "lead, save, liberate and ultimately transform the world." To fulfill what Bacevich calls the "American credo," the U.S. alone must maintain a global military presence to establish peace and order, project this power by all means possible, and practice "global interventionism." From Bacevich's perspective, this national security consensus has not just outlived its usefulness but come to jeopardize the core values of the nation, "setting the U.S. on a course toward bankruptcy, both moral and fiscal."

Bacevich calls for a new credo that limits America's use of force to self"defense, or when the nation's "vital interests are threatened." Forget acting as the world's policeman. He admits there is little chance of such rules taking hold, given the deep investment in the status quo by politicians, the military"industrial complex, even the mainstream media. Worse, he worries that Americans are no longer capable of challenging the consensus, conditioned as they are "to believe any departure from Washington rules will lead directly and inevitably to catastrophe and isolationism." Case in point: There has been no effective public debate about the reasons for waging a war first in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, or how to gauge realistically the threat we face in that region.

Questioned about the "morality" of withdrawing from Afghanistan, Bacevich notes that our leaders "don't sit around the coffee table asking what's the right thing to do." Indeed, it should be the job of all Americans to discuss the nation's moral obligations and to guide politicians. And if people engaged in such discourse, says Bacevich, they would find greater harm done to other areas of the world, and saving Afghanistan would not appear a priority. Americans are too apathetic for such hard work, Bacevich believes. But he has a remedy: "We could shut this war down in a heartbeat if our political leaders told (taxpayers) that we are going to pay for this ongoing war But the disgraceful, irresponsible, immoral approach to sustaining war is to put (the burden) of paying for it on some future generation."

About the Speaker(s): Andrew J. Bacevich graduated from the U.S. Military Academy, and received his Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University, he taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins.

In addition to Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, (2010), Bacevich has also authored The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008); The Long War: A New History of US National Security Policy since World War II (2007) (editor); The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005); and American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U. S. Diplomacy (2002). His essays and reviews have appeared in a variety of scholarly and general interest publications including The Wilson Quarterly, The National Interest, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Nation, and The New Republic. His op"eds have appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post, among other newspapers.

In 2004, Bacevich was a Berlin Prize Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He has also held fellowships at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Center for International Studies

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