As President Obama threatens to smack the militaristic Syrian regime with a missile barrage, a prominent military historian says this is just the latest proof that America’s military might is flailing about in the Middle East.
Addressing the current crisis over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University history professor and retired Army colonel, said on PBS television last night: “if I could have five minutes of the president's time, I'd say, ‘Mr. President, the issue really is not Syria…'" The real issue, Bacevich said, is that a decades-long campaign "to use military power to somehow stabilize or fix or liberate or transform the greater Middle East hasn't worked.”
“And if you ... just sort of tick off the number of military enterprises that we have been engaged in that part of the world, large and small, you know, Beirut, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and on and on, and ask yourself, 'What have we got done? What have we achieved? Is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more Democratic? Are we enhancing America's standing in the eyes of the people of the Islamic world?'
"The answers are, 'No, no, and no.' So why, Mr. President, do you think that initiating yet another war, 'cause if we bomb Syria, it's a war, why do you think that initiating yet another war in this protracted enterprise is going to produce a different outcome? Wouldn't it be perhaps wise to ask ourselves if this militarized approach to the region maybe is a fool’s errand.”
The stark reality, Bacevich argued in an extensive discussion on the Moyers & Company program, is that America’s mighty military machinery is stuck in the shifting sands of massive upheaval sweeping the region. Since the 1980s, American leaders "have claimed that we possess the capacity to somehow direct or control these processes of change. Even though the truth is, we don't have that capacity," he said. "The truth is, we are largely irrelevant to what's going on in that part of the world. But if we reach out and, you know, use our military powers to drop some missiles here and there, we can sustain the illusion that we have some kind of relevance.”
If the United States wants to help the Syrian people caught up in a brutal civil war, Bacevich continued, “why is peppering Damascus with cruise missiles the best way to demonstrate that concern?”
“I mean, a little bit of creative statesmanship it seems to me might say that there are other things we could do that would actually benefit the people of Syria, who are suffering greatly, who are fleeing their country in the hundreds of thousands. Who are living in wretched refugee camps. Why don't we do something about that? Why wouldn't that be a better thing to do from a moral perspective than bombing Damascus?”
Bacevich is the author of several books—including Limits of Power—critical of what he sees as American militarism run amok.He is particularly critical of the war in Iraq, in which his son died on a military mission. “Now some number of Americans paid for that disaster in terms of soldiers killed, lives shattered,” Bacevich said. “Far, far greater numbers of Iraqis paid for that disaster and are still paying for that disaster. So the conversation about Syria is far too narrow. It needs to be expanded to include some of these other military misadventures that we have undertaken.”
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