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.
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.