tv Book Discussion on Americas War for the Greater Middle East CSPAN August 24, 2016 11:01pm-11:50pm EDT
his book "america's war for the greater middle east in military history." he spoke at the dallas public library. >> welcome to the dallas book festival. i am president of the world affairs council and today we are very pleased and proud to be working with the dallas public library to host kernel andrew bacevich. a remarkable career. a graduate of west point, vietnam veteran and served in the armed forces for over 23 years. now he's the professor emeritus of boston university. remarkable author among some of his limited power, washington rules and breach of trust that we are here today to talk about this book america's war for the
greater middle east which just came out about two weeks ago. you will see during the discussion and after we talked for a little bit we want to invite you to ask questions and why this is a book that every one of us should read. go ahead and start a. >> [inaudible] it's been over 35 years since president carter out why and what became known as the doctrine. a strategy as you point out that began in the sense that militarization of the middle east come and use site that as the turning point. describe for us what was the
doctrine and how did it create if you wish the foundation for what you call america's longest war. >> i >> it was a statement that jimmy carter probably the least bellicose president of the last half century or more. the historical context people may not recall is in january of 1980 the united states suffered the shock a term used in those days meaning the appearance of the sudden shortage of oil which remind all americans that at that time the well-being of the country was increasingly dependent on the ability to access the foreign reserves of oil. the second occurred because of
the revolution overthrowing and producing a government that was hostile to the united states soviets invaded in or occupy afghanistan. it appeared that they were misleading. it appeared that the soviets were now trying to march westward into iran and even saudi arabia. it was also a fact that carter perceived to be a weak president somebody presiding over a lackluster economy and somebody who i was leading the invasion f afghanistan over.
politically it seemed to make sense and the doctrine was intended to do that. but it led to the persian gulf and ultimately including a far broader swath of territory in the islamic world he didn't for a second expect all of the military interventions that were to follow beginning in 1980 but the fact of the matter is at least in my judgment the carter doctrine touches off what is a war for the greater middle east. >> here in the early years we were fighting for the resources. was that accurate and all that we were fighting for?
spigots accurate and it's not all that we were fighting for a. it was a war for oil because it appeared that our prosperity, well-being was intentioned upon ensuring that we have access to foreign oil but what i argue in the book is it quickly morphed into something else. the 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 when the united states said its mind out to doing something to use the term they like in washington but in this instance we are able to shape a large part of the world
via assumption among policymakers being that the use of the military power gives us an instrument to accomplish this shaping. >> now we hear so much 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 comes from our most basic belief this great republic will lead the cause of freedom. a few years later in 2009, president obama said i believe american exceptionalism in the british exceptionalism and the greek believe in greek exceptionalism. >> those of you that recall when president obama said i believe in american exceptionalism.
the reason that it was beat up is because his critics argued many of their fellow citizens believed that there is nothing comparable to the american exceptionalism. our exceptionalism is exceptional but to the point of your question, yes emphatically one of the aims of this is to affirm american exceptionalism. to push back against any impression the so-called american century was somehow a fluke or fiction. and i have to say i don't mean this in any way to be a partisan content in particula but in pare george w. bush administration response to 9/11 very much
exemplified this emphasis on american exceptionalism. >> but it wasn't in the beginning. >> this book of mine describes a war that began in 1880 and continues into the present. the immediate post-9/11 period when the bush administration was accelerating the extent of the u.s. military involvement is sort of in the mid point of my story and yes it is true the immediate response on the part of president bush was to declare a global war on terrorism and the initial military response was to initiate operation enduring freedom in afghanistan
focused on punishing al qaeda and punishing the caliban in afghanistan for providing sanctuary to al qaeda. in my judgment, the administration assumes far too quickly that the afghanistan war had been won or to put it another way focuses attention on iraq, the country that we know had nothing to do with 9/11. why would the bush administration be in such a hurry to focus on saddam hussein? i think the ultimate explanation is the bush administration believed that by invading iraq, bringing about what's expected to be a rapid transformation into a liberal democracy that
this would be the first step in a larger project of the regional transformation under the legal freedom agenda. so iraq was supposed to be the starting point and the problem of course is the bush administration's expectations of the decisive victory leading to the political transformation callbacks and what we ended up with of course was a very long and brutal insurgency that didn't end well and indeed has now resumed another gulf war vets drawing the obama administration deeply into it. >> tell us about the genesis that came about in the transformation of italy that
income from the oval office and it was other advisers. >> it reflects i think the intellectual mood that had come into existence in some quarters with washington and the wake of the cold war. in a sense the ideological aspect and the famous phrase the notion that the end of the cold war marked a decisive turning point in history that from this point onward it was ostensibly self-evident that liberal democratic capitalism was the means and the armies of notion to organize the society.
it is affirmed by operation desert storm. in the mind of some people in washington the belief that the united states had ascended to the position of absolute military supremacy. >> a military that needed to be used. >> it's not so much is needed to be used but it ought to be used and put to work. the risk involved in putting the military to work were negligible and the potential for using the military 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 claims of the democratic capitalism being destinedemocrao proliferate around the world and
claim that the supremacy had endowethey supremacy hadendoweda capacity now to bring about the ideological change. so those were the overarching notions that led the administration to say they pose a danger. it didn't pose a danger because iraq appeared to be a source of enormous opportunity to bring history to its intended destination. >> one of the things that continues to surprise me is how the american public seems to be a sleep to the fact that we are making such a major investment in escalation now. and in iraq as well as afghanistan and syria. are we putting too much emphasis on isis and in your estimation does it represent a threat to
the united states? >> what is isis? at this point it is around 20,000 fighters that are vile and vicious. they don't have an air force, they don't have weapons of mass destruction, they don't have any significant resource base to draw. they don't have any allies and they are what, 7,000 miles away. it is no doubt true that an organization like isis can inspire people to be brave and initiate small-scale attacks. it could be the destination for the incident in san bernardino. it 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
and the larger sort of political world here in the middle of a presidential campaign is deeply unfortunate because it distracts attention for how we got to where we are today. the purpose of writing a history of the war for the greater middle east does tell a story that the purpose is to invite the readers. what a great cost to ourselves and to people in the region. >> what are the questions we should be asking? >> the kind of standard questions you should ask about the war that is going on for a considerable amount of time. are we winning?
is victory a successful outcome in the view? if the answer is no then what are the alternative than simply perpetuating the path that we have been following now for over three and a half decades? to me this is the nonpartisan task but what should we be doing having taken stock of the war for the greater middle east that's what we should expect to hear from secretary clinton or senator cruise it's not simply that promises to elect to be president. it's certainly the case that isis needs to be disposed of because isis, even if it doesn't pose a threat to us, and it doesn't, not a significant threat, certainly it poses a great threat to the international order of that region.
and that needs to be dealt with. the question i think is whether or not american military power provides the appropriate solution to the problem and there again if you look at what we have been doing the last three and a half decades, it seems pretty apparent to me that that instrument is not the appropriate one. >> you mark the time when they took a seat to the military. >> that dates back to the cold war. when the cold war began, and for reasons but at the time seemed to commit itself to maintaining in perpetuity in a large and powerful establishment for the unintended consequences was to shift the balance of influence in washington, d.c. in favor of the military or more broadly 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 and i think that inclination again which aides publicly for the 1940s was then reinforced and reaffirmed in particular by the events of 9/11. i am not a pacifist. i am in favor of a strong american military. but at the end of the day, we need to be pragmatic and concern ourselves with what works and what doesn't work, how much things cost and it's from a pragmatic perspective it seems to me there is a need to evaluate the course of the war. >> trying harder is unlikely to
produce different outcomes. >> one of the things about this war it's seen u.s. forces fighting and killing that u.s. forces being killed in a long list of countries. not just iraq and afghanistan. somalia, sudan, the list goes on and on. if you look at the behavior of the military over the course of the three plus decades, we have tried the overwhelming force and counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, we tried nationbuilding, we tried peacekeeping, peacemaking, humanitarian intervention, we worked in proxies, we have done covert wars. it's not as if the people in the pentagon, it's not as if the officer corps is single-mindedly
saying we've taken a variety of approaches and different places but you still end up needing to get to the bottom line making an evaluation and at the bottom line is none of those approaches have yielded good results policymakers expected and anticipated so there are those and senator cruise in different ways all represent me and i would've tried harder to come to the point that ought not be a satisfactory position. >> you don't see any change in policy. >> i'm not implying for a second that they are advocating identical approaches. it is certainly possible to
discern different emphases between trump and cruise. it's a pretty safe assumption at this point. there wouldn't be any significant thinking of the war for the greater middle east and that is deeply regrettable. >> why do you think the american public has become so apathetic about this and accepting the greater war in the middle east is frankly a permanent fixture. >> we have arrived at a position where the war has become a global condition. that is a shocking thing to say i believe. it's shocking to why do we
accept this? because most of us are not affected. most of us don't serve or no people but none of us have been required to pay for the war but is undertaken in our name. in previous the american people were expected in some degree to pay for the war by having the taxes increased. this war and its 9/11 phase is unique in the sense that we embark upon a military enterprise to people in washington say is a massive significance.
it's not necessarily a bad one. most of us don't have any skin in the game and therefore it's tough for a lot of people. we have a lot of things going on. the related factor is that somehow or another the obligation to support the troops coming and we should support the troops get confused with supporting the war. >> and to criticize the war could be identified as being unpatriotic. >> it seems to me that 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. and there is no greater abuse than to commit the fighters to come into the unnecessary war that have been mismanaged that have been mismanaged. >> you served in the military and you have any scholar of monetary history. a deep so there is a negative change in the sense that the civilian military relationship? >> it is an excellent question that gets too little attention. but i think that there are two different definitions. one is the relationship between the senior civilian policymakery makers and the senior military officers. we tend to take it for granted
that the relationship is a positive one and the principle of th civilian control which isa very important principle that has a tremendous amount of gameplay and manipulation that goes on. think back, for example, the relationship between the secretary defense donald rumsfeld and the joint chiefs of staff in the run-up to the invasion of 2003 when it's clear that rumsfeld quite intentionally sought to marginalize because he didn't like the advice they were given. when the manipulation was part of the officer corps to basically gain president obama,
petraeus was in a sense the officers were involved in it so the military balance when we're talking about awe aretalking abr level exchanges it' is importano recognize that doesn't work the way that it's advertised to work. it has to do with the relationship between the people and the american military. between those of us who sit and serve making reference to the notion of being invested in the war. i think on balance, the wake in the vietnam turned out to have negative consequences very few people appreciated that when the draft was ended but which now contributes to the misguided policies and the tendency to
overuse and misuse the military. >> you are pretty tough on some generals. do you think that's fair? >> [inaudible] >> let us remember what i've come to believe these two things, first they are charged with running the war. that requires an extraordinary level of talent and sophistication to merida political purposes with action producing a positive outcome.
that is a tough business. >> and frankly i think that many of those that we have elevated to the level haven't gotten it done. remember the purpose of going to war must be to conclusively achieve the stated political objectives. it's not simply to get to baghdad and pull down saddam hussein. the object of the exercise must be to conclusively achieve our political purposes and by that standarstandard of the americanl officer corps has not performed all that well because we either have not achieved our political purposes were when we thought we achieved then it turned out that
our accomplishments were reversible premis, so the pointt to pick on the general but how is it the greatest military in the world exercise at the highest levels and leave something to be desired. we need to take another approach to develop the senior commanders to selecting them? it impedes that effort to subject to the military leaders to the critical scrutiny that is needed and i have to tell you but doesn't seem there is any particular willingness to
undertake any sort of critical welected the cardinal archbishos of the american church to undertake a critical scrutiny when the church that i love goes badly. it takes outsiders i think sympathetic and empathetic outsiders to provide that kind of critique and knowledge to reform. >> you had walter cronkite and the body count. in this situation you don't have any strong opposition in congress. >> you mentioned the media. they tend to be different and they are different with respect to the domestic and social issues but when it comes to the national security policy, they are largely clones.
so it had been a bipartisan project with democrats and republicans arboth democrats ann implicated and therefore who takes stock of the project? we don't have a eugene mccarthy but i think historically mccarthy and mcgovern represent a critical voice ithe critical m politics that can stimulate the debate over the policy. i would like you to comment on the defense industry in dallas-fort worth. just in the last year about $20 billion of weapons and arms went to the middle east. what role does the plate.
>> why did you wait until three days before. he performed a service identifying the problem. it's simply because you get the role of defense it is significantly smaller in terms of the total gdp. the president of general dynamics will get his phone call put through before you or i get our phone call put through.
it's to point to one factor and say i know how we got to where we are it's because the industrial complex. this doesn't apply to your question some people take that du to israel. i know how we got where we are. it's because they've hijacked. it has influence but i think that it's wrong to cite one explanation. there are multiple explanations for how we got to where we are and why we began the war and persisted in this. the military-industrial complex to some degree the notion of american exceptionalism is an explanation to some degree the fact that there is a larger national security apparatus looking beyond the
military-industrial complex which is to perpetuate itself to some degree it is a mindset, a definition of what u.s. policy needs to be. all these factors combine to perpetuate an inclination that is brought up to where we are today and the reason it's important to recognize that the multiplicity of factors is to tow you how complicated this is. it's not simply so we can solve one problem that the u.s. policy will move to a wiser course. it will move to a comprehensive approach. >> with here from the audience. we have microphones here so if you can come forward we have a question. >> go ahead with your question. we had one president authorized the use of torture and another authorized the extra judicial
killings. you mentioned there is no difference. in one case does the democrat tt and one case the republican. what is your thought on why they are not exercising their authority to say stop or not? >> you can answer that question. they are a bunch of cowards who refuse to take responsibility. and the second thing is the political calculation as individual members is such that their own political interests are better served by keeping hands off them by claiming responsibility. to get down to the specifics i
refer to as the fourth gulf war and some degree against the regime is being conducted and the obama administration cites the military force that was passed in the wake of 9/11. isis didn't exist then. so under the constitution, there ought to be specific congressional actions that either empower the president to make war against isis or withholds that cover and authority and his really come tempted to congress refuses to take up that question. even obama himself asked for the authorization to use military force with a certain political
position because he knows the congress won't actually do it. but it's disturbing and it's even more disturbing than we know this is going on and apparently we don't find it all that objectionable. >> let's hear from you over here. >> if everyone could ask short questions we have a lot of people. >> last week the dallas morning news talked [inaudible] what would you propose? >> the problem is the gap between the society particularly between the military and certain
parts of american society is to save the well-to-do. we need to close that gap. one is to create the diversity of the force. four kids graduated from harvard and if we promise a full ride, all expenses paid, tuition, room and board into spending money to any veteran that might induce some number of even middle-class to say young son or daughter of mine you might want to consider the term.
the program of national service that says every young person, male and female age 18 and probably owes the term of service to community and there will be a range of options on the list of options is military service. but on the list of options is working for joining the peace corps, teach for america, new conservation corps with many youngsters as we have coming out of high school reaching the age. this is the sort of thing that in my mind we'l we ought to be talking about in a presidential election but there is zero about the implications in the campai campaign. when the draft was ended it
meant i didn't have to go to canada. but as the father now i'm sorry because i can't see there not being an outcry in 2003. if you are president with a comfortable and a sympathetic majority in both the house and the senate, what would you do? >> i would first of all take stock that requires the military presence. unless there was evidence that was positive and needed let me
break it down specifically, one that was made in the early days of the cold war has made sense because western europe was weak and vulnerable and the soviet threat was significant. and it made sense because the american military presence during the cold war provided the basis for western europe to provide in a democracy to take hold. in 2016, they don't need us. they are richer than we are. if you look at the side of the european economy, democracy is well-established. the problem is outsourcing the security to the united states they don't bother to maintain any significant military forces. it's time to re-examine that and
probably say 2016, by 2026 we are out if you want to maintain the alliance, go ahead. that ought to be done. among other things, it would make the point that there does come a time when the mission is accomplished and the united states can come home. let's take the example of asia however, we have a tremendous change happening. serious possibility of power, rivalry producing conflict potentially on a large scale. i would argue it is a stabilizing factor were to flip
it, the effect would be destabilizing because certainly it would scare the heck out of the south koreans who would rearm and acquired a nuclear weapon that would scare the heck out of the chinese. and one could see a destabilizing process of her. so we stayed there. let's look at the greater middle east which is a focus in my book. it seems pretty clear to me that it's become counterproductive. the region of the wealth that's been the focus for the last three and a half decades is less stable today than it was when we began. now there are those people who say i guess we should try harder. i believe that it's a mistake in judgment and therefore there was the need to demilitarize the policy in this region by getting nations in the region to take responsibility for the restoration of stability. hell, you said, let's take the
immediate problem of isis that poses an existential threat not to us but to iraq, iran, saudi arabia, turkey, countries that have all kinds of reasons not to collaborate or cooperate to have this reason to do so so they could take care of that. the task facing american diplomacy is to bring those countries to recognize that they do have this transcendent common interest. i'm not saying that is done with a hand wave. i'm saying history offers examples of where the collaboration occurs and what is the best example, world war ii. where the democratic capitalist
country called the united states and of the imperialist of great britain and the totalitarians of the soviet union set aside their differences and collaborate to destroy nazi germany. something needs to happen like that. >> we have time for just one more question. >> how does the use of private contractors in afghanistan and inhibit success of nationbuilding? >> how did it come to be that when the afghanistan war was at its height, the number of private security contractors outnumber the troops? how did it come to be? we are looking at the unintended consequences of relying on the all volunteer force and then allowing the country to slide into a condition of permanent war.
we ended up with too much war and they turned to the notion of defense contractors to try to fill the gap at a very high cost and i would argue with little evidence that they were worth the money. >> i know you are going to stay around to sign some books and i want to thank you. [applause] we have narrowly scratched the surface of the book so i would encourage you to pick up a copy and you will have a somewhat pessimistic understanding. thanks again.
>> "after words" is a conversation between the author of a newly released nonfiction book and the interviewer was either a journalist, public policymaker or legislator familiar and with the opposing viewpoint. "after words" airs every saturday at 10 p.m. eastern and we will take you across the country visiting book festivals, author events and the parties where they talk about the latest works. television for serious readers. booktv visited capitol hill to ask members of congress what they are reading