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On the mend? America comes to its senses
Al Jazeera ^ | June 28th 2011 | Andrew J. Bacevich

Posted on 06/28/2011 8:50:51 PM PDT by Cardhu

The messiah-nation, gripped by war and fear of the unknown, could finally be coming to its senses.

At periodic intervals, the American body politic has shown a marked susceptibility to messianic fevers. Whenever an especially acute attack occurs, a sort of delirium ensues, manifesting itself in delusions of grandeur and demented behavior.

By the time the condition passes and a semblance of health is restored, recollection of what occurred during the illness tends to be hazy. What happened? How'd we get here? Most Americans prefer not to know. No sense dwelling on what's behind us. Feeling much better now! Thanks!

Gripped by such a fever in 1898, Americans evinced an irrepressible impulse to liberate oppressed Cubans. By the time they'd returned to their senses, having acquired various parcels of real estate between Puerto Rico and the Philippines, no one could quite explain what had happened or why. (The Cubans meanwhile had merely exchanged one set of overseers for another.)

In 1917, the fever suddenly returned. Amid wild ravings about waging a war to end war, Americans lurched off to France. This time the affliction passed quickly, although the course of treatment proved painful: confinement to the charnel house of the Western Front, followed by bitter medicine administered at Versailles.

The 1960s brought another bout (and so yet more disappointment). An overwhelming urge to pay any price, bear any burden landed Americans in Vietnam. The fall of Saigon in 1975 seemed, for a brief interval, to inoculate the body politic against any further recurrence. Yet the salutary effects of this "Vietnam syndrome" proved fleeting. By the time the Cold War ended, Americans were running another temperature, their self-regard reaching impressive new heights. Out of Washington came all sorts of embarrassing gibberish about permanent global supremacy and history's purpose finding fulfillment in the American way of life.

Give me fever

Then came 9/11 and the fever simply soared off the charts. The messiah-nation was really pissed and was going to fix things once and for all.

Nearly 10 years have passed since Washington set out to redeem the Greater Middle East. The crusades have not gone especially well. In fact, in the pursuit of its saving mission, the American messiah has pretty much worn itself out.

Today, the post-9/11 fever finally shows signs of abating. The evidence is partial and preliminary. The sickness has by no means passed. Oddly, it lingers most strongly in the Obama White House, of all places, where a keenness to express American ideals by dropping bombs seems strangely undiminished.

Yet despite the urges of some in the Obama administration, after nearly a decade of self-destructive flailing about, American recovery has become a distinct possibility. Here's some of the evidence: In Washington, it's no longer considered a sin to question American omnipotence. Take the case of Robert Gates. The outgoing secretary of defense may well be the one senior US official of the past decade to leave office with his reputation not only intact, but actually enhanced. (Note to President Obama: think about naming an aircraft carrier after the guy). Yet along with restoring a modicum of competence and accountability to the Pentagon, the Gates legacy is likely to be found in his willingness - however belated - to acknowledge the limits of American power.

That the United States should avoid wars except when absolutely necessary no longer connotes incipient isolationism. It is once again a sign of common sense, with Gates a leading promoter. Modesty is becoming respectable.

The Gates doctrine

No one can charge Gates with being an isolationist or a national security wimp. Neither is he a "declinist". So when he says anyone proposing another major land war in the Greater Middle East should "have his head examined" - citing the authority of Douglas MacArthur, no less - people take notice. Or more recently there was this: "I've got a military that's exhausted," Gates remarked, in one of those statements of the obvious too seldom heard from on high. "Let's just finish the wars we're in and keep focused on that instead of signing up for other wars of choice." Someone should etch that into the outer walls of the Pentagon's E-ring.

A half-dozen years ago, "wars of choice" were all the rage in Washington. No more. Thank you, Mr Secretary.

Or consider the officer corps. There is no "military mind", but there are plenty of minds in the military and some numbers of them are changing.

Evidence suggests that the officer corps itself is rethinking the role of military power. Consider, for example, "Mr Y", author of A National Strategic Narrative, published this spring to considerable acclaim by the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. The actual authors of this report are two military professionals, one a navy captain, the other a Marine colonel.

What you won't find in this document are jingoism, braggadocio, chest-thumping, and calls for a bigger military budget. If there's an overarching theme, it's pragmatism. Rather than the United States imposing its will on the world, the authors want more attention paid to the investment needed to rebuild at home.

The world is too big and complicated for any one nation to call the shots, they insist. The effort to do so is self-defeating. "As Americans," Mr Y writes, "we needn't seek the world's friendship or proselytise the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions…We will pursue our national interests and let others pursue theirs..."

You might dismiss this as the idiosyncratic musing of two officers who have spent too much time having their brains baked in the Iraqi or Afghan sun. I don't. What convinces me otherwise is the positive email traffic that my own musings about the misuse and abuse of American power elicit weekly from serving officers. It's no scientific sample, but the captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels I hear from broadly agree with Mr Y. They've had a bellyful of twenty-first-century American war and are open to a real debate over how to overhaul the nation's basic approach to national security.

Intelligence where you least expect it

And finally, by gum, there is the United States Congress. Just when that body appeared to have entered a permanent vegetative state, a flickering of intelligent life has made its reappearance. Perhaps more remarkably still, the signs are evident on both sides of the aisle as Democrats and Republicans alike - albeit for different reasons - are raising serious questions about the nation's propensity for multiple, open-ended wars.

Some members cite concerns for the Constitution and the abuse of executive power. Others worry about the price tag. With Osama bin Laden out of the picture, still others insist that it's time to rethink strategic priorities. No doubt partisan calculation or personal ambition figures alongside matters of principle. They are, after all, politicians.

Given what polls indicate is a growing public unhappiness over the Afghan War, speaking out against that war these days doesn't exactly require political courage. Still, the possibility of our legislators reasserting a role in deciding whether or not a war actually serves the national interest - rather than simply rubberstamping appropriations and slinking away - now presents itself. God bless the United States Congress.

Granted, the case presented here falls well short of being conclusive. To judge by his announcement of a barely-more-than-symbolic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Obama himself seems uncertain of where he stands. And clogging the corridors of power or the think tanks and lobbying arenas that surround them are plenty of folks still hankering to have a go at Syria or Iran.

At the first signs of self-restraint, you can always count on the likes of Senator John McCain or the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal to decry (in McCain's words) an "isolationist-withdrawal-lack-of-knowledge-of-history attitude" hell-bent on pulling up the drawbridge and having Americans turn their backs on the world. In such quarters, fever is a permanent condition and it's always 104 and rising. Yet it is a measure of just how quickly things are changing that McCain himself, once deemed a source of straight talk, now comes across as a mere crank.

In this way, nearly a decade after our most recent descent into madness, does the possibility of recovery finally beckon.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations. His most recent book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (Metropolitan Books) is just out in paperback.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: america; opinion
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To: Cardhu

His most recent “book” is “just out in paperback”, donja know.

21 posted on 06/28/2011 9:39:16 PM PDT by FlingWingFlyer (When the going gets tough, the tough check themselves into "rehab".)
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To: Cardhu

9/11 was just our delusion??


dhimmi much??

22 posted on 06/28/2011 9:41:09 PM PDT by GeronL (The Right to Life came before the Right to Happiness)
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To: Anima Mundi

Yes. That would have been the AMERICAN thing to do.

23 posted on 06/28/2011 9:43:21 PM PDT by null and void (Day 888. When your only tools are a Hammer & Sickle, everything looks like a Capitalist...)
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To: Cardhu
The author misses the point about why we “should” go to war. If our national survival is at stake them we should go to war and it should must be a violent and brutal war with no quarter drawn. It must be a war with the intention of removing the enemy from the face of the earth and leave his society a smoking ruin of death and despair for the few that are left alive. In this manner we would seldom need to go to war. From 1948 to the present this is what keep World War III from starting between the USA and the USSR. Both knew that in case of war both would be totally destroyed.

If our enemy thinks he can go to war with us on a basis of limited retaliation by the USA he might decide to make war against us. If he knows in his heart that if he goes to war with the USA he will be destroyed and all the he knows and loves will die, he will not make war against us.

This is not rocket science.

24 posted on 06/28/2011 10:11:56 PM PDT by cpdiii (Deckhand, Roughneck, Geologist, Pilot, Pharmacist, Iconoclast: THE CONSTITUTION IS WORTH DYING FOR.)
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To: Cardhu

25 posted on 06/28/2011 10:15:33 PM PDT by mirkwood (Palin 12)
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To: cpdiii
“all the he knows and loves will die”

I don't know if the “love” part applies to muslims.

Least ways, Jihadists......the true muslims.

26 posted on 06/28/2011 10:42:58 PM PDT by Puckster
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To: Right Wing Assault

Not necessarily.

27 posted on 06/28/2011 11:24:02 PM PDT by oyez (The difference in genius and stupidity is that genius has limits.)
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To: Cardhu

Nonsense, of course, from a left wing professor spouting anti American Marxism.

Notice he ignored the Cambodian holocaust, the boat people, and the Vietnamese war against China that occured as a result of America withdrawing in Vietnam? Intervention to stop murderous dictators is retwisted as evil, and the huger evil done by those America opposed is simply ignored.

28 posted on 06/29/2011 2:18:06 AM PDT by LadyDoc (liberals only love politically correct poor people)
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To: Cardhu

And I thought they were going to write about the Lunacy of electing a Marxist to the Presidency of the United States!

29 posted on 06/29/2011 4:11:40 AM PDT by ballplayer
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To: Colonel Kangaroo

He’s an isolationist. No problem there. But I have a Big problem with folks who don’t appreciate that it is the sacrifices of the last 10 years which allow us to now return to a pre-9/11 posture.

30 posted on 06/29/2011 4:47:10 AM PDT by Justa (Obama, the Tee Party candidate.)
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