Friday, July 10, 2009

Andrew Bacevich Poking Holes in Policies.

Rory Stewart and Prof. Andrew Bacevich, both of military and academic minds, have recently come out with articles questioning the Obama administration’s policies in Afghanistan. Both, among many other points, point to the inapplicability of the policies and their problematic use of morality to justify them. Below is a brief analysis of Bacevich’s articles. Please look for my post on Rory Stewart’s later today. It is significantly longer and has taken me more time to dissect.

Professor Andrew Bacevich (one of my most favorite people) has been an outspoken opponent of US use of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is respected and listened to in the usually insular military circles because he is a retired Colonel. He has recently come out with two important articles.

In one article in the LA Times he begs the administration to consider alternatives to its current course, which will fail in Afghanistan as it failed in Iraq. He draws historical analogy to the British during WWI: As Churchill asked 1915, "Are there not other alternatives than sending our armies to chew barbed wire in Flanders?" so should we ask "Are there not other alternatives than sending our armies to choke on the dust of Iraq and Afghanistan?" There are, he argues. The US must be guided by "matter of strategy and politics" rather than "tactical and operational concerns" for starters. Obama needs to add an element of principle to his pragmatism: "... pragmatism devoid of principle will perpetuate the strategic void that Obama inherited. The urgent need is for the administration to articulate a concrete set of organizing precepts -- not simply cliches -- to frame basic U.S. policy going forward." He then outlines principles which should guide any US decision to use military force in the future. Bacevich has written many articles on how having troops in Afghanistan and Iraq can no more solve local problems than our own. He would agree with Rory Stewart's advice in the most recent London Review of Books. (Look for a post on this later today.) Both urge Obama to drop ambiguous language and cliches and look for a more realistic approach.

His second article in the World Affairs Journal is a rebuke of Washington's pretentious 'narcisistic' attitude via a tribute to Graham Greene's The Quiet American. Thank God he says, we have Jon Stewart's to 'puncture' holes in the arrogance and insularity of politicians and policy makers. The article recounts the story line in Greene's novel, then moves on to the situation today. It is fairly long, but these are, I think, his two most important points:

Greene points out, as does Rory Stewart, about the inapplicability of our policies and takes issue with the fact that our policy formation draws legitimacy from moral righteousness, not reality: "Righteousness induces blindness. The acknowledgment of guilt enables the blind to see. To press the point further, the statesman who assumes that “we” are good while “they” are evil—think George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11—will almost necessarily misinterpret the problem at hand and underestimate the complexity and costs entailed in trying to solve it. In this sense, an awareness of one’s own failings and foibles not only contributes to moral clarity but can help guard against strategic folly."

He warns that we must not allow the surge to "...obviate[s] any need to revisit questions about the war’s purpose and justification..." While it "...mesh[es] nicely with the Obama administration’s inclination simply to have done with Iraq and move on", to use the imagined 'success' in Iraq to justify new policies in Afghanistan will be detrimental to the US. We were not successful in Iraq, nor will we be successful in Afghanistan.

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