- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005


By Andrew Bacevich

Oxford University Press $28, 272 pages

Andrew Bacevich thinks the United States has fallen prey to a nasty type of war-mongering. In “The New American Militarism,” he twice analogizes aspects of American military policy to Nazi Germany’s. He uses words like “perverse,” “preposterous,” and “vain” to describe American military actions.Hecallsfor withdrawing U.S. troops from Japan, South Korea and Europe. He also thinks American pop-culture has gotten too enamored, too Rambo-esque, in the face of things military.

If all this sounds like the rantings of some Howard Dean-loving leftist, it isn’t. Mr. Bacevich, a veteran, is a respected military analyst and Boston University professor who penned articles only a few years ago for hawkish redoubts like the Weekly Standard and National Review. He has come to reject the “neocons,” however, and now roosts with Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative. He seems keen on reviving the old non-interventionism that prevailed in many corners of the political right before the Cold War.

Mr. Bacevich is not some modern-day isolationist like Henry Cabot Lodge, but compared to his contemporaries, he and his American Conservative co-opinionists are about as close as we have to that.

All modern presidents, Mr. Bacevich thinks, have been too activist in their foreign policy. Ironically, he singles out the dovish Jimmy Carter for declaring in his 1980 State of the Union address that aggression in the Middle East “will be repelled by any means necessary, including force.” It was Mr. Carter who “sprinkled the first few driblets of American military power onto the floor of the desert, where they vanished without a trace,” Mr. Bacevich writes.

Of course, Jimmy Carter is just the beginning. Mr. Bacevich’s real villains, the “neocons,” subscribe to a “sort of weird homegrown variant of the Fuehrer principle.” For neocons, “America is the one true universal church, the declaration of 1776 tantamount to sacred scripture, and the District of Columbia the Holy See.”

The Bush Doctrine is their most dangerous and most complete political project because it “may well doom the United States to fight perpetual wars.” The names here are the usual ones: Norman Podhoretz, strategists Albert Wohlstetter and Andrew Marshall and, of course, Bush administration hawks like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. With chapters titled “War Club,” “Blood for Oil” and “Wilsonians Under Arms,” it’s pretty clear where Mr. Bacevich stands on the practical politics.

Coming from the right, all this could be a useful corrective to keep would-be hawks honest. Every administration needs a gadfly, as do political movements. The problem for Mr. Bacevich may be that he has wandered too far from the mainstream to play such a role.

For instance, does anyone seriously believe we’d be more secure if we handed European security to the third-rate European military powers? Or if by withdrawing from Japan and Korea, Chinese expansionism would help Asia and our interests there? Or if allowing Saddam Hussein to become Middle East hegemon in 1991 would have pacified the region?

Mr. Bacevich is right to worry about the outsourcing of world security to the United States. But the rub is whether any realistic alternative exists. It doesn’t, which is why Arab governments cling to us despite public opinion, and it’s why Korean anti-Americanism and German antiwar rhetoric wane with talk of withdrawal. Everyone heaps scorn on the United States, but everyone knows they depend on the security it provides.

At least Mr. Bacevich’s cultural critique of American attitudes happens upon some firmer ideas. Many conservative readers will be turned off when reading Mr. Bacevich say Americans have become too comfortable with a standing army and too readily accepting of massive military budgets. Eyes will roll at the notion that Americans show “gullibility” for going along with Washington’s wars and for buying into Hollywood movies like “Rambo” and “Top Gun.” All this presumes to tell Americans that they really don’t know what their true interests are.

But one supremely interesting crux of Mr. Bacevich’s critique is that the All-Volunteer force Army has distanced the American public from the military. The shared sacrifices of the World War II generation are over as fewer upper-and middle-class Americans volunteer. Among the privileges of wealth, Mr. Bacevich writes with some cynicism, is “ensuring it’s someone else’s kid who is getting shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan.” That’s a hard truth, and it’s more glaring given the popularity of the military in the American mind.

This theme is worth expanding. A book by Mr. Bacevich on that subject would greatly outstrip “The New American Militarism” for lasting merit.

Brendan Conway is an editorial writer at The Washington Times.

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