T Nation

Andrew Bacevich - Permanent War


I would highly recommend anyone concerned about the US's military policy look in to the work of Andrew Bacevich, his most recent book is Washington Rules - America's Path to Permanent War. Anyone else out there familiar with his work?

Often criticism of our use of military is met by a harsh reaction, particularly from those within the military or those with strong feelings that our use of military is justified. The perspective that a retired US Army Colonel offers can be very useful.

"The basic argument is that if you want to understand why we have been in Iraq and why we are in Afganistan, rather than citing the mistakes of one administration or the next, you need to go back to the period right after the Cold War and recognize that at that time the United States committed itself to a particular approach to national security policy and that it adhere's to that approach down to the current day; and although it may once have worked, in terms of keeping us save and protecting our prosperity, it no longer does. Indeed, adherence to that national security concensus today is making us less safe and is squandering our economic well-being."

8-min talk interview Bacevich

53-min, very recent, interview with Bacevich


(1) War is perfectly normal and is a bedrock principle of civilisation.

(2) Attempting to twart this impulse is like trying to stop people from having sex. Nope.

(3) Therefore, small controlled wars are optimal.

The best strategy, IMO, would be to invent a drug that makes everyone happy with minimal physiological negatives. Let the cattle have limitless sex and drugs and there'd be no wars or need for the $$$$ wasted.


Heard about this, it was being compared to the fictional Soma from Brave New World.


OP's author does have a point...

I've heard that there have been discussions where the new breed of Officers and NOT buying the idea that the US can fight a "Long War" in Afganistan/elsewhere. (this term, "long war" appeared a few years ago on the news, but since then it has dissapeared from the news)

And it seems like the new folks are winning the strategic argument.

...but that is all I know.


Our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq keeps us safer at home. Giving an opponent a target to go for is a simple but effective fighting strategy. If we packed up all our troops and brought them home all the jihadists who are attacking them are not going to give up the jihad, they will come after us here. We have no choice.


This is probably the most rediculous justification for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan I have ever heard. The amount of American blood and treasure expended in Iraq and Afghanistan is far, far superior to the amount of American blood and treasure that would be surrendered if we had not gone, and just suffered the odd terror attack. In addition to that, the wars in these two countries have not eliminated terror attacks on US soil.

These twin wars are far from the most economical way of dealing with Jihadism.


The best solution would be to let the scum know that we would bomb their holy sites, like Medina and Mecca, if they don't lay the fuck off. They rely on our kindness in NOT blasting those places to smithereens; just need to convince them that we would REALLY do it, if they fuck with us.


It is only ridiculous if one subscribes to the Democrat "we can adsorb another attack" philosophy of fighting "the ongoing contingency". Which obviously you do. There are a lot of jihadists who have died fighting us in Iraq and Afghanistan and it brought us some breathing room over here.

Look at what is happening right now. We just pulled our last combat regiment out of Iraq and now all of Europe is on high alert for an attack on American tourists. Next year when Obama pulls us out of Afghanistan expect another upswing in attacks.

As bad as 9/11 was it wasn't as bad as some of the other things that could be done to us. In one morning we lost over 3000 dead, over a hundred billion dollars taken out of the economy and we were teetering on the edge of recession. The only thing that saved the economy from falling off a cliff was the Detroit automakers offering zero percent financing on new cars.

If we took a hit like that now with our weak economy we would go into a depression. That would cost us far more than the war has and it also would make all the stimulus money we've spent even more of a waste than it already is.

Taking the war to the enemy and making them fight us on their land is much better than sitting back passively waiting for them to hit us in our homeland.


I have no idea how unbiased this site is, but it puts the total combined cost of Iraq and Afghanistan at roughly $1 trillion over the past ten years. http://www.costofwar.com/

Either you're suggesting THE ONLY way we can protect ourselves from Jihadists is by fighting them (which, I guess is possible), or you're suggesting it is the MOST ECONOMICAL. To the latter, I have difficulty believing the cost of hiring extra security in strategic American landmarks/cites/business would amount to a total of $1trillion over ten years, and to the former... we can hire security details.

Of course we can absorb another attack. Economies do not shut down in the wake of terrorist attacks. Look at the Pakistani trucking mafia making deals with the Taliban, or the negotiations cell-phone providers make with tribal warlords to continue selling product. Life goes on. Hell, look at Israel. Terrorism does not shut down economies. It will put a damper on trade, but businesses will recover and continue. Anything else is as ludicrous as the idea that Detroit automakers somehow singlehandedly staved off a recession by offering 0% financing on select models.

Should we have to absorb another attack? No.

I doubt somewhat your idea of 'breathing room' that our $1trillion has bought us (expensive breathing room indeed), but not enough to really challenge it. Fighting Jihadists in the ME hasn't seemed to completely prevent home-grown terrorists like Faizal Shahzad and Nidal Malik Hasan, but its possible that it has been a deterrence to Jihadists in the ME to prevent them from fighting the good fight over here. Maybe. My point is that we're talking a trillion dollars. Thats several warehouses full of dollar bills. To suggest that this is the cheapest way to fight terrorism is simply absurd.


The trillion dollar figure has been getting kicked around for several years. So I have serious doubts about the accuracy of it. Even now after nine years it works out to over 110 billion dollars a year. Do you have any idea just how much weaponry we could buy with that much money? Where has that much money gone? We aren't buying tanks with it to replace ones lost in battle. We haven't had to replace squadrons of fighters and bombers lost in the airwar. We haven't had any aircraft carriers sunk. We haven't had a massive manpower mobilization involving millions of troops. I think a trillion dollars is hype.

You are delusional if you think that we could put the entire country on lockdown with a hundred billion a year over ten years. There is no way we could keep everything covered this country is far to vast, with far too many vulnerabilities.

You come across as someone who doesn't have the first clue as to just how much there is in any average community that could cause death or destruction on a massive scale. Do you have any idea of how dangerous some of industrial chemicals that are routinely transported on our railways and roadways are or the amounts that are transported?

I'll give you an example of just one. Chlorine gas is used for a variety of purposes. Our modern industrial society could not function without it. Every water purification plant needs a continuous supply of chlorine gas. Just for that purpose alone we have railroad tankers full chlorine being shipped around this country. If someone blew up just one of those it would be like a small nuke going off. The area that would be devastated would be measured in square miles. If it was a major economic center the effect would be felt throughout the economy. We aren't going to be able to absorb a couple of attacks on that scale.

If we had to suddenly shut down the shipment of all industrial chemicals our economy would come to a halt, yet getting all of it heavily secured would be a massive undertaking. Fortunately a lot of AQ leaders who would have had the wherewithal to pull off such an attack got sent to Iraq where we killed them.

You don't know what you are talking about with how much the big three helped after 9/11. The Detroit News ran an article about it. Right after 9/11 the economy was sluggish and auto sales were down. That was when the president of General Motors came up with the idea of zero percent financing to revive sales. After GM did it Ford and Chrysler followed suit and they all sold a lot of cars. Those auto sales saved the economy.


I agree and think you should go to Afghanistan, instead of posting on an obscure internet forum, and keep us all safe. Oh wait, what was I thinking? It's the Republicans like Rove, Cheney and GWB who avoid fighting in wars while the Democrats like Gore and Kerry actually go and put themselves in harm's way. Carry on.


LOL...THAT'S THE FUNNIEST AND STUPIDEST THING i HAVE HEARD IN A WHILE...THANKS. You need to get over the derangement syndrome. i hear it takes about 8-10 years.


we should have done this the day the towers came down. then claim it was some radical american group called the military but we aren't really associated with them.


there may be some truth to the fact that war is innate , but our civilization is doomed if we can not curtail our desire to rule the world . I also think the military machine in America wants us to believe we can do nothing . I think we can and must.


The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not strictly monetary. The effects on the troops and their children during and after the war have to be weighed. $1 trillion in costs for the wars? BS.

The tally for the wars started on Sept. 10th, the day before 9/11, when the pentagon reported they had lost $3 trillion. The plane just so happened to hit the part of the pentagon that was "researching" where the lost money went. The missing money was never spoke of again.

The terror threats going up across the pond weren't based on any data whatsoever. The US simply said "Europe is subject to a terrorist attack" and the threat levels went up. Campaining for the midterms? I'ld say so, following the whole "you need us to protect you" sells pitch.

Funny how we are so worried about a terrorist attack, but we let millions cross our borders. It is impossible to insulate our country from every conceivable terrorist attack, but shoring up the borders would be step #1 if I had any say so.

You think the economy was "saved" becasue of 0% interest on cars? It may have helped a little, but it certainly didn't save our economy. However, it probably helped more than the banker bailout.

I've said it before here, there is no reason for us to have military bases in over 170 countries. We are not the police of the world. If we are, then we need to be getting paid for it.


To understand our presence in the Middle East, like Bacevich says, you have to understand how we've executed foreign policy since WWII. We didn't start two wars half way across the world to stop terror attacks, we're in Iraq and Afganistan to reshape the Middle East. It's how we've operated post-WWII and especially post-Cold War now that we are the only "superpower."

Our military stopped doing "defense" a long time ago, there's no country on the planet that could come close to winning a military battle with the US. Our military's job is to makes sure the rest of the world conforms to our idea of how things should be.

Now, there are dangerous people out there that pose a very real threat, and there are plenty of people out there that think reshaping the Middle East is the best way to insulate the United States from the radical, violent fudamentalists. But, a growing number of people are now begining to think that our overreach is working against our national security rather than for it.

The United States invading a country is a pretty foolproof way of making the opposition against us stronger and more organized.

Personally I believe we'd be much much better off spending hundreds of billions of dollars on actual "defense" right here in this country. I'm pretty sure if we spent half the money that went to the Middle East wars on systems to protect our borders from letting nulear material though, we'd be much safer.



That was definitely the thinking of NeoCons from 2001-2005/6, after the quick victory General Tommy Franks delivered in Afghanistan over the Taliban. Just as he was getting ready to wrap up the first year of the war in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld told him to start preparing plans for Iraq.

His successive quick victory of Iraq over Saddam in April/May 2003 furthered entrenched this thinking. Moreover, as the Iraq War dragged from 2004-2005 with no end in sight despite serious battles in Falluja (Fall 04) and Najaf, this type of thinking was used as a justification for continuing the un-decisive war in Iraq. (Remember that at this time Afghanistan was rather chill... It didn't start to lighten up until 2008. For most Afghanistan was a done deal)

This type of thinking, however became challenged in 2006 with the beginning and in fast escalation of ethnic killings in Iraq. Instigated by Zarqawi's Al-Qaida in Iraq when his suicide bombers blew up the Shia Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq. It became evident that violence in Iraq could not be contained by simply having US soldiers in bases around the country, and there was a risk of the country being fractured. And with that chaos came the threat of entry of Iraq and Saudi influence into Iraq as those two regional powers competed to pick up the pieces of the mess.

Two pivotal events in 2006/2007 changed Iraq's security for the better. #1 The Anbar Awakening by Sunni insurgents who got fed up with Al-Qaida in Iraq and asked for a partnership with the US forces. From here on we get to Sons of Iraq. #2 General Petraeus, General Odierno, and others, and the surge.

From 2007 onward that line of thinking the OP has posted has been on the decline.

As for Afghanistan...... what we are currently seeing is what happens when after nearly destroying the Taliban in 2001/02 the US did two BIG mistakes:
(a)It send the bulk of its forces, and focused the attention of the DOD in Iraq.
(b)It left Afghanistan AS IT WAS in 2002.

The result is that the Taliban regrouped, re-organized, found new ways of funding their operations, new leaders emerged, and consolidated their position in Pakistan. THEN, about 6 years later the Taliban return to the offensive in Afghanistan.

And the US responds with Genera McChrystal, 30,000 more troops, and a "new" strategy. However, McChrystal was not making progress due to relying on the National Afghan Army/Police. He then fucked himself up with the Rolling Stones article. Now General Patreus was demoted from head of CENTCOM, to head of forces in Afghanistan to win the thing.

...and that's how we ended up here.

Now among members of the Military and State Dept a consensus is building in the knowledge that the Number ONE Cause of our security threats in the Middle East is:

The harsh Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and settlement building in the West Bank.

Other causes are the corruption and authoritative gov'ts, and the poverty in which the majority of the population lives in. In this poverty, extreme Islamic groups provide basic welfare services to win the sympathy of the poor folk. The Islamic groups then use the Israeli occupation, US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as propaganda to recruit new men, AND have the wealthy/elite members of society give them $$.

.........THAT is what is going on right now fellas.


I would add to this that another cause of the threat to our security is the significant amount of hypocrisy in foreign policy; much of this problem though is because our government makes sure that the American public is largely kept in the dark. What American leaders say differs greatly from what American leaders actually do. We claim to cherish the ideals of freedom, democracy, and human rights but our actions tell a different story. When we support dictators or overthrow governments, the American people may not notice/care, but the people affected certainly do.


I do not mean to sound disrespectful....
...but I suggest you take those specific foreing policy "issues/hypocrisies", and study them and their history in detail. That way you can understand them better and see where the ACTUAL problems are.

Otherwise.... saying things like "US learder supports dictatorships, therefore they are hypocritial, and whatever" only leads to arguments without evidence. (Which is what happens in this forum and countless others).


I suggest you do the same. Here's a good place to start:

Is this not an example of the US supporting the overthrow of a democratically elected leader and then the US supporting the dictator that subsequently took over?

Iran in 1953


I don't mean to disrespect our army or our soldiers in any way. I have a great amount of respect for the brave men and women that serve, but that doesn't mean I always support our policy decisions. When I talk about hypocracy, I'm talking about those in Washington that dictate policy; they don't exactly cherish democracy and freedom as much as like they would have us believe.