Andrew Bacevich on the Recent History of American Intervention

On May 18, retired Army colonel and military historian Andrew J. Bacevich gave a compelling—and alarming—speech about American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Addressing the Global War on Terror, he said, “We don’t know how to define it, don’t know how to win it. We don’t know how to end it.”

“In places like Iraq and Libya,” Bacevich said, describing the results of our efforts to fight terrorists in various countries in the Greater Middle East, “we have sown disorder that borders on anarchy.”

The situation the United States finds itself in today, according to Bacevich, is the result of the decisions it made at the end of the Cold War. For a short time, the United States had a chance to choose “contrition,” considering all of the terrible things men had done to other men from 1914 to 1989. Instead, “there was no peace dividend.” The United States chose to pursue a more hubristic course, where military power “became something that should be put to work.”

Bacevich fears that “war has now become permanent,” thanks to foreign policy decisions like the Bush Doctrine of preventive war and U.S. government officials “refus[ing] to acknowledge” the human and financial costs of mistakes like the Iraq War. For these reasons, he argued that today’s foreign policy establishment needs to have its beliefs and current policies challenged.

Andrew J. Bacevich grew up in Indiana, graduated from West Point and Princeton, served in the Army, became an academic, and is now a writer. He is the author, co-author, or editor of a dozen books, among them American Empire, The New American Militarism, The Limits of Power, Washington Rules, Breach of Trust, and, most recently, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.

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