New American militarism is connected with the desire to establish global neoliberal empire ruled
by the USA (the dream of total world dominance). It became official policy since the collapse
of the USSR and involves "heliocentric" view on foreign policy, when the USA is the center of
the world order and other states just rotate around it on various orbits. The US population is by-and-large-completely
brainwashed into this vision.
Opposition to the US militarism is almost non-existent due contemporary US popular culture infused
with the language of militarism and American exceptionalism. As Bacevich noted:
In this new Crusade for world hegemony the key ideas of Trotsky Permanent Revolution remains intact
-- a crusade for establishing new social system on all counties on the Earth. This is just Great Neoliberal
Crusade, instead of Communist Crusade. This new justification for Crusades has the same problems
as two previous. But it does not matter as the key role of democracy here is the same as in quote "the
goal justifies the means"
Professor Andrew Bacevich wrote several short books on the subject. he avoids the term neoliberalism
and did not try to explain new American militarism in terms of the quest for neoliberal empire expansion.
But he is a very good observer and the books contain many insights into US elite thinking and blunders.
Among them we can note two:
While all three books are excellent and raise important issues, they overlap. Probably the
most original and the most important on them is Washington Rules, were Bacevich attempts to explain
"Permanent War for Permanent Peace" that the USA practice since the end of WWII. All three books have
the same weaknesses: Bacevich does not see connection between Neoliberalism demand for economic expansion
and "New American Militarism" and regime of permanent wars that the USA pursue since WWII.
He provide sharp critique of neocons, but never ask the question: which political forces brought
those pathetic second or third rate thinkers to the forefront of formulation of the US foreign policy
and maintain them for more then a decade after Iraq debacle.
He also mistakenly believe that American people (who were completely estranged from any influence
on nation's policies) bear some guilt for the policy which was formulated to benefit the first hundred
of the largest US corporations. In other words he does not understand that the USA is yet another occupied
The foreign policy of the USA since 1945, but especially, after the dissolution of the USSR was and
is "open militarism". Recently John Quiggin tried to define militarism is came to the following
This new epidemic of the US militarism started after the dissolution of the USSR was called by Professor
Bacevich (who is former colonel of the US army) it New
Professor Bacevich had shown that the main driver of the US militarism is neocons domination of the
US foreign policy, and, especially, neocons domination in State Department regardless of whether Republicans
or Democrats are in power. They profess that the US that is uniquely qualified to take on the worldwide
foes of peace and democracy, forgetting, revising, or ignoring the painful lessons of World War II,
Vietnam, and Iraq. And that establishing and maintaining the neoliberal empire is worth the price we
pay as it will take the USA into the period of unprecedented peace.
Bacevich scored a direct hit on the foundations of the American national security state with this
scathing critique, and demolishes the unspoken assumptions that he believes have led the United States
into a senseless, wasteful, and counter-productive "perpetual war for perpetual peace".
Lessons that President Obama is clearly never able to learn. In this sense his book
Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War is an excellent peace of research with sections
that some may find very troubling as it suggest that the USA elite is suicidal and is ready to sacrifice
the county for achieving its delusional goal of world domination.
UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper CXXXVII:
September 27, 2010, 7:00 p.m.
Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (New York: Metropolitan
Books/Henry Holt and Company, August 2010).
The Washington consensus on national security policy that constitutes convention wisdom in American
foreign policy began with the Cold War and survived, remarkably, the Vietnam War and the disintegration
of the Soviet Union, no longer serves American interests, but the failure of the Obama administration
to alter it shows that change can only come from the American people.
Introduction: Slow Learner
The author's faith in orthodoxy began to crumble when visiting the BrandenburgGate in Berlin in
the winter of 1990-1991(1-4). In October 1990 a visit to Jenarevealed the backwardness of EastGermany
(4-6). During his years in the Army, Bacevich had kept down doubts; after the end of the Cold War
he retired, and his loss of status freed him to educate himself (6-10).
"George W.Bush's decision to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 pushed me fully into opposition"
(10). "This book aims to take stock of conventional wisdom" (11). The past 60 years of American history
shows continuity: a symbiotic "credo" (formulated by Henry Luce in 1941 as the "American Century")
and a "sacred trinity" ("the minimum essentials of international peace and order require the United
States to maintain a global military presence, to configure its forces for global power projection,
and to counter existing or anticipated threats by relying on a policy of global interventionism")
together define "the rules to which Washington adheres" (11-15).
In this book, "Washington" refers to the upper echelons of the three branches of government, the
main agencies of the national security state, select think tanks and interest groups, "big banks
and other financial institutions, defense contractors and major corporations, television networks
and elite publications like the New York Times, even quasi-academic entities like the Council on
Foreign Relations and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government" (15).
This book aspires to
(1) trace the history of the Washington rules;
(2) show who wins, who loses, and who pays under them;
(3) explain how itis perpetuated;
(4) show that the rules have lost what utility they might once have had;
and (5) re-legitimate "disreputable (or 'radical') views to our national security debates" (16).
The American Century is ending, and it "has become essential" to devise an "alternative to the
reining national security paradigm" (16-18).
Ch. 1: The Advent of Semiwar.
As president, Barack Obama's efforts to change the U.S.'s exercise of power "have seldom risen
above the cosmetic"(20). He made clear he subscribes to the "catechism of American statecraft," viz.
that 1) the world must be organized, 2)only the U.S. can do it, 3) this includes dictating principles,
and 4) not to accept this is to be a rogue or a recalcitrant (20-21).
It follows that the U.S. need not conform to the norms it sets for others and that it should maintain
a worldwide network of bases (22-23).
Imagine if China acted in a comparable manner (23-25). The extraordinary American military posture
in the world (25-27). To call this into question puts one beyond the pale(27). James Forrestal called
this a permanent condition of semiwar, requiring high levels of military spending(27-28).
American citizens are not supposed to concern themselves with it (29-30). As to how this came
about, the "standard story line" presents as the result of the decisions of a "succession of presidential
administrations," though this conceals as much as it reveals (30-32).
Eisenhower's 1961 Farewell Address on the "military-industrial complex" was a rare exception (32-34).
More important than presidents were Allen Dulles [1893-1969] and Curtis Lemay [1906-1990] (34-36).
Bacevich attributes the vision for an American-dominated post-World War II world with the CIA
playing an active role to the patrician Dulles (36-43). The development of the U.S. military into
a force capable of dominating the world, especially in the area of strategic weapons, he attributes
to the hard-bitten Curtis LeMay, organizer of the StrategicAir Command (SAC) (43-52). Dulles and
LeMay shared devotion to country, ruthlessness, a certain recklessness (52-55). They exploited American
anxieties and insecurities in yin (Dulles's CIA) yang(LeMay's SAC) fashion, leaving the mainstay
of American military power, the U.S. Army, in a relatively weak position(55-58).
Ch. 2: Illusions of Flexibility and Control
Kennedy kept Dulles and LeMay to signal continuity, but there was a behind-the-scenes struggle
led by Gen. Maxwell Taylor to reassert the role of the U.S. Army by expanding and modernizing conventional
forces that was "simultaneously masked by, and captured in, the phrase flexible response " (60; 59-63).
This agenda purported to aim at "resisting aggression" but really created new options for limited
aggressive warfare by the U.S. (63-66).
McNamara engaged in a struggle with LeMay to control U.S. policy on nuclear weapons, but he embraced
the need for redundancy based on a land-sea-air attack "triad" and LeMay et al. "got most of what
they wanted" (66-72).
In the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy instituted the morally and legally "indefensible"
Operation Mongoose," in effect, a program of state-sponsored terrorism" against Cuba (80; 72-82 [but
Bacevich is silent on its wilder elements, like Operation Northwoods]).
U.S. recklessness caused the Cuban Missile Crisis, and to his credit Kennedy acknowledged this
(albeit privately) and "suspended the tradition" in defusing the crisis (82-87).
Bacevich rejects as a romantic delusion the view that in the aftermath of this crisis Kennedy
turned against the military-industrial complex and the incipient Vietnam war and shows no interest
in Kennedy's assassination itself (87-92).
He sees a parallel between escalation in Vietnam and post-9/11 aggression as "fought to sustain
the Washington consensus" (107; 92-107).
Ch. 3: The Credo Restored.
William Fulbright's The Arrogance of Power (1966) urged a rethinking of the Washington rules (109-15).
A radicalized David Shoup, a Medal of Honor winner and former commandant of the MarineCorps, argued
in "The New American Militarism" (Atlantic, April 1969) that the U.S. had become "a militaristic
and aggressive nation" (120; 115-21). The 1960s Zeitgeist shift made LeMay "an embarrassment,
mocked and vilified rather than venerated," which showed that the Washington rules had incurred serious
damage in Vietnam; the Army was in dire shape (122; 121-27).
Yet astonishingly, in the subsequent decade the "sacred trinity" (cf. 11-15) was "fully restored"
(127). As in post-1918 Germany, élites looked for scapegoats and worked to reverse "the war's apparent
verdict" (128). The Council on Foreign Relations 1976 volume entitled The Vietnam Legacy: The
War, American Society, and the Future of American Foreign Policy is an expression of élite consensus
that the Vietnam war was insignificant, an anomaly (129-34).
By 1980, Democrats and Republicans were again on the same page (134-36).Reagan's election
"sealed the triumph of Vietnam revisionism" (136; 136-38). And the end of the Cold War posed
no challenge to the Washington rules, as Madeleine Albright's pretentious arrogance exemplifies (138-45).
Ch. 4: Reconstituting the Trinity
The period from 1980 to 2000 saw "notretrenchment but reconfiguration" (147). The new mission
was not American defense but facilitation of a new world order (148-50). After 9/11 this pretense
was dropped and "[a]ctivism became the watchword" (150, emphasis in original;150-52). Resorting to
war became "notably more frequent and less controversial" in 1980-2000, finding "its ultimate expression
in the Bush Doctrine of preventive war" (152-53). Americans "passively assented" (154).
Behind the scenes, the shape this took was struggled over by the officer corps and civilian semi-warriors
pushing RMA(Revolution in Military Affairs) (154-64).Initially, U.S. élites held that victory in
Iraq demonstrated that speed could be substituted for mass in military campaigns (165-75). But the
experience of the occupation revealed this to be a fantasy (175-81).
Ch. 5: Counterfeit COIN.
Counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, replacing "shock and awe" as "the Long War" replaced the "global
war on terror," is the latest doctrinal effort to preserve the Washington rules (182-86). The so-called
"surge" implicitly marked a quest for conditions allowing the U.S. to leave Iraq without admitting
defeat (186-91).Gen. David Petraeus emerged as an advocate (and as salesman, through FM3-24, the
manual he revised and which Bacevich insists is in its emphasis on narrative replete with postmodernism)
of counterinsurgency doctrine as "a substitute [for warfare] suited to the exercise of great power
politics in the twilight of modernity" (197; 191-97). Implicitly, the manual argues that "war as
such . . . no longer worked" (198; 198-202). Petraeus took credit for progress in Iraq that he did
not achieve (202-04).
The general with a Princeton Ph.D. was lionized with a view to normalizing war and lowering expectations,
a view now embraced by the Obama administration(205-11). Proponents of global counterinsurgency (GCOIN)
emerged, like John Nagl and Gen. Benet Sacolick (211-13). Obama embraced the GCOIN version of the
Long War with Gen.Stanley McChrystal to carry it out in Afghanistan, forfeiting the opportunity to
reassess American policy (213-21).
Ch. 6: Cultivating Our Own Garden.
Time-honored no-nonsense American pragmatism has turned into an absurdity-swallowing herd mentality
(222-23). The problem set the U.S. faces has radically changed from the time of the early Cold War,
but the "sacred trinity" (cf. 11-15) that proposes to address them remains essentially the same (224-25).Eisenhower
would have been appalled(225-26). The size of the Pentagon budget, the size of the U.S. nuclear
arsenal, and the extent of overseas military presence cannot be justified(226-27).
These persist because of the interests they serve, not the mission the fulfill, and are likely
to do so for sometime (228-30). Bacevich invokes George Kennan, William Fulbright, and Martin Luther
King Jr. in urging that the U.S. needs a new approach, to model freedom rather than impose it (231-37).
First and foremost, America should save not the world but itself (237).
Bacevich proposes a new trinity:
- the purpose of the military is to defend the U.S. and its vital interests;
- soldiers' primary duty stations are on American soil;
- force should be used only as a last resort and in self-defense, in accord with the Just War
The American public must shoulder its complicity in what has happened, fostered by an all-volunteer
force and debt-financed budgets (241-47). It is tragic that Barack Obama, elected to institute
change, has lacked the courage to alter the Washington rules, instead "choosing to conform"
(247-49). "If change is to come, it must come from the people"(249). The need for education "has
become especially acute" (249; 249-50).
Except from Macmillan
Introduction: Slow Learner Worldly ambition inhibits true learning. Ask me. I know. A young
man in a hurry is nearly uneducable: He knows what he wants and where he's headed; when it comes
to looking back or entertaining heretical thoughts, he has neither the time nor the inclination.
All that counts is that he is going somewhere. Only as ambition wanes does education become a possibility.
My own education did not commence until I had reached middle age. I can fix its start date with
precision: For me, education began in Berlin, on a winter's evening, at the Brandenburg Gate, not
long after the Berlin Wall had fallen. As an officer in the U.S. Army I had spent considerable time
in Germany. Until that moment, however, my family and I had never had occasion to visit this most
famous of German cities, still littered with artifacts of a deeply repellent history. At the end
of a long day of exploration, we found ourselves in what had, until just months before, been the
communist East. It was late and we were hungry, but I insisted on walking the length of the Unter
den Linden, from the River Spree to the gate itself. A cold rain was falling and the pavement glistened.
The buildings lining the avenue, dating from the era of Prussian kings, were dark, dirty, and pitted.
Few people were about. It was hardly a night for sightseeing. For as long as I could remember, the
Brandenburg Gate had been the preeminent symbol of the age and Berlin the epicenter of contemporary
Yet by the time I made it to the once and future German capital, history was already moving on.
The Cold War had abruptly ended. A divided city and a divided nation had re united. For Americans
who had known Berlin only from a distance, the city existed primarily as a metaphor. Pick a date—
1933, 1942, 1945, 1948, 1961, 1989—and Berlin becomes an instructive symbol of power, depravity,
tragedy, defiance, endurance, or vindication. For those inclined to view the past as a chronicle
of parables, the modern history of Berlin offered an abundance of material. The greatest of those
parables emerged from the events of 1933 to 1945, an epic tale of evil ascendant, belatedly confronted,
then heroically overthrown.
A second narrative, woven from events during the intense period immediately following World War
II, saw hopes for peace dashed, yielding bitter antagonism but also great resolve. The ensuing stand-off—the
"long twilight struggle," in John Kennedy's memorable phrase— formed the centerpiece of the third
parable, its central theme stubborn courage in the face of looming peril. Finally came the exhilarating
events of 1989, with freedom ultimately prevailing, not only in Berlin, but throughout Eastern Europe.
.... ... ...
Although commonly depicted as the most advanced and successful component of the Soviet Empire,
East Germany more closely resembled part of the undeveloped world.
... ... ...
Briquettes of soft coal used for home heating made the air all but unbreathable and coated everything
with soot. In the German cities we knew, pastels predominated—houses and apartment blocks painted
pale green, muted salmon, and soft yellow. Here everything was brown and gray
... ... ...
Bit by bit, my worldview started to crumble. That worldview had derived from this conviction:
that American power manifested a commitment to global leadership, and that both together expressed
and affirmed the nation's enduring devotion to its founding ideals. That American power, policies,
and purpose were bound together in a neat, internally consistent package, each element drawing strength
from and reinforcing the others, was something I took as a given. That, during my adult life, a penchant
for interventionism had become a signature of U.S. policy did not—to me, at least—in any way contradict
America's aspirations for peace. Instead, a willingness to expend lives and treasure in distant places
testified to the seriousness of those aspirations. That, during this same period, the United States
had amassed an arsenal of over thirty-one thousand nuclear weapons, some small number of them assigned
to units in which I had served, was not at odds with our belief in the inalienable right to life
and liberty; rather, threats to life and liberty had compelled the United States to acquire such
an arsenal and maintain it in readiness for instant use.2 I was not so naíve as to believe that the
American record had been without flaws. Yet I assured myself that any errors or misjudgments had
been committed in good faith. Furthermore, circumstances permitted little real choice. In Southeast
Asia as in Western Europe, in the Persian Gulf as in the Western Hemisphere, the United States had
simply done what needed doing. Viable alternatives did not exist. To consent to any dilution of American
power would be to forfeit global leadership, thereby putting at risk safety, prosperity, and freedom,
not only our own but also that of our friends and allies.
The choices seemed clear enough. On one side was the status quo: the commitments, customs, and
habits that defined American globalism, implemented by the national security apparatus within which
I functioned as a small cog. On the other side was the prospect of appeasement, isolationism, and
catastrophe. The only responsible course was the one to which every president since Harry Truman
had adhered. For me, the Cold War had played a crucial role in sustaining that worldview.
Given my age, upbringing, and professional background, it could hardly have been otherwise. Although
the great rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union had contained moments of considerable
anxiety — I remember my father, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, stocking our basement with water
and canned goods — it served primarily to clarify, not to frighten.
The Cold War provided a framework that organized and made sense of contemporary history. It offered
a lineup and a scorecard. That there existed bad Germans and good Germans, their Germans and our
Germans, totalitarian Germans and Germans who, like Americans, passionately loved freedom was, for
example, a proposition I accepted as dogma. Seeing the Cold War as a struggle between good and evil
answered many questions, consigned others to the periphery, and rendered still others irrelevant.
Back in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War, more than a few members of my generation had rejected
the conception of the Cold War as a Manichean struggle. Here too, I was admittedly a slow learner.
Yet having kept the faith long after others had lost theirs, the doubts that eventually assailed
me were all the more disorienting. Granted, occasional suspicions had appeared long before Jena and
My own Vietnam experience had generated its share, which I had done my best to suppress. I was,
after all, a serving soldier. Except in the narrowest of terms, the military profession, in those
days at least, did not look kindly on nonconformity. Climbing the ladder of career success required
curbing maverick tendencies. To get ahead, you needed to be a team player. Later, when studying the
history of U.S. foreign relations in graduate school, I was pelted with challenges to orthodoxy,
which I vigorously deflected. When it came to education, graduate school proved a complete waste
of time — a period of intense study devoted to the further accumulation of facts, while I exerted
myself to ensuring that they remained inert.
Now, however, my personal circumstances were changing. Shortly after the passing of the Cold War,
my military career ended. Education thereby became not only a possibility, but also a necessity.
In measured doses, mortification cleanses the soul. It's the perfect antidote for excessive self-regard.
After twenty-three years spent inside the U.S. Army seemingly going somewhere, I now found myself
on the outside going nowhere in particular. In the self-contained and cloistered universe of regimental
life, I had briefly risen to the status of minor spear carrier. The instant I took off my uniform,
that status vanished. I soon came to a proper appreciation of my own insignificance, a salutary lesson
that I ought to have absorbed many years earlier. As I set out on what eventually became a crablike
journey toward a new calling as a teacher and writer—a pilgrimage of sorts—ambition in the commonly
accepted meaning of the term ebbed. This did not happen all at once. Yet gradually, trying to grab
one of life's shiny brass rings ceased being a major preoccupation.
Wealth, power, and celebrity became not aspirations but subjects for critical analysis.
History—especially the familiar narrative of the Cold War—no longer offered answers; instead,
it posed perplexing riddles. Easily the most nagging was this one: How could I have so profoundly
misjudged the reality of what lay on the far side of the Iron Curtain? Had I been insufficiently
attentive? Or was it possible that I had been snookered all along? Contemplating such questions,
while simultaneously witnessing the unfolding of the "long 1990s"— the period bookended by two wars
with Iraq when American vainglory reached impressive new heights—prompted the realization that I
had grossly misinterpreted the threat posed by America's adversaries. Yet that was the lesser half
of the problem. Far worse than misperceiving "them" was the fact that I had misperceived "us." What
I thought I knew best I actually understood least. Here, the need for education appeared especially
George W. Bush's decision to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 pushed me fully into opposition.
Claims that once seemed elementary—above all, claims relating to the essentially benign purposes
of American power— now appeared preposterous. The contradictions that found an ostensibly peace-loving
nation committing itself to a doctrine of preventive war became too great to ignore. The folly and
hubris of the policy makers who heedlessly thrust the nation into an ill-defined and open-ended "global
war on terror" without the foggiest notion of what victory would look like, how it would be won,
and what it might cost approached standards hitherto achieved only by slightly mad German warlords.
During the era of containment, the United States had at least maintained the pretense of a principled
strategy; now, the last vestiges of principle gave way to fantasy and opportunism. With that, the
worldview to which I had adhered as a young adult and carried into middle age dissolved completely.
What should stand in the place of such discarded convictions? Simply inverting the conventional
wisdom, substituting a new Manichean paradigm for the old discredited version—the United States taking
the place of the Soviet Union as the source of the world's evil—would not suffice. Yet arriving at
even an approximation of truth would entail subjecting conventional wisdom, both present and past,
to sustained and searching scrutiny. Cautiously at first but with growing confidence, this I vowed
to do. Doing so meant shedding habits of conformity acquired over decades. All of my adult life I
had been a company man, only dimly aware of the extent to which institutional loyalties induce myopia.
Asserting independence required first recognizing the extent to which I had been socialized to accept
certain things as unimpeachable. Here then were the preliminary steps essential to making education
accessible. Over a period of years, a considerable store of debris had piled up. Now, it all had
to go. Belatedly, I learned that more often than not what passes for conventional wisdom is simply
wrong. Adopting fashionable attitudes to demonstrate one's trustworthiness—the world of politics
is flush with such people hoping thereby to qualify for inclusion in some inner circle—is akin to
engaging in prostitution in exchange for promissory notes. It's not only demeaning but downright
foolhardy. This book aims to take stock of conventional wisdom in its most influential and enduring
form, namely the package of assumptions, habits, and precepts that have defined the tradition of
statecraft to which the United States has adhered since the end of World War II— the era of global
dominance now drawing to a close. This postwar tradition combines two components, each one so deeply
embedded in the American collective consciousness as to have all but disappeared from view.
The first component specifies norms according to which the international order ought to work and
charges the United States with responsibility for enforcing those norms. Call this the American credo.
In the simplest terms, the credo summons the United States—and the United States alone—to lead, save,
liberate, and ultimately transform the world. In a celebrated manifesto issued at the dawn of what
he termed "The American Century," Henry R. Luce made the case for this spacious conception of global
leadership. Writing in Life magazine in early 1941, the influential publisher exhorted his fellow
citizens to "accept wholeheartedly our duty to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence
for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit." Luce thereby captured what remains
even today the credo's essence.3 Luce's concept of an American Century, an age of unquestioned American
global primacy, resonated, especially in Washington. His evocative phrase found a permanent place
in the lexicon of national politics. (Recall that the neoconservatives who, in the 1990s, lobbied
for more militant U.S. policies named their enterprise the Project for a New American Century.) So,
too, did Luce's expansive claim of prerogatives to be exercised by the United States.
Even today, whenever public figures allude to America's responsibility to lead, they signal
their fidelity to this creed. Along with respectful allusions to God and "the troops," adherence
to Luce's credo has become a de facto prerequisite for high office. Question its claims and your
prospects of being heard in the hubbub of national politics become nil. Note, however, that the duty
Luce ascribed to Americans has two components. It is not only up to Americans, he wrote, to choose
the purposes for which they would bring their influence to bear, but to choose the means as well.
Here we confront the second component of the postwar tradition of American statecraft. With regard
to means, that tradition has emphasized activism over example, hard power over soft, and coercion
(often styled "negotiating from a position of strength") over suasion. Above all, the exercise of
global leadership as prescribed by the credo obliges the United States to maintain military capabilities
staggeringly in excess of those required for self-defense. Prior to World War II, Americans by and
large viewed military power and institutions with skepticism, if not outright hostility. In the wake
of World War II, that changed. An affinity for military might emerged as central to the American
identity. By the midpoint of the twentieth century, "the Pentagon" had ceased to be merely a gigantic
Like "Wall Street" at the end of the nineteenth century, it had become Leviathan, its actions
veiled in secrecy, its reach extending around the world. Yet while the concentration of power in
Wall Street had once evoked deep fear and suspicion, Americans by and large saw the concentration
of power in the Pentagon as benign. Most found it reassuring. A people who had long seen standing
armies as a threat to liberty now came to believe that the preservation of liberty required them
to lavish resources on the armed forces. During the Cold War, Americans worried ceaselessly about
falling behind the Russians, even though the Pentagon consistently maintained a position of overall
primacy. Once the Soviet threat disappeared, mere primacy no longer sufficed. With barely a whisper
of national debate, unambiguous and perpetual global military supremacy emerged as an essential predicate
to global leadership. Every great military power has its distinctive signature. For Napoleonic France,
it was the levée en masse— the people in arms animated by the ideals of the Revolution. For Great
Britain in the heyday of empire, it was command of the seas, sustained by a dominant fleet and a
network of far-flung outposts from Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope to Singapore and Hong Kong.
Germany from the 1860s to the 1940s (and Israel from 1948 to 1973) took another approach, relying
on a potent blend of tactical flexibility and operational audacity to achieve battlefield superiority.
The abiding signature of American military power since World War II has been of a different order
altogether. The United States has not specialized in any particular type of war. It has not adhered
to a fixed tactical style. No single service or weapon has enjoyed consistent favor. At times, the
armed forces have relied on citizen-soldiers to fill their ranks; at other times, long-service professionals.
Yet an examination of the past sixty years of U.S. military policy and practice does reveal important
elements of continuity. Call them the sacred trinity: an abiding conviction that the minimum essentials
of international peace and order require the United States to maintain a global military presence,
to configure its forces for global power projection, and to counter existing or anticipated threats
by relying on a policy of global interventionism. Together, credo and trinity—the one defining purpose,
the other practice—constitute the essence of the way that Washington has attempted to govern and
police the American Century. The relationship between the two is symbiotic. The trinity lends plausibility
to the credo's vast claims. For its part, the credo justifies the trinity's vast requirements and
Together they provide the basis for an enduring consensus that imparts a consistency to U.S. policy
regardless of which political party may hold the upper hand or who may be occupying the White House.
From the era of Harry Truman to the age of Barack Obama, that consensus has remained intact. It defines
the rules to which Washington adheres; it determines the precepts by which Washington rules. As used
here, Washington is less a geographic expression than a set of interlocking institutions headed by
people who, whether acting officially or unofficially, are able to put a thumb on the helm of state.
Washington, in this sense, includes the upper echelons of the executive, legislative, and judicial
branches of the federal government. It encompasses the principal components of the national security
state— the departments of Defense, State, and, more recently, Homeland Security, along with various
agencies comprising the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities. Its ranks extend to
select think tanks and interest groups. Lawyers, lobbyists, fixers, former officials, and retired
military officers who still enjoy access are members in good standing. Yet Washington also reaches
beyond the Beltway to include big banks and other financial institutions, defense contractors and
major corporations, television networks and elite publications like the New York Times, even quasi-academic
entities like the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
With rare exceptions, acceptance of the Washington rules forms a prerequisite for entry into this
world. My purpose in writing this book is fivefold: first, to trace the origins and evolution of
the Washington rules—both the credo that inspires consensus and the trinity in which it finds expression;
second, to subject the resulting consensus to critical inspection, showing who wins and who loses
and also who foots the bill; third, to explain how the Washington rules are perpetuated, with certain
views privileged while others are declared disreputable; fourth, to demonstrate that the rules themselves
have lost whatever utility they may once have possessed, with their implications increasingly pernicious
and their costs increasingly unaffordable; and finally, to argue for readmitting disreputable (or
"radical") views to our national security debate, in effect legitimating alternatives to the status
quo. In effect, my aim is to invite readers to share in the process of education on which I embarked
two decades ago in Berlin. The Washington rules were forged at a moment when American influence and
power were approaching their acme. That moment has now passed. The United States has drawn down the
stores of authority and goodwill it had acquired by 1945. Words uttered in Washington command less
respect than once was the case. Americans can ill afford to indulge any longer in dreams of saving
the world, much less remaking it in our own image. The curtain is now falling on the American Century.
Similarly, the United States no longer possesses sufficient wherewithal to sustain a national security
strategy that relies on global military presence and global power projection to underwrite a policy
of global interventionism. Touted as essential to peace, adherence to that strategy has propelled
the United States into a condition approximating perpetual war, as the military misadventures of
the past decade have demonstrated.
To anyone with eyes to see, the shortcomings inherent in the Washington rules have become plainly
evident. Although those most deeply invested in perpetuating its conventions will insist otherwise,
the tradition to which Washington remains devoted has begun to unravel. Attempting to prolong
its existence might serve Washington's interests, but it will not serve the interests of the American
Devising an alternative to the reigning national security paradigm will pose a daunting challenge—especially
if Americans look to "Washington" for fresh thinking. Yet doing so has become essential. In one sense,
the national security policies to which Washington so insistently adheres express what has long been
the preferred American approach to engaging the world beyond our borders. That approach plays to
America's presumed strong suit—since World War II, and especially since the end of the Cold War,
thought to be military power. In another sense, this reliance on military might creates excuses for
the United States to avoid serious engagement: Confidence in American arms has made it unnecessary
to attend to what others might think or to consider how their aspirations might differ from our own.
In this way, the Washington rules reinforce American provincialism—a national trait for which
the United States continues to pay dearly. The persistence of these rules has also provided
an excuse to avoid serious self-engagement. From this perspective, confidence that the credo and
the trinity will oblige others to accommodate themselves to America's needs or desires — whether
for cheap oil, cheap credit, or cheap consumer goods—has allowed Washington to postpone or ignore
problems demanding attention here at home.
Fixing Iraq or Afghanistan ends up taking precedence over fixing Cleveland and Detroit. Purporting
to support the troops in their crusade to free the world obviates any obligation to assess the implications
of how Americans themselves choose to exercise freedom. When Americans demonstrate a willingness
to engage seriously with others, combined with the courage to engage seriously with themselves, then
real education just might begin.