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Fostering Greater Middle East Stability

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Andrew Bacevich. Photo credit: Dale Robbins

In the decades following the promulgation of the Carter Doctrine in 1980, the Pentagon came to see the Islamic world as its principle “target” — the region demanding the greatest attention and the focus of U.S. military activities. Prior to 1980, few U.S. troops were deployed to what Washington now calls the Greater Middle East and virtually no American soldiers died there. Since 1990, the presence of thousands of U.S. troops in the region has become commonplace and virtually no Americans soldiers have been killed anywhere except in the Greater Middle East.

What I’d like to hear from President Obama — but what we will not hear — is an evaluation of that still-ongoing, but now decade-long episode in U.S. military history. In the broadest sense, the purpose of the enterprise has been to enhance the stability of the Greater Middle East along with our standing in the eyes of Muslim peoples. In his State of the Union Address, the president should reflect on these questions: As a result of U.S. military efforts over the past three decades, has the Greater Middle East become more stable or less? Have our exertions there improved our reputation in the eyes of Egyptians, Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis and others? Or have we actually fueled anti-Americanism?

The answers to those questions render a judgment on the policies of the last several administrations. If those answers are positive, then there is reason for Washington to continue down the path that it is on, with its emphasis on using military muscle as the chief instrument of U.S. policy. If the answers are negative — as I believe they are — the president should use his speech to outline an alternative path, one that will be more effective and less costly in terms of lives and treasure.

Andrew Bacevich last visited Moyers & Company to talk about the changing military mindset in March of this year. Watch video »

Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he received his Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University, he taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins University.

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  • Strawman411

    The corporate Security State, of which Mr. Obama is only the latest figurehead, and which ensures its profits gained from continuous war by funding the careers of mainstream (Democratic AND Republican) lap dogs in government — and truncating the careers of those who “won’t play along” — has not the slightest interest in “Greater Middle East Stability.” Rather a fear of it, I’d say.

    So, as the professor notes, we will not hear honest evaluations during that Kabuki-style applause fest known as the State of the Union Address.

    That the wise counsel of Professor Bacevich remains a voice from the wilderness is an alarming harbinger of this once great country’s demise.

  • Chapped

    I think Eisenhauer would agree with you. He coined the term “Military Industrial Complex” in his cautionary warning as he left office.

  • Orwellness

    Foreign policy does not appear to be decided by Congress or by the President. Foreign policy seems to be set by the Pentagon and what President Eisenhower called the “Military Industrial Complex.” The three branches of the federal government all seem to be working for military and corporate interests at the expense of the majority of Americans and at the great expense of the world in general. This is nothing like what American democracy was ever supposed to be.

  • Steve

    Our biggest mistake is trying to insert instant Democracy into societies that for their lifetimes have been run on tribal and village forms of so-called government. The Middle East in so many ways is purposefully and intentionally behind the times of the modern world. That is the way they want it and that is the way they like it for better or worse. Who are we to just say they are wrong and we are right and they need to modernize and get up to speed? If these countries and societies are to change and move forward it has to be given much forethought and necessary changes must be introduced slowly and sensibly. You don’t start building massive freeways in places where people are still riding donkeys and camels. Also the level of illiteracy must be greatly lowered and the level of education raised and modernized along with allowing women to openly particiapate in society. And this is just for starters. And these are just a few reasons why the U.S. has totally wasted a huge amount of money which could have been much more effectively used at home. Let’s forget our giant political ego and get back to wotk on our problems instead of sticking our noses under everyone else’s tent.



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  • Andre Chimene

    Correction…you do build massive freeways in places where people are still riding donkeys and camels. I am in India and the whole landscape is changing at a rapid speed. The country is 3/4 still in villages and 50% illiterate, yet they are moving to balance their weaknesses and emerge as a world power and leader. Build it first and they will see where they can go.

  • Steve

    I applaud them taking action, my point is rather that they had better include some pre-planning in their road building so as to not just be spending money on roads to nowhere and are initially connecting the places that will have the greatest benefit for all. In India, based on my understanding, infrastructure other than roads is equally if not almost more important , such as water and sewer utilities to provide very basic needs to those in the villages. Then education would be a top priority. Appreciate your comments.