Blogs > Cliopatria > Andrew Bacevich responds to Chris Bray

Aug 23, 2008 1:10 am

Andrew Bacevich responds to Chris Bray

On 15 August, Andrew Bacevich appeared on Bill Moyers' Journal to discuss his book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, and three interlocking crises that the United States faces. On 19 August, our colleague, Chris Bray, raised questions about Bacevich's position in a post,"A Deceptively Pristine History," here at Cliopatria. I invited Professor Bacevich to respond to Chris's criticism and he sends the following note:
1. No need to worry about my failing to understand the narrative of American expansionism. Please see my new book"The Limits of American Power," especially Chapter 1. In interpreting a text, Chris might want to stick to the text. I said that Americans of an earlier era were puzzled over why Brits would engage in misadventures in obscure places like Afghanistan. I said precisely what I meant.

2. As for soldiers' lobbies. AUSA and similar organizations represent institutions -- their purpose is to advance institutional interests. Although their efforts are frequently pernicious, they are part of the way Washington works. AUSA does not represent the interests of"soldiers." The lobby that I wrote about in The Atlantic does not purport to represent institutional interests. It represents the views of individual soldiers who oppose U. S. foreign policy and who are engaging in political action to change that policy. These efforts are contrary to good order and discipline and could potentially threaten civilian control. I view that as deeply problematic. I am sorry that Chris is unable to perceive any distinction between the one type of organization and the other.

3. As for Chris's comment:"I don't know Andrew Bacevich, but my guess is that his view of American military history is shaped by his professional background" as" career soldier and West Point grad [who] may have absorbed a history that was meant to teach him the boundaries of his profession." No, he doesn't know me and his speculation is presumptuous, patronizing, and insulting.

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Chris Bray - 8/26/2008

You could ask Dr. Bacevich himself, if he were willing to engage in discussion.

David Silbey - 8/26/2008

"Why are the British foolishly gallivanting about in obscure places like Afghanistan "

It's not much of an improvement, as it would imply that Dr. Bacevich doesn't know that Afghanistan was right next door to the "jewel in the crown" of the British Empire.

Dylan Justin Hirsch-Shell - 8/25/2008

Bacevich said: "I said that Americans of an earlier era were puzzled over why Brits would engage in misadventures in obscure places like Afghanistan. I said precisely what I meant."

Maybe the key word here is "obscure."

As in, Americans of an earlier era found themselves asking the question:
"Why are the British foolishly gallivanting about in obscure places like Afghanistan and Iraq, instead of focusing on places which are geographically closer to their country and more obviously vital to their imperial interests -- like what we've done in the Philippines, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Panama?!?"

Chris Bray - 8/24/2008

Tediously continuing to respond to Andrew Bacevich for the single-digit audience that might still be bored enough with other things to care, let's move on to his claim that his comment about American views of British imperialism was only meant to refer narrowly to that topic, implying no statement about American participation in imperial adventures. ("In interpreting a text, Chris might want to stick to the text.")

For context, here's the full quote from the transcript of Bacevich's interview:

ANDREW BACEVICH: -but the truth is, it's a professional army, and when we think about where we send that army, it's really an imperial army. I mean, if as Americans, we could simply step back a little bit, and contemplate the significance of the fact that Americans today are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ask ourselves, how did it come to be that organizing places like Iraq and Afghanistan should have come to seem to be critical to the well-being of the United States of America.

There was a time, seventy, eighty, a hundred years ago, that we Americans sat here in the western hemisphere, and puzzled over why British imperialists went to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We viewed that sort of imperial adventurism with disdain. But, it's really become part of what we do. Unless a President could ask fundamental questions about our posture in the world, it becomes impossible then, for any American President to engage the American people in some sort of a conversation about how and whether or not to change the way we live.
The sentence that immediately follows the quote I originally used is, "But, it's really become part of what we do."

So, no. The discussion was about where Americans send their army. Bacevich was not talking narrowly about American views of British imperialism, while intending no judgment about American participation in imperialism; rather, he was talking about "what we do."

My point stands: A hundred years ago, "what we do" included imperial warfare in far-away places.

In interpreting my comments about his interview with Bill Moyers, Andrew Bacevich might want to stick to the text.

Manan Ahmed - 8/23/2008

Can I just say that, "Please see my (new) book..." is about as indolent as anyone engaged in a debate can get?

Chris Bray - 8/23/2008

I accidentally posted my comment as a response to Jeremy Young, which isn't what I meant to do -- it's a response to Bacevich.

Chris Bray - 8/23/2008

I'll respond in detail over the weekend, but for now, a quick note: It's frankly bizarre to try to assert that the AUSA represents the interests of the Army without representing the people in it.

The AUSA most certainly does not just "represent institutional interests." It's the association of the United States Army -- a private organization formed by soldiers who choose to associate for the purpose of advancing their common interests. The organization does not answer to the secretary of the army or the chief of staff; its clients are individual soldiers who voluntarily join and pay dues personally. (Better yet, the AUSA also includes defense contractors as members. See their membership page here.)

Moving beyond the distinctly personal nature of AUSA membership, Bacevich's comparison of the AUSA to the Appeal for Redress movement centers on a claim that the AUSA is different because the Appeal for Redress comprises soldiers who disagree with national policy and "are engaging in political action to change that policy."

So go here to look at the "AUSA Legislative Agenda," or -- better yet -- look here to see "Where We Stand on Key Issues."

As you can see, the AUSA -- a private organization with individual soldiers as members -- takes clear positions on the character and composition of the army. My personal favorite: "Defense spending = at least 5% of GDP/Army share at least 28%."

So the Appeal for Redress movement is dangerous because it comprises individual soldiers who are trying to change national defense policy -- while the other private association of soldiers, the AUSA, merely tries to influence the way the United States Army is funded, trained, staffed, equipped, deployed, and sent to fight. The difference is clear.

More later.

Jeremy Young - 8/23/2008

A bit harsh on Bacevich's part, I think. Chris "presumptuous, patronizing, and insulting"? Bacevich doth protest too much, I think.