The End of (Military) History?





Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.  His new book, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, has just been published. This article appears thanks to the kind courtesy of TomDispatch.

“In watching the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history.”  This sentiment, introducing the essay that made Francis Fukuyama a household name, commands renewed attention today, albeit from a different perspective.

Developments during the 1980s, above all the winding down of the Cold War, had convinced Fukuyama that the “end of history” was at hand.  “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea,” he wrote in 1989, “is evident… in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.”

Today the West no longer looks quite so triumphant.  Yet events during the first decade of the present century have delivered history to another endpoint of sorts.  Although Western liberalism may retain considerable appeal, the Western way of war has run its course.

For Fukuyama, history implied ideological competition, a contest pitting democratic capitalism against fascism and communism.  When he wrote his famous essay, that contest was reaching an apparently definitive conclusion.

Yet from start to finish, military might had determined that competition’s course as much as ideology.  Throughout much of the twentieth century, great powers had vied with one another to create new, or more effective, instruments of coercion.  Military innovation assumed many forms.  Most obviously, there were the weapons:  dreadnoughts and aircraft carriers, rockets and missiles, poison gas, and atomic bombs—the list is a long one.  In their effort to gain an edge, however, nations devoted equal attention to other factors:  doctrine and organization, training systems and mobilization schemes, intelligence collection and war plans. 

All of this furious activity, whether undertaken by France or Great Britain, Russia or Germany, Japan or the United States, derived from a common belief in the plausibility of victory.  Expressed in simplest terms, the Western military tradition could be reduced to this proposition:  war remains a viable instrument of statecraft, the accoutrements of modernity serving, if anything, to enhance its utility.

Grand Illusions

That was theory.  Reality, above all the two world wars of the last century, told a decidedly different story.  Armed conflict in the industrial age reached new heights of lethality and destructiveness.  Once begun, wars devoured everything, inflicting staggering material, psychological, and moral damage.  Pain vastly exceeded gain.  In that regard, the war of 1914-1918 became emblematic:  even the winners ended up losers.  When fighting eventually stopped, the victors were left not to celebrate but to mourn.  As a consequence, well before Fukuyama penned his essay, faith in war’s problem-solving capacity had begun to erode.  As early as 1945, among several great powers—thanks to war, now great in name only—that faith disappeared altogether.

Among nations classified as liberal democracies, only two resisted this trend.  One was the United States, the sole major belligerent to emerge from the Second World War stronger, richer, and more confident.  The second was Israel, created as a direct consequence of the horrors unleashed by that cataclysm.  By the 1950s, both countries subscribed to this common conviction:  national security (and, arguably, national survival) demanded unambiguous military superiority.  In the lexicon of American and Israeli politics, “peace” was a codeword.  The essential prerequisite for peace was for any and all adversaries, real or potential, to accept a condition of permanent inferiority.  In this regard, the two nations—not yet intimate allies—stood apart from the rest of the Western world.

So even as they professed their devotion to peace, civilian and military elites in the United States and Israel prepared obsessively for war.  They saw no contradiction between rhetoric and reality. 

Yet belief in the efficacy of military power almost inevitably breeds the temptation to put that power to work.  “Peace through strength” easily enough becomes “peace through war.”  Israel succumbed to this temptation in 1967.  For Israelis, the Six-Day War proved a turning point.  Plucky David defeated, and then became, Goliath.  Even as the United States was flailing about in Vietnam, Israel had evidently succeeded in definitively mastering war.

A quarter-century later, U.S. forces seemingly caught up.  In 1991, Operation Desert Storm, George H.W. Bush’s war against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, showed that American troops like Israeli soldiers knew how to win quickly, cheaply, and humanely.  Generals like H. Norman Schwarzkopf persuaded themselves that their brief desert campaign against Iraq had replicated—even eclipsed—the battlefield exploits of such famous Israeli warriors as Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin.  Vietnam faded into irrelevance. 

For both Israel and the United States, however, appearances proved deceptive.  Apart from fostering grand illusions, the splendid wars of 1967 and 1991 decided little.  In both cases, victory turned out to be more apparent than real.  Worse, triumphalism fostered massive future miscalculation. 

On the Golan Heights, in Gaza, and throughout the West Bank, proponents of a Greater Israel—disregarding Washington’s objections—set out to assert permanent control over territory that Israel had seized.  Yet “facts on the ground” created by successive waves of Jewish settlers did little to enhance Israeli security.  They succeeded chiefly in shackling Israel to a rapidly growing and resentful Palestinian population that it could neither pacify nor assimilate.

In the Persian Gulf, the benefits reaped by the United States after 1991 likewise turned out to be ephemeral.  Saddam Hussein survived and became in the eyes of successive American administrations an imminent threat to regional stability.  This perception prompted (or provided a pretext for) a radical reorientation of strategy in Washington.  No longer content to prevent an unfriendly outside power from controlling the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Washington now sought to dominate the entire Greater Middle East.  Hegemony became the aim.  Yet the United States proved no more successful than Israel in imposing its writ.

During the 1990s, the Pentagon embarked willy-nilly upon what became its own variant of a settlement policy.  Yet U.S. bases dotting the Islamic world and U.S. forces operating in the region proved hardly more welcome than the Israeli settlements dotting the occupied territories and the soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) assigned to protect them.  In both cases, presence provoked (or provided a pretext for) resistance.  Just as Palestinians vented their anger at the Zionists in their midst, radical Islamists targeted Americans whom they regarded as neo-colonial infidels.

Stuck

No one doubted that Israelis (regionally) and Americans (globally) enjoyed unquestioned military dominance.  Throughout Israel’s near abroad, its tanks, fighter-bombers, and warships operated at will.  So, too, did American tanks, fighter-bombers, and warships wherever they were sent. 

So what?  Events made it increasingly evident that military dominance did not translate into concrete political advantage.  Rather than enhancing the prospects for peace, coercion produced ever more complications.  No matter how badly battered and beaten, the “terrorists” (a catch-all term applied to anyone resisting Israeli or American authority) weren’t intimidated, remained unrepentant, and kept coming back for more. 

Israel ran smack into this problem during Operation Peace for Galilee, its 1982 intervention in Lebanon.  U.S. forces encountered it a decade later during Operation Restore Hope, the West’s gloriously titled foray into Somalia.  Lebanon possessed a puny army; Somalia had none at all.  Rather than producing peace or restoring hope, however, both operations ended in frustration, embarrassment, and failure. 

And those operations proved but harbingers of worse to come.  By the 1980s, the IDF’s glory days were past.  Rather than lightning strikes deep into the enemy rear, the narrative of Israeli military history became a cheerless recital of dirty wars—unconventional conflicts against irregular forces yielding problematic results.  The First Intifada (1987-1993), the Second Intifada (2000-2005), a second Lebanon War (2006), and Operation Cast Lead, the notorious 2008-2009 incursion into Gaza, all conformed to this pattern. 

Meanwhile, the differential between Palestinian and Jewish Israeli birth rates emerged as a looming threat—a “demographic bomb,” Benjamin Netanyahu called it.  Here were new facts on the ground that military forces, unless employed pursuant to a policy of ethnic cleansing, could do little to redress.  Even as the IDF tried repeatedly and futilely to bludgeon Hamas and Hezbollah into submission, demographic trends continued to suggest that within a generation a majority of the population within Israel and the occupied territories would be Arab.

Trailing a decade or so behind Israel, the United States military nonetheless succeeded in duplicating the IDF’s experience.  Moments of glory remained, but they would prove fleeting indeed.  After 9/11, Washington’s efforts to transform (or “liberate”) the Greater Middle East kicked into high gear.  In Afghanistan and Iraq, George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror began impressively enough, as U.S. forces operated with a speed and élan that had once been an Israeli trademark.  Thanks to “shock and awe,” Kabul fell, followed less than a year and a half later by Baghdad.  As one senior Army general explained to Congress in 2004, the Pentagon had war all figured out:

“We are now able to create decision superiority that is enabled by networked systems, new sensors and command and control capabilities that are producing unprecedented near real time situational awareness, increased information availability, and an ability to deliver precision munitions throughout the breadth and depth of the battlespace… Combined, these capabilities of the future networked force will leverage information dominance, speed and precision, and result in decision superiority.”

The key phrase in this mass of techno-blather was the one that occurred twice:  “decision superiority.”  At that moment, the officer corps, like the Bush administration, was still convinced that it knew how to win.

Such claims of success, however, proved obscenely premature.  Campaigns advertised as being wrapped up in weeks dragged on for years, while American troops struggled with their own intifadas.  When it came to achieving decisions that actually stuck, the Pentagon (like the IDF) remained clueless.

Winless

If any overarching conclusion emerges from the Afghan and Iraq Wars (and from their Israeli equivalents), it’s this:  victory is a chimera.  Counting on today’s enemy to yield in the face of superior force makes about as much sense as buying lottery tickets to pay the mortgage:  you better be really lucky. 

Meanwhile, as the U.S. economy went into a tailspin, Americans contemplated their equivalent of Israel’s “demographic bomb”—a “fiscal bomb.”  Ingrained habits of profligacy, both individual and collective, held out the prospect of long-term stagnation:  no growth, no jobs, no fun.  Out-of-control spending on endless wars exacerbated that threat. 

By 2007, the American officer corps itself gave up on victory, although without giving up on war.  First in Iraq, then in Afghanistan, priorities shifted.  High-ranking generals shelved their expectations of winning—at least as a Rabin or Schwarzkopf would have understood that term.  They sought instead to not lose.  In Washington as in U.S. military command posts, the avoidance of outright defeat emerged as the new gold standard of success. 

As a consequence, U.S. troops today sally forth from their base camps not to defeat the enemy, but to “protect the people,” consistent with the latest doctrinal fashion.  Meanwhile, tea-sipping U.S. commanders cut deals with warlords and tribal chieftains in hopes of persuading guerrillas to lay down their arms.

A new conventional wisdom has taken hold, endorsed by everyone from new Afghan War commander General David Petraeus, the most celebrated soldier of this American age, to Barack Obama, commander-in-chief and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.  For the conflicts in which the United States finds itself enmeshed, “military solutions” do not exist.  As Petraeus himself has emphasized, “we can’t kill our way out of" the fix we’re in.  In this way, he also pronounced a eulogy on the Western conception of warfare of the last two centuries.

The Unasked Question

What then are the implications of arriving at the end of Western military history? 

In his famous essay, Fukuyama cautioned against thinking that the end of ideological history heralded the arrival of global peace and harmony.  Peoples and nations, he predicted, would still find plenty to squabble about. 

With the end of military history, a similar expectation applies.  Politically motivated violence will persist and may in specific instances even retain marginal utility.  Yet the prospect of Big Wars solving Big Problems is probably gone for good.  Certainly, no one in their right mind, Israeli or American, can believe that a continued resort to force will remedy whatever it is that fuels anti-Israeli or anti-American antagonism throughout much of the Islamic world.  To expect persistence to produce something different or better is moonshine. 

It remains to be seen whether Israel and the United States can come to terms with the end of military history.  Other nations have long since done so, accommodating themselves to the changing rhythms of international politics.  That they do so is evidence not of virtue, but of shrewdness.  China, for example, shows little eagerness to disarm.  Yet as Beijing expands its reach and influence, it emphasizes trade, investment, and development assistance.  Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army stays home.  China has stolen a page from an old American playbook, having become today the preeminent practitioner of “dollar diplomacy.” 

The collapse of the Western military tradition confronts Israel with limited choices, none of them attractive.  Given the history of Judaism and the history of Israel itself, a reluctance of Israeli Jews to entrust their safety and security to the good will of their neighbors or the warm regards of the international community is understandable.  In a mere six decades, the Zionist project has produced a vibrant, flourishing state.  Why put all that at risk?  Although the demographic bomb may be ticking, no one really knows how much time remains on the clock.  If Israelis are inclined to continue putting their trust in (American-supplied) Israeli arms while hoping for the best, who can blame them?

In theory, the United States, sharing none of Israel’s demographic or geographic constraints and, far more richly endowed, should enjoy far greater freedom of action.  Unfortunately, Washington has a vested interest in preserving the status quo, no matter how much it costs or where it leads.  For the military-industrial complex, there are contracts to win and buckets of money to be made.  For those who dwell in the bowels of the national security state, there are prerogatives to protect.  For elected officials, there are campaign contributors to satisfy.  For appointed officials, civilian and military, there are ambitions to be pursued.

And always there is a chattering claque of militarists, calling for jihad and insisting on ever greater exertions, while remaining alert to any hint of backsliding.  In Washington, members of this militarist camp, by no means coincidentally including many of the voices that most insistently defend Israeli bellicosity, tacitly collaborate in excluding or marginalizing views that they deem heretical.  As a consequence, what passes for debate on matters relating to national security is a sham.  Thus are we invited to believe, for example, that General Petraeus’s appointment as the umpteenth U.S. commander in Afghanistan constitutes a milestone on the way to ultimate success. 

Nearly twenty years ago, a querulous Madeleine Albright demanded to know:  “What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?”  Today, an altogether different question deserves our attention:  What’s the point of constantly using our superb military if doing so doesn’t actually work?  

Washington’s refusal to pose that question provides a measure of the corruption and dishonesty permeating our politics.

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james joseph butler - 8/5/2010

And single payer is the most logical means of delivering health care, not to mention the path to the future in the international marketplace. Arnold war is myth, it's Yankee Stadium, it's capitalism fought by other means, it's what we do best,and it ain't gonna change. Emotions(and profits) overwhelm logic.

I'm sorry I just can't help but laugh at the idea that anyone is going to be prosecuted for these insane wars. Both of these wars were pursued in the wake of 9/11. I explained to my 6th graders on that morning, a mile away, why people in the Middle East would not like America. It's that simple but it requires an open mind. (I know I lack that but I try.) Both wars as you state are illogical and illegal but logic and legality are swept away when wars of civilizations crystallize within the imagination. If it worked in the 12th century why not now?

Naaah, Jimmy Carter's a joke, Ralph Nader's a Democratic nightmare and the Peace Prize Prez sez the same stuff as W because it still sells and he actually believes. We're gonna indict our heroes? Arnold, war is America's religion.


Arnold Shcherban - 8/4/2010

Mr. Butler,
Don't we - American amateur or professional historians and professional mass-media - living in a free society have a responsibility to call a spade a spade?
The continuing US wars against Iraq and Afghanistan were conspicuous AGGRESSIONS (not fitting a single UN criterion for a just war) from the start, which had and still have one major goal: to establish a firm control over the region in question, by eventually choking Iran into submission, as well.
Therefore they (the wars) have to be stopped immediately by the complete withdrawal of the NATO troops from there and eliminating any already built or currently building NATO presence (military bases) in those countries, followed up (by at least an attempt) by criminal prosecution of the US and other NATO officials for aggression and war crimes by the International Court of Justice.
May I ask you to tell us whether my take on that issue fits your own one?


Arnold Shcherban - 8/4/2010

<If there is a Western way of war, it is better defined by what distinguishes the modern-day West from its competitors and predecessors: the laws of the Hague and Geneva conventions, the unwritten rules of casus belli, and the early United Nations when that body was dominated by the West.>
The laws and rules that Western powers (especially the US) violated left and right themselves, but severely punished or condemned others for violating them.

<The treatment of Israel is completely counterfactual.>
Really?
How counterfactually was Israel treated by the international community for factual occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories in the course of five decades, for building illegal settlements on those territories, forcing millions of Palestinians to flee from their ancient habitat into Jordan and Lebanon, and not allowing their return?
The answer: with complete impunity!

Take Iraq and Iran on the other token.
The first one was slammed with the most severe, anti-humane sanctions in the modern history on allegedly "factual" premise that it possessed undeclared WMDs, then later attacked by the "international forces"
on the same "factual" premise with his government overthrowned, his political leaders killed in the battle field or by the most shameful of "justice", his leading political party murdered, thrown to jails, or, at the best, disbanded and persecuted,
hundreds of thousands of its citizens good or bad killed, country's infrastructure and most of its economy destroyed, the country being essentially divided in two/three ones.
Then it came "fair" and "factual" treatment of Iran.
Based exclusively on a suspicion,
without presenting any shred of material or informational evidence,
this country was also slammed with already two rounds of sanctions to cripple its economy, and eventually and undoubtedly (since the treatment of Iraq being copied on it) terrorize
its population, with US special operation forces have already been operating on, (tell me again about Western adherence to the rule of international law, "when it is in majority") Iranian territory for a while with full-scale military
aggression upcoming.

Poor... Israel!


james joseph butler - 8/1/2010

David I agree that Bacevich is blinkered in this take on war. War is male and eternal. Our president is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, smart as hell, a cultural and racial hybrid, and as even tempered as the rest of seemingly aren't. Yet for some reason, he's an electable American politician, he whole heartedly believes in the war on terror even if he can't bring himself to say it. Just look at the numbers for the DOD and then add an additional hundred billion because the "Homeland" needs it.

Regarding Israel and America however I have to agree with Bacevich. You state, "The treatment of Israel is completely conterfactual." Regarding Israel and WWII, would Israel exist without Europe? What separates Israel from any other colonial entity apart from holy books? 1967, please read the statements of Gen. Peled, "to pretend that Egyptian forces massed on our borders were in a position to threaten the existence of Israel", and Menachem Begin, "We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him(Nasser)."

"Settlement policy", I don't know about you, but when I move into a new neighborhood I do not self-consciously brand myself as an outlier and then bulldoze the houses that lie on the properties that I desire before I build on them. That's "settlement policy" Israeli style. Regarding your assertion that the US intervened in Lebanon 2006 and Gaza 2009, nonsense. The US stood on the sidelines and it didn't matter whether it was Condeleeza Rice or Susan Rice, US policy was; kill as many Muslims as you want Israel, we got your back. What's 10 or 100 or 1000 dead civilians if we kill Hamas or Hezbollah terrorists. Israel is America's millstone.

Afghanistan, in case you didn't notice those "doctrines" were about good old-fashioned wars. We're on this side, you're on that side: attack. Occupations and transplants of wealth and culture are not what Powell or Rumsfeld had in mind. Your notion that all the US needs is better strategies, better tactics, more troops and more time is childish. Most Americans have little interest in continuing to pursue this war. Afghanistan exists on a map not in the minds of its citizens. We're just like we were in: Central America, Vietnam, Lebanon, or Somalia, tourists with automatic weapons whose grandiose plans are belied, as your chief criticism of Prof. Bacevich posits it, by self-absorption and Western military racism. Maybe that's my criticism not yours.

"There is plenty of room for improvement in the U.S. strategy." How about improving America? Here, in America.


Jonathan Dresner - 8/1/2010

Even allowing for the difficulty of writing a sort piece, the conceptual and contextual omissions have to be considered errors.


David Turover - 8/1/2010

This article is idiocy, governed by what I can only assume is the willful denial of well-known facts which wreck its central assertions. Consider this one:

"the Western military tradition could be reduced to this proposition: war remains a viable instrument of statecraft, the accoutrements of modernity serving, if anything, to enhance its utility."

War has always been viewed this way by every leader in human history capable of bringing a force to war. There is nothing Western about it. China, India, Africa, South America, and New Zealand have robust histories of warfare on this proposition. Anywhere men have walked on Earth there has been a history of war as a means of statecraft, and many societies see preparation for war as the primary duty of a state.

If there is a Western way of war, it is better defined by what distinguishes the modern-day West from its competitors and predecessors: the laws of the Hague and Geneva conventions, the unwritten rules of casus belli, and the early United Nations when that body was dominated by the West.

The article errs in singling out the U.S. and Israel as the only two Western liberal democracies to fail to lose faith in warfare. After 1945, Britain, France, and Belgium continued to wage prominent wars for what they viewed as their interests. Australia and New Zealand contributed to the United Nations Army in Korea. A Westernized, secular Turkey went to war in Cyprus. India, a liberal democracy in the Western tradition, fought three wars with Pakistan. In the 1990s there was the Balkanization of the Balkans. Many Western nations participated in the 1991 Gulf War, and their participation is made no less relevant by the fact that the U.S. led the attack. French and other European warships currently patrol the coast of Somalia, using their power of warfare to protect shipping.

The conclusion also ignores the influence of the Second World War, the early United Nations, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in considering the motivations of the West. In the first case, the Western liberal democracies did vigorously engage in warfare as a means of statecraft by resisting Hitler's forces. In the second case, they reduced the likelihood of fighting amongst themselves by agreeing to mutual land claims, yet they did not wholly abandon warfare, instead pledging to use warfare should any of their borders be breached. In the third case, they formed an alliance to arm themselves for a potential war against the Soviet Union, again still seeing war as a means of statecraft.

More important than Western history's influence on the Western view of warfare is the fact that the rest of the world lacks the West's experiences, and their views of war are little changed outside of small, Western-influenced intellectual circles. The horrid trench warfare of the first World War was in France. Very few nations outside Western Europe experienced this suffering or comprehended it to the degree that the nations who experienced it must have. The world outside the West has likewise failed to lose faith in warfare as a state policy, and the evidence is often seen in the internal strife of several nations. The factions commonly at war are not those with borders recognized and guaranteed by the armies of the West, but are the authorities within these borders that fight against each other. What stops them from going beyond their Western-recognized borders is recognition that the West may go to war to prevent them from doing so, and they do overstep these borders in places like central Africa where they know the Western powers or other regional powers will not intervene.

This hole in the comprehension of world affairs accompanies a major flaw of the essay in that the influence of non-Western actors on world affairs is ignored throughout the essay so as to allow for harsh rhetoric against the U.S. and Israel where this rhetoric is not justified by a more comprehensive view of world history.

The treatment of Israel is completely counterfactual. It is claimed that Israel was "created as a direct consequence of the horrors unleashed by" the Second World War. This ignores more than fifty years of efforts by the Jewish independence movement to build the state of Israel. It is claimed that "Israel succumbed" to the "temptation" of warfare in 1967 when surrounding nations had declared war on Israel, pledged their intent to exterminate its people, and had moved armies to its borders. It is claimed that this "victory turned out to be more apparent than real" when in fact the people of Israel did survive this war which was going to happen whether they wanted to fight it or not. It is claimed that the settlement policy "did little to enhance Israeli security" even though Jordan has not invaded Israel since 1973, and Jordan agreed to a peace ceding the West Bank to Israel in 1993. Later, the author invents an "Israeli bellicosity" which simply does not exist in real life, as every Israeli government of the past twenty years has supported peace talks and made concessions in the hope of gaining peace while Israel's adversaries have called for war and at times engaged in it.

The author ignores world affairs in describing Israel's military failures as being purely military without considering external influences. In 1982, the United Nations sent forces to stop Israel and Syria from continuing the fight. In the Lebanon campaign of 2006, the U.S. forced Israel to stop fighting through threats to withdraw support. The same thing happened in the Gaza campaign of 2009. It cannot be known whether the wars would have been successful for Israel in the longer term when it would not continue them, and any discussion of the general question of whether wars can be won must contrast Israel's failures with the successful Sri Lankan campaign against the Tamil Tigers and the successful military campaigns of Israel's enemies to survive against it. The author curiously describes the two intifadahs as military failures. In these cases the Israeli government did not realize that war was being waged against it until long after the war began, and then chose to do little to nothing about it, again with U.S. pressure to take this course. In these two cases a military solution was never a goal of Israel to begin with, so to describe them as failures of a military agenda is dishonest.

The author concedes that in a future where nobody else ever fights back, politically motivated violence "may in specific instances even retain marginal utility". This "marginal utility" has so far included the overthrow of the governments of Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia, the weakening of Lebanon, the expulsion of France from Algeria, the expulsion of Hindus from Kashmir, the expulsion of Jews from nearly every Islamic state, the expulsion of minority religions from neighbourhoods of Baghdad, the assassination of Jordanian and Egyptian heads of state, and the complete takeover of Arab culture in the West Bank by the totalitarian army that the author calls "a rapidly growing and resentful Palestinian population". This is hardly marginal utility. These are significant victories brought about by warfare.

A phrase that feigns or exposes ignorance -- I am not sure which is worse -- comes in the line about "whatever it is that fuels anti-Israeli or anti-American antagonism throughout much of the Islamic world." Public statements by Israel's enemies show that their chief grievance with Israel is that it exists and they have not yet destroyed Israel and its people through warfare. Internal documents from al-Qaeda and its affiliates show that they are fighting a war to conquer the world. To modify a pithy slogan, they hate us because we're over here. These actors will use warfare whether the U.S. and Israel believe in warfare or not, and they will continue to do so until they are successful in their goals or they are removed from power by whatever means are used to do so, be it military force or public sympathy.

China is held as an example of a warless state, yet China continues to control Tibet, East Turkestan, and the Spratly Islands, continues to maintain a claim to Taiwan and to threaten Taiwan with war. Unlike the U.S., China has no carrier fleet and it is surrounded by significant if individually weaker powers that would react if it went to war nearby. Where China can project force through warfare without seeing any drawback, it does so.

The essay reaches its lowest point in describing opponents of the Afghanistan campaign as calling for "jihad". The author knows damned well who in the world is calling for jihad.

Overall this article is based on the assumption that a U.S. failure in Afghanistan is and always was impossible to overcome. This ignores the replacement of Powell's doctrine of overwhelming force with Rumsfeld's doctrine of using few troops, trying to win wars on the cheap, and avoiding any thought of what would happen in popular society after the initial engagement. It ignores the fact that Bush allowed the situation in Afghanistan to worsen while he fought the Iraq war. It ignores that it was U.S. policy for most of these years to avoid fighting in Afghanistan so as to avoid newspaper headlines about troop deaths. It ignores that the Taliban in Pakistan have had free reign, literally carving out an independent state from which to continue attacks, with little more than token opposition from U.S. forces.

There is also an implied assumption that the U.S. has done all it can and can do no more. This is belied by the continued untouched existence of the Taliban state and the lack of any attempt to overthrow it. Moreover, the U.S. is still trying to win the war on the Rumsfeld doctrine. In the past, the U.S. with less than half the population it has now was able to deploy more troops to either theater of the Second World War. The number of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan today, including the Afghan police, is not adequate to cover the country, let alone secure it. Major strategic errors, such as keeping U.S. forces in base, failing to protect the population, expecting a centralized government to make miracles, and paying the Taliban not to strike convoys, have been made and not corrected for years. There is plenty of room for improvement in the U.S. strategy. The Taliban conquered close to 90% of Afghanistan in seven years, so there is no good reason that the U.S. should not be able to.


Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 8/1/2010

I would say those who emerge from war and begin to teach their girls to read and write and drive cars, instead of just their boys, are winners. Also, probably, those who emerge with their gulags smashed forever.


HNN - 7/31/2010

The simple answer is that "The End of (Military) History is pithier, and it is the title that appears at TomDispatch. "The United States, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War" is the subtitle that appears there, but as a rule of thumb we usually don't run the subtitles.

Incidentally, the piece appears as "The End of (Military) History" on The Nation's website and the American Conservative (where it also appears as "No More Western Way of War").


Arnold Shcherban - 7/30/2010

One small correction: instead of "...to free the world." it should be "to dominate and control the world."


james joseph butler - 7/29/2010

Prof. Bacevich's title for this piece is "The United States, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War", Why didn't HNN chose to print his title for his work?

The majority of Americans agree with the colonel that America can no longer can afford to free the world.
All the pretty weapons, all the heroes, all of Obama's and W's and Bibi's declarations of moral superiority are bumps on the way to second class economic status. Our wars won't matter until 9/11 happens again. And when it does happen again Americans will be just as ignorant then as they were in 2001 because that's the way they want it.

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