I scanned the papers and news aggregators this morning and didn't find anything that inspired a post. I then took a trip over to The American Conservative magazine and found On the Offense. Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, explains how the current foreign policy fiasco came to be and who is responsible.
Step by bloody step the Iraq War moves toward its denouement. Having set this tragedy in motion, the United States today finds itself consigned to the role of bystander, the world’s only superpower having long since lost control of events. As things unravel, the president—the most powerful man in the world—is demonstrably powerless to affect the outcome. Meanwhile, American soldiers fight on, even as it becomes increasingly apparent that the Army only recently thought all but invincible will not win this war.Yes, Iraq is out of control, ten more US soldiers died there yesterday, and all the administration can do is "stay the course".
For the Bush White House, September 2006 will be remembered as the month when the roof caved in. Bad news came in successive waves: the Marine intelligence report declaring Iraq’s critical Anbar Province all but lost; the failure of an all-out effort to win “the Battle of Baghdad”; the warnings from senior military officers that the Army, its readiness in free-fall, is nearing the end of its rope; opinion polls showing that a large majority of Iraqis simply want the Americans out of their country; above all, the leak of the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) declaring, “the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terror leaders and operatives.” In response to all of this, the administration has had little to offer other than to repeat President Bush’s conviction that “the only way to protect this country is to stay on the offense.”
Although not especially adept at using the English language, the president manages in this short sentence to capture the fundamental error of judgment that has mired his administration in a crisis from which it cannot extricate itself.
How we got here
To go on the offensive and to stay there: ever since the end of the Cold War, this vision has animated advocates of U.S. global hegemony. The collapse of communism, they believed, had left the United States in a uniquely advantageous position. The imperative of the moment was to press that advantage, to exploit America’s unquestioned military superiority, creating a new world order that would perpetuate American global supremacy and ensure the universal embrace of American values.
To proponents of this view—whether those inside government like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz or well-connected outsiders like Richard Perle or William Kristol—9/11 came as a godsend of sorts. With shock, fear, and anger came breathtaking new possibilities. Old constraints fell away. All that was needed was a suitable launching pad.
This is where Iraq came in. Pathetically weak, vulnerable, and suffering under the boot of a sclerotic dictatorship, Iraq seemingly offered the ideal point of departure for inaugurating this new strategic offensive.
No one seriously expected Iraq to become the central front in the so-called global war on terror. The incursion was supposed to be quick and decisive. No one at senior levels of the Bush administration imagined that it might prove to be protracted and debilitating—nor did any of the neoconservatives or neoliberals who proclaimed the wisdom of President Bush’s new doctrine of preventive war and were eager to have a go at Saddam Hussein.
Just a stepping stone
The hawks did not view Baghdad as a destination. They saw it as a way station. U.S. forces would arrive, depose the dictator, and then quickly move on to tasks of even greater urgency: bringing Iran and Syria to heel, engineering the transformation of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, then turning perhaps to the Horn of Africa, to Pakistan, and to Central Asia. Ultimately the United States would pacify the entire Islamic world, while not so incidentally putting other would-be adversaries like China on notice. Along the way, it would establish important new precedents and carve out for the United States prerogatives permitted no other nation. This project would also educate the American people as to the nation’s proper responsibilities and cement the authority of those who directed national-security policy.
The members of this national-security elite fancied themselves architects of history. Just as the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the creation of NATO in the late 1940s had set an azimuth that the United States followed for decades thereafter, so too regime change in Baghdad promised in a single stroke to reorient—even revolutionize—U.S. policy.
"The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men gang aft agley"
Alas, the doctrine of taking the offensive ran aground almost immediately, lost its momentum, and has never recovered. The Bush administration and its supporters have spent the past three and half years trying to deny this fact or searching for ways to work around it.
In an earlier post at The American Conservative Bacevich explains the ideology that got us where we are.
The insiders who dominate U.S. foreign policy have a vested interest in sustaining the twaddle about an American Century. After all, it cements their hold on power. The American Century emphasizes secrecy and deference to those who are presumably “in the know.” It shields members of this self-perpetuating elite from accountability. It provides a handy cloak for megalomania and a ready excuse for error. It keeps debate over foreign policy and its implications narrow and insipid—as the Democratic critique of the Iraq War has demonstrated. It excludes the great unwashed.
American exceptionalism is a delusion. The beginning of wisdom in foreign policy lies in seeing ourselves as we really are and in acknowledging our responsibility for the mess in which we find ourselves, in Iraq and elsewhere. When it comes to extricating ourselves from that mess, the first order of business is to clean up our own act. Principled liberals and authentic conservatives will disagree on how best to do so, but that surely is a debate worth having.