tv Book Discussion on Americas War for the Greater Middle East CSPAN May 22, 2016 3:00pm-3:46pm EDT
a graduate at west point, vietnam veteran, served in our armed forces for over 23 years and now he is professor emeritus remarkable author. some of his titles, limits of power, washington rules and breach of trust, but we are here today to talk about this book, "america's war for the greater middle east: a military history" that just came out a few weeks ago and i think you will see during our discussion and after we talked for a bit we went to invite you to ask questions and why this is a book that everyone of us should read. let's go head and start. >> i had been out of the army longer than i have been in it. [laughter] >> we don't think you have your microphone on cnet well, i think they are on because-- >> anyway, call me andrew. >> all right.
>> it's been over 35 years since president carter outlined in 1980, what became known as the carter doctrine, a strategy as you point out again in a sense as a militarization of the middle east and you cite that as the turning points. described for us because i see some young folks in this audience, what was the carter doctrine and how did it create, if you wish, the foundation from what you call america's longest war? >> the carter doctrine was a statement that jimmy carter, probably are least bellicose president the last half century or more, the statement that he made during his january, 1980 state of the union address. the historical context that younger people may not recall is that in january of 1980, the united states had recently suffered its second shock, boyle
shock of a term we used in those days meaning at least the appearance of a sudden shortage of oil, which reminded all americans that at that time the well-being of our country was increasingly dependent upon our ability to access reserves of oil. .-dot second oil shock occurred because of the iranian revolution, overthrowing the shaw and producing our government into ron was hostile to the united states. compounding that problem, just a month before in december 1979 the soviets had invaded and were now occupied afghanistan. it appeared, appearances were misleading, it appeared that the soviets were now trying to march westward into iran and even saudi arabia. it was also affected that carter was perceived to be a weak president, someone who is
presiding over a lackluster economy as someone who is supposedly letting people like the ironic hot-- iran crisis occur. 1980, of course was a presidential election year. president understandably wanted to be elected to his second term politically it seemed to make sense to strike a get tough posture and the carter doctrine was intended to do that. what that imply? what the carter doctrine implied or led to was the militarization of us policy in the greater middle east, beginning with the persian gulf, but ultimately including the far far broader swath of territory in the islamic world. carter didn't 40 seconds foresee or expects all of the military interventions that were to follow, beginning in 1980.
the fact of the matter is, at least in my judgment, the carter doctrine touches off what comes to be a war for the greater middle east. >> one of the things we always hear at least in those early years is that we were fighting to preserve our security for energy resources p was a accurate and is that all we were fighting for? >> it is accurate and yet is not all we were fighting for. in other words, it makes sense to say that at the outset, america's war for the greater middle east was a war for oil because it appeared that our prosperity, our well-being was contingent upon insuring we had access to foreign oil, but what i argue in the book is that if it began as a war for oil it actually quickly morphed into something else, but the war for the great zero-- greater middle east in some senses became a war to demonstrate that the limits that apply to other countries
need not apply to us. to demonstrate that when the united states sets its mind to doing something that we can do it and can to use a term that they like in washington that in this instance we are able to shape a large part of the world. the assumption with policymakers be in that the use of american military power gives us a instrument to a commerce this shaping. >> we hear so much especially in this campaign season about the term american exceptionalism and i would like to read you this quote. president bush in 2004 said america is a nation with a mission and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. this great republic will lead the cause of freedom. if he-- few years later present a mama said i believe american
just as i suspect the britts believe in british exceptionalism and the greeks believe in greek exceptionalism. is this concept of exceptionalism getting a so deep in the middle east cannot absolutely, but those of you who recall when president obama said i believe in american exceptionalism like the britts believe in british excepts-- exceptionalism will also recall you got beat up by his critics and the reason he was beat up was because his critics argued and i have to say i think many of our fellow-- fellow citizens believe that there is nothing comparable to american exceptionalism, that our exceptionalism is exceptional. [laughter] >> to the point of your question , yes, emphatically that one of the-- one of the aims of this work the greater middle east is to affirm american exceptionalism, to push back
against any impression that the so-called american century was somehow a fluke or a fiction and i have to say and i don't need this to be a partisan combat, but in particular the george w. bush administration's response to 911 very much exemplified this emphasis on american exceptionalism. >> but, it wasn't in the beginning was in afghanistan? >> well, you know this book of mine, describes a war that began in 1980 and continues down to the present. here we are in 2016. so, that immediate post- 911 period when the bush administration was accelerating the extent of us military involvement in sort of the big point in my story.
and, yes, it's true that in the immediate response to 911 on the part of president bush was to declare a global war on terrorism. the initial military response was to initiate operations enduring freedom, afghanistan, focused on punishing al qaeda and punishing the taliban in afghanistan for providing sanctuary to al qaeda. in my judgment, the administration assumed far too quickly that the afghanistan war had been one or to put it another way, prematurely focused its attention on iraq, a country which we know how to nothing to do with 911. why, why, why was the bush administration in such a hurry to focus on saddam hussein?
there is a lot of explanation, but i think the ultimate explanation is that the bush administration believed that by invading iraq, overthrowing saddam and bringing about what expected, expected to be a rapid transformation of a rocky to a liberal democracy, that this would be the first step in a larger project, regional transportation that went on to label freedom agenda. so, iraq was supposed to be the start point of a far bigger project and the problem, of course, is that the bush and ministration's expectations of a decisive victory, easily one leading to a very quick political transformation collapsed and what we ended up with, of course, was a very long and brutal insurgency that did
not end well and in deed has now resumed in yet another goal for, which, of course. is drying up obama administration ever more deeply into it. >> andrew, go ahead and tell us a bit more about the genesis for this really came about, this transformation of the middle east. it just didn't come from the oval office in the beginning there were other advisors. >> its reflex, i think, the intellectual movement that had become to exist in some quarters in washington the wake of the cold war. in a sense at a military aspect and it ideological aspect. that ideological aspect was some of you may recall the famous phrase, the end of history. the notion that the end of the cold war marked a really decisive turning point in history that from this point onward it was self-evident that liberal democratic capitalism was the only means, the only
sort of set of notions around which to organize a society and the liberal democratic capitalism was destined by history to become, to spread around the universe. batch command with an estimation of us military power coming out of that end of the cold war in some senses affirmed by operation desert storm in 1991, creating in the minds of some people in washington the belief that the united states had assented to by the '90s had ascended to a position of absolute military supremacy. >> a military that needed to be used. >> not so much that it needed to be used, but that it ought to be used to. it ought to be put to work. the risk involved in putting the military to work were negligible and the potential for using the military again to shape
international order was so great and the people in the inner circle of the george w. bush administration were persuaded by both of these claims. the claim of liberal democratic capitalism being destined to proliferate around the world and the claimant american military supremacy had endowed the united states with a capacity now to bring about that ideological change. so, those were the over arching reasons that led the george w. bush administration after 911 to say, yes, we need to invade iraq, not because they pose a danger. it didn't pose a danger, but because a rock appeared to be a source of enormous opportunity to bring history to its intended destination. >> one of the things that continues to surprise me and
concern me is how the american public really seems to be asleep , the fact that we are making such a major investment and escalation now in iraq as well afghanistan, syria and the only thing we seem to be really paying attention to is isis. are we putting too much emphasis on that and it does isis in your estimation represent a real extensional threat to the united states? >> no, it does not. i mean, what is isis? it's a movement at this point that-- around 25 thousand fighters. they are vile. they are vicious. they don't have a air force. they don't have a navy. they don't have math-- weapons of mass destruction. they don't have any significant resource base on which to draw up your good on the allies and they are what, 7000 miles away? is no doubt true that an organization like isis can inspire people to embrace jihad -ism and initiate small-scale
attacks. it could be that his explanation for the incident in san bernardino. is not the case that isis poses any large threat to the united states of america and to your point it seems to me that the preoccupation with isis, the obama administration's preoccupation, the larger sort of political world here in the 118 presidential campaign is deeply unfortunate because it distracts attention for how we got to where we are today. i mean, the purpose of writing a history of the war for the greater middle east is not separate to tell a story. it does tell the story. the purpose of writing the history is to invite readers, to invite us to appreciate how long this story has been unfolding, watch we have tried to do, how little we have achieved and at what great cost to ourselves and
frankly at great cost to people in the region. >> so, what other questions we should be asking? >> well, i think the standard questions you should ask about any war especially aware that has been going on for a considerable amount of time. are we winning? and is victory-- is a successful outcome? if the answer is no and i believe the answer is no, then what are the alternatives other than simply perpetuating the path that we have been following now for over three decades. to me, that's an again this is a nonpartisan,, but what should we be doing having taken stock of the war for the greater middle east, what should we be doing and that's what we should expect to hear from secretary clinton or mr. trump or mr. cruz, not
simply their promise alike may present and i will bomb the smithereens out of isis. it is certainly the case that isis needs to be disposed of because isis even though it doesn't pose a threat to us and it doesn't, not a significant threat. surly, isis poses a great threat to the international order of that region. that needs to be dealt with. the question, i think, is whether or not american military power provides the appropriate solution to this problem and there again, if you look at what we have the doing of the last three decades, it seems apparent to me that that instrument is not the appropriate way. >> you really mark a time when diplomacy took a backseat to the military. >> well, to some degree. that is a story that dates back to the origins of the cold war. i mean, when the cold war began and for reasons that at the time seemed to be good reasons, the
united states committed itself to maintaining and productivity to a large and powerful military establishment and i think one of the unintended consequences was to sort of shift the balance of influence in washington dc in favor of the military or more broadly in favor of the national security apparatus to the detriment of the state department and more broadly to the detriment of those who are advocating nonmilitary approaches to the problem. i think that inclination dates probably to the late 1940s was reinforced and reaffirmed in particular by the events of 911. i'm not a pacifist. i am in favor of having a strong american military, but it ended today we need to be pragmatic.
we need to concern ourselves with what works and what doesn't work. how much things cost and it's from a pragmatics perspective that it seems to me that there is a urgent need to evaluate the course of this work and the place that we have been brought to. >> as you say sibley trying harder is unlikely to produce a different outcome. >> one of the interesting things about this war, i mean, this is a war that has seen us forces fighting, has seen us killing has seen as having us forces being killed in a long list of countries, not just iraq and afghanistan. is somalia, sudan, lebanon, libya, it's syria. the list goes on and on. moreover, if you look at the behavior of our military over the course of these three plus decades, we have tried shock and off and overwhelming force, insurgency, counterterrorism,
nationbuilding, peacekeeping, peacemaking, humanitarian intervention, we have worked through proxies and done covert wars, it's not as if people in the pentagon, it's not is the officer corps is of one single-minded and saying this is the approach we would take. rather it is that we have taken a variety of approaches and a variety of different places and you still in that need get to the bottom line and making an evaluation and the bottom line is none of those approaches have yielded the results that policymakers expected and anticipated. so, there are those, quite frankly i think secretary clinton, mr. trump and senator cruz in different ways all represent, elect me and i will try harder. i would argue that we have come to a point where that ought not to be a satisfactory position.
>> specifically you are saying with the three major candidates that are still out there, you really don't see any change in policy that no, i am not implying for a second that they all are advocating identical approaches. i mean, it is certainly possible to discern different if the seas between clinton and trump and cruise. with that said, i would argue that the similarities greatly outweigh the differences. therefore, at this point assuming one of those three people and that being our, which is a pretty good assumption at this point, that there will not be any significant rethinking of this war for the greater middle east, that we will continue down the path and i think that is deeply regrettable. >> why do you think the american public has become so apathetic
about this and sort of accepting that this greater for the middle east is frankly a permanent fixture? >> well expressed. i mean, we have arrived at a position in our history where war has become a normal condition. and that is a shocking thing to say, i believe. it's shockingly accepted as such. widely accepted? i think the simplest answer is because most of us are not affected. most of us in this time of a professional military, most of us don't serve, most of us don't know people who are serving. none of us have been required to pay for the wars undertaken in our name. you know, in a previous large wars the american people were expect to some degree to pay for the war, pay for it by
having our taxes increase. this war, particularly in its post- 911 phase is unique in the sense that we embark upon a military enterprise that the pele in shington say is a massive significance and they cut our taxes here so, we are not invested. i mean, to use this phrase, it's not necessarily bad when thou, most of us don't have any skin in the game and therefore, life is tough for a lot of people. we have a lot of things going on. this war become something that i think most americans can tune out. the related factories that somehow or another the obligation to support the troops and we should support the troops , it gets confused with supporting the war. >> to criticize the war you can be identified as being unpatriotic.
>> and i would-- it seems to me that's the primary obligation when it comes to supporting the troops is to demand that the troops be used prudently and wisely. to insist that the troops not be subjected to abuse. there is no greater abuse van to commit american soldiers to go fight in unnecessary wars or wars that have been mismanaged and i believe that unnecessary and mismanaged, those are terms that very much apply to quite a number of the military interventions we have undertaken in the greater middle east over the last three plus decades. >> you served in the military. you have been a scholar of military history. do you feel that there is a negative change in a sense between the civilian military relationship?
>> well, it's an excellent question and one that gets far too little attention. what i think absolute-- civil military relations, one definition is the relationship between the seniors civilian policymakers and the senior military officers. we tend to take it for granted that that relationship is a positive one, that the principle of civilian control, which is a very important principle, that that is honored. i think it's not. there's a tremendous amount of game playing and mutual menu collation that is going on. think that, for example, of the relationship between secretary of defense donald rumsfeld and the joint chiefs of staff in the run-up to the iraqi invasion in 2003 what is clear rumsfeld quite intentionally sought to successfully sought to marginalize the jcs because he
did not like the kind of advice the jcs was getting. there had been a seesaw-- cnet or the troops build up in afghanistan. >> indeed. where that manipulation wasn't on the part of the officer corps to basically gain president obama a brand-new greenness crashed-- >> mcchrystal. >> mcchrystal and petronius were essentially the officers who were involved in that, so the civil military balance when we are talking about the senior levels changes and i think what's important to recognize is that it doesn't work the way it's advertised to work. the other definition has to do with the relationship between the people in the american military, between those of us who sit and those who serve and there again, making reference to the notion of being invested in the wars. i think the unbalance creation
of the all volunteer force in the wake of vietnam has turned out to have negative consequences that people appreciate that they're in the 70s when the draft ended, but which i think contribute to our misguided military policies. our tendency to overuse and to misuse our military. >> you are pretty tough on generals in your book, tommy franks, swarts, comedy think that is fair? >> i would have included it if i didn't think it was fair. >> they have been viewed in a sense of heroes select inappropriately. >> let's remember i talked out as colonel. to criticize the generals is not to say that i could've done better pair of what i have come to believe is that-- two things, first is general ship in war,
there really charged with running the war. that is tough at business. that's requires an extraordinary level of talent and sophistication to marry political purposes with military action, prucing a positive outcome. that is a tough tough business and frankly, think that many of those who we had elevated to that level haven't gotten it done and the related point there is remembering that the purpose of going to war must necessarily be to conclusively achieve stated political objectives. is not simply to it-- when battles. it's not simply to get to baghdad and pull down saddam hussein's statue. it's not to have parades in washington dc honoring those who fought. the object of the exercise must
to conclusively achieve our political purposes and by that standard the american general officer corps has not performed all that well. because we either have not achieved their political purposes or when we thought we achieve them, it turns out that our accomplishments were partial , and reversible, so i think there is a-- i mean, the point here is not to pick on a particular general because it seems like i'm doing, but the point is to say how is it that the greatest military in the world, we do have the greatest military in the world, how is it that military command exercise at the highest levels leaves something to be desired? are we-- do we need to take another approach to educating and developing our senior commanders, to selecting them? what is the problem?
i think hero worship of the swarts cough and tommy franks impede that effort to subject our military leaders to the sort of articles-- screw that is needed and i had to tell you it doesn't seem to me that there is a particular willingness on the parts of the general officers themselves to undertake any sort of critical self-assessment anymore than and i say this as a catholic anymore then sort of we look to the cardinal archbishop said the american church to undertake critical scrutiny when -- when the church that i love goes badly astray. it takes outsiders, i think, sympathetic, empathetic outsiders to provide that critique and nudged towards reform. >> when you look at say during the vietnam war-- worry of water,-- cronkite in the body counts and in this situation you really don't have a strong opposition.
you don't have the one truly in congress-- >> you mention the media and i think it's more-- we have two political parties that pretend to be different and they are different with respect to certain domestic or social, but when it comes to national security policy they are largely clowns, so this work for that greater middle east has been a bar-- by parson project both democrats and republicans are invested, advocated and therefore who is two in the political limit-- arena take stock of the larger project? we don't have a youth the-- a george mcgovern and i know both of those guys lost in either became president, but i think historically eugene mccarthy and mcgovern represent the sort of critical voice in mainstream politics a critical debate over
policy. >> before we open up to the audience i would like you to comment on the impact of the defense industry. we are here in dallas-fort worth with a lot of major defense contractors just in the last year about $20 million in weapons arms with the middle east. what role does that play and how can you get around that? >> president eisenhower was bright. there is a military complex in the great question about president eisenhower is why did you wait until three days before to tell us about this problem, but he performed a service in identifying the problem and certainly the military complex exercises influence. it doesn't exercise as much influence today as it did back in the 1950s of the because if you look at the role of defense in proportion of spending with the federal budget is significant and smaller than it
was in the 1950s and the percentage in terms of total gdp smaller,-- >> a lot of jobs in key districts. >> emphatically, so the president-- [inaudible] >> with that said, i think it's important not to sort of point to one factor and say i know how we got to where we are. we got here because of the military-industrial complex. i know this is not apply to your question, some people take that view with regard to the us relationship with israel. i know how we got where we are because the israel lobby has hijacked us-born policy. there is a us-- there is a israel lobby, but i think it is wrong to cite one explanation. there are multiple explanations for how we got to where we are, why we began this, why we
persist in this war. the military industrial complex is to some degree the israel lobby is to some degree. the notion of american exceptionalism is to some degree. the fact there is this larger national security apparatus, looking beyond the military industrial complex that wishes to perpetuate itself to some degree it is a mindset, a definition of what us policy needs to be. all of these factors combine, i think, to perpetuate an inclination that has brought us where we are today and the reason it's important to recognize the multiplicity of factors is because that tells you how complicated this is your it's not simply we can sort of solve one problem that us policy will move to a wiser course. it will take a very comprehensive approach. >> let's hear from the audience. we have microphones here, so if
you could come forward if you question. go-ahead to your question. >> my name is dave. so, in the last 16 years we have had one president authorized the use of torture. we had another president authorize the use of extrajudicial killings by drones. and you mentioned that there is the difference and in one case there is a democrat one case a republican. however, there is the congress and why are they not-- what is your thoughts on why they aren't not exercising their authority to say stop or not? >> well, i actually think you can answer that question. i will give you two answers. one is because they are a bunch of cowards. [laughter] >> who refuse to take responsibility and the second thing is that they are political
calculation as individual members is such that their own political interest are better served by keeping hands off and by claiming responsible the army to get down to specifics the ongoing goal for work, which in my book i refer to as the fourth goal-- go for which is to say this work if dices and some degree against the assad regime in syria is being conducted, the authorizing legislation that the obama administration sites is the authorization to use military force that was passed in the immediate wake of 911. now, isis didn't exist then, so that under the constitution not to be specific congressional action to that either empowers the present to make war against
isis or that withholds that authority and it is really contemptible that the congress refuses to take up that question. even obama himself has asked for an authorization to use military force. he may be doing it with a certain amount of political and viciousness because he knows congress one actually do it, but it is disturbing and also even more disturbing that we know this is going on and apparently don't find it all that objectionable. >> let's hear from you over here, sir and if i could ask everyone to ask questions, shorts questions because i see a lot of people. >> lets go here and then we come back to user.
>> last week in the dallas morning news there was an op-ed piece that talked with some misgivings. [inaudible] >> i think two possibilities. the problem is the gap between the military in american society and particularly the gap between the military and parts of them military society and that is to say that the leads, well-to-do. we need to close that gap. two possible ways that maybe could serve to close the gap and one is create greater material incentives to increase the diversity of the force. example, i think last year for kids graduated from harvard and went into the military. if we promised a full ride, all expenses paid tuition, room, board and spending money to any
veteran who then was admitted to harvard, given the cost of a college education today, that might induce some number of even middle-class parents to say young son or daughter of mine, i think you might want to consider a term as a enlisted soldier. one possibility. second possibility is to initiate a program of national service. national service says every young person male, female at age 18 probably owes a term of service to country and community and that there will be a range of options and on that list of options as military service. but, on that list of options is working for-- joining the peace corps, teach for america, news rebellion conservation corps. it would have to be in the rather broad menu to accommodate the youngsters coming out of high school for reaching age 18 every year, so i think that there are again, this is the
sort of thing that is in my mind we ought to be talking about in a presidential election here. , but there is virtually due zero discussion about partner presence of campaign. >> when that traffic in the early 70s i was glad because it meant i did not have to go to canada, but as the father of a drafty son i'm sorry because i can't see they're not being an outcry 2003, when bush ordered the invasion of iraq. my question is if you were president, sir, with a comfortable and synthetic majorities in both the house and senate, what would you do? >> well, i would-- first of all, take stock of-- there is a assumption that the american global leadership requires an
american military presence and one of the first things i would do would be to risk-- revisit the proposition and to examine parts of the world and unless there was evidence that the american military president-- presence was positive and also needed i would revisit whether or not it should be their. let me break it down specifically. we had us forces in europe since the end of world war ii. when that commitment was made in the immediate and early days of the cold war it made sense. because western europe was weak and vulnerable because the soviet threat was significant. it's made sense because the american military presence during the cold war provided the basis for western europe to rely for democracy to take hold. it was a brilliant. in 2016, they don't need as. they are richer than we are if
you look at the overall size of the european economy. democracy is well-established. the problem is the europeans have become in the habit of outsourcing their security to the united states that they don't bother to maintain any significant military forces. i am saying the time has come for us to re-examine that. got to say the troops are coming home next tuesday, probably say hey, 2016 and by 2026 we are out if you guys want to maintain the nato alliance go-ahead, but from that point onward it will be a european alliance not involving the united states. among other things, it would make the point that there does come a time when the mission's comp list and the united states can come home. let's take the example of asia, however. we have tremendous change happening. serious possibility of great power rivalry producing conflict here potentially on a
large-scale. i would argue that the us military presence in asia pacific region is a stabilizing factor or to flip it, if we withdrew us forces from japan and south korea, the effect would be destabilizing. certainly, we would scare the heck out of the japanese and the south koreans who would rearm perhaps acquired nuclear weapons which would scare the heck out of the chinese and one could see a destabilizing process occur, so we say that. let's look at the greater middle east, which is the focus of my book. it seems pretty clear to me that our presence has been counterproductive. the region of the world as has been the focus of us military tensions for the last three decades is less stable today than it was when we began. now, there are those people who say, well, i meet-- i guess it
means we should try harder. i believe it's a mistake in judgment and therefore there is a need to do military eyes this region. how? by getting nations in the region to take responsibility for the restoration of stability. how you say, let's take the immediate problem of isis. isis poses the next attentional threat not to us, but to iraq, iran, saudi arabia, turkey, countries in which there is all kinds of reasons not to collaborate or cooperate. but, to have this transcendent reason to do so and were they to do so that they could take care of that force of 25000 likely armed thugs. the task facing american diplomacy is a diplomatic pass, not a military task and it's to bring those countries to recognize that they do have this
transcending common interest. i'm not saying that's easy. i am not saying it's done with a hand away if. i am saying history offered examples of aware just such a collaboration occurs, was the best-known example, world war ii. the democratic capitalist country called the united states and the imperialist of great britain and the marxist lenin next totalitarians of the soviet union set aside their differences and collaborated to destroy nazi germany. something needs to happen like that and greater middle east. >> we have time just for one more question. >> how does the use of private contractors in afghanistan inhibit the success of nationbuilding? >> well, i mean, the prior question is how did he come to be and this is an extreme effect that some of you know. how did he come to be that when