Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Perpetuate Our Middle East Policy Train Wreck

Yves here. As much as I consider myself to be reasonably jaded, I was nevertheless gobsmacked to read Andrew Bacevich’s list of “Washington assumptions” that underlie US policy-making in the Middle East. They aren’t just detached from reality, they are so wildly at odds with reality as to look deranged. I’d really like to believe that Bacevich is simply describing the all-too-common syndrome of coming to believe your own PR. But as he tells it, these “Washington assumptions” aren’t simply the undergirding talking points for key domestic and foreign constituencies; they really are policy drivers.

This thinking underlying these “Washington assumptions” is not just arrogant but has a rigidity that is almost religious in nature. The neocon vision, that the US has the right to remake the world, combined with how confidence in US virtue and exceptionalism seems to be rising even as our policy initiatives looks more and more mendacious and destructive even to our close allies (well, save the UK).

You can see another set of Washington assumptions at work in the TransPacific Partnership negotiations: that no prospective treaty member will ever question the benefits of free trade (as in they’ll never look at the fine print of what the deal is really about), that they will also want to ally themselves with the US as the better hegemon than China (if nothing else, the US is willing to act as the consumer of the last resort, a role China is not keen to assume, since that is tantamount to exporting jobs).

So this post also serves to demonstrate why Kissinger in his recent public pronouncements looks vastly more responsible than the crew in charge of our foreign affairs. As much as the deservedly-derided doctor was far too willing to team up with unsavory types to achieve what he considered to be American ends, his notion of “realpolitik” explicitly took morality out of the picture. Watching the US manage to devise even worse policies out of a warped, ideologically-driven notion of virtue is both perverse and chilling, like watching someone with a mental illness play out their delusions. And although mad leaders are sadly common in history, it’s another matter completely to see a technocratic class taking that role.

By Andrew J. Bacevich, currently Columbia University’s George McGovern Fellow, is writing a military history of America’s war for the Greater Middle East. A TomDispatch regular, his most recent book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

“Iraq no longer exists.” My young friend M, sipping a cappuccino, is deadly serious. We are sitting in a scruffy restaurant across the street from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  It’s been years since we’ve last seen each another. It may be years before our paths cross again. As if to drive his point home, M repeats himself: “Iraq just doesn’t exist.”

His is an opinion grounded in experience.  As an enlisted soldier, he completed two Iraq tours, serving as a member of a rifle company, before and during the famous Petraeus “surge.”  After separating from the Army, he went on to graduate school where he is now writing a dissertation on insurgencies.  Choosing the American war in Iraq as one of his cases, M has returned there to continue his research.  Indeed, he was heading back again that very evening.  As a researcher, his perch provides him with an excellent vantage point for taking stock of the ongoing crisis, now that the Islamic State, or IS, has made it impossible for Americans to sustain the pretense that the Iraq War ever ended.

Few in Washington would endorse M’s assertion, of course.  Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq’s existence for granted.  Many can even locate it on a map.  They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence.  To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Considered from this perspective, the “Iraqi government” actually governs, the “Iraqi army” is a nationally representative fighting force, and the “Iraqi people” genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.

Arguably, each of these propositions once contained a modicum of truth.  But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted, broke the place, any merit they previously possessed quickly dissipated.  Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted.  Yet even today, in Washington the conviction persists that trying harder might somehow turn things around.  Certainly, that conviction informs the renewed U.S. military intervention prompted by the rise of IS.

So when David Ignatius, a well-informed and normally sober columnist for the Washington Post, reflects on what the United States must do to get Iraq War 3.0 right, he offers this “mental checklist”: in Baghdad, the U.S. should foster a “cleaner, less sectarian government”; to ensure security, we will have to “rebuild the military”; and to end internal factionalism, we’re going to have to find ways to “win Kurdish support” and “rebuild trust with Sunnis.”  Ignatius does not pretend that any of this will be easy.  He merely argues that it must be — and by implication can be — done.  Unlike my friend M, Ignatius clings to the fantasy that “Iraq” is or ought to be politically viable, militarily capable, and socially cohesive.  But surely this qualifies as wishful thinking.

The value of M’s insight — of, that is, otherwise intelligent people purporting to believe in things that don’t exist — can be applied well beyond American assumptions about Iraq.  A similar inclination to fanaticize permeates, and thereby warps, U.S. policies throughout much of the Greater Middle East.  Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.

* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

* The interests of the United States and Israel align.

* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.  To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

Let’s examine all five, one at a time.

The Presence of U.S. Forces: Ever since the U.S. intervention in Lebanon that culminated in the Beirut bombing of October 1983, introducing American troops into predominantly Muslim countries has seldom contributed to stability.  On more than a few occasions, doing so has produced just the opposite effect. 

Iraq and Afghanistan provide mournful examples. The new book “Why We Lost” by retired Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger finally makes it permissible in official circles to declare those wars the failures that they have been.  Even granting, for the sake of argument, that U.S. nation-building efforts were as pure and honorable as successive presidents portrayed them, the results have been more corrosive than constructive.  The IS militants plaguing Iraq find their counterpart in the soaring production of opium that plagues Afghanistan. This qualifies as stability?

And these are hardly the only examples.  Stationing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after Operation Desert Storm was supposed to have a reassuring effect.  Instead, it produced the debacle of the devastating Khobar Towers bombing.  Sending G.I.’s into Somalia back in 1992 was supposed to demonstrate American humanitarian concern for poor, starving Muslims.  Instead, it culminated in the embarrassing Mogadishu firefight, which gained the sobriquet Black Hawk Down, and doomed that mission.

Even so, the pretense that positioning American soldiers in some Middle East hotspot will bring calm to troubled waters survives.  It’s far more accurate to say that doing so provides our adversaries with what soldiers call a target-rich environment — with Americans as the targets.

The Importance of the Persian Gulf: Although U.S. interests in the Gulf may once have qualified as vital, the changing global energy picture has rendered that view obsolete.  What’s probably bad news for the environment is good news in terms of creating strategic options for the United States.  New technologies have once again made the United States the world’s largest producer of oil.  The U.S. is also the world’s largest producer of natural gas.  It turns out that the lunatics chanting “drill, baby, drill” were right after all.  Or perhaps it’s “frack, baby, frack.”  Regardless, the assumed energy dependence and “vital interests” that inspired Jimmy Carter to declare back in 1980 that the Gulf is worth fighting for no longer pertain.

Access to Gulf oil remains critically important to some countries, but surely not to the United States.  When it comes to propping up the wasteful and profligate American way of life, Texas and North Dakota outrank Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in terms of importance.  Rather than worrying about Iraqi oil production, Washington would be better served ensuring the safety and well-being of Canada, with its bountiful supplies of shale oil.  And if militarists ever find the itch to increase U.S. oil reserves becoming irresistible, they would be better advised to invade Venezuela than to pick a fight with Iran.

Does the Persian Gulf require policing from the outside? Maybe. But if so, let’s volunteer China for the job. It will keep them out of mischief.

Arab Allies: It’s time to reclassify the U.S. relationship with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Categorizing these two important Arab states as “allies” is surely misleading. Neither one shares the values to which Washington professes to attach such great importance.

For decades, Saudi Arabia, Planet Earth’s closest equivalent to an absolute monarchy, has promoted anti-Western radical jihadism — and not without effect.  The relevant numbers here are two that most New Yorkers will remember: 15 out of 19.  If a conspiracy consisting almost entirely of Russians had succeeded in killing several thousand Americans, would U.S. authorities give the Kremlin a pass? Would U.S.-Russian relations remain unaffected?  The questions answer themselves.

Meanwhile, after a brief dalliance with democracy, Egypt has once again become what it was before: a corrupt, oppressive military dictatorship unworthy of the billions of dollars of military assistance that Washington provides from one year to the next.

Israel: The United States and Israel share more than a few interests in common.  A commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem does not number among them.  On that issue, Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s purposes diverge widely.  In all likelihood, they are irreconcilable.

For the government of Israel, viewing security concerns as paramount, an acceptable Palestinian state will be the equivalent of an Arab Bantustan, basically defenseless, enjoying limited sovereignty, and possessing limited minimum economical potential. Continuing Israeli encroachments on the occupied territories, undertaken in the teeth of American objections, make this self-evident.

It is, of course, entirely the prerogative — and indeed the obligation — of the Israeli government to advance the well being of its citizens.  U.S. officials have a similar obligation: they are called upon to act on behalf of Americans. And that means refusing to serve as Israel’s enablers when that country takes actions that are contrary to U.S. interests.

The “peace process” is a fiction. Why should the United States persist in pretending otherwise? It’s demeaning.

Terrorism: Like crime and communicable diseases, terrorism will always be with us.  In the face of an outbreak of it, prompt, effective action to reduce the danger permits normal life to continue. Wisdom lies in striking a balance between the actually existing threat and exertions undertaken to deal with that threat. Grown-ups understand this. They don’t expect a crime rate of zero in American cities. They don’t expect all people to enjoy perfect health all of the time.  The standard they seek is “tolerable.”

That terrorism threatens Americans is no doubt the case, especially when they venture into the Greater Middle East. But aspirations to eliminate terrorism belong in the same category as campaigns to end illiteracy or homelessness: it’s okay to aim high, but don’t be surprised when the results achieved fall short.

Eliminating terrorism is a chimera. It’s not going to happen. U.S. civilian and military leaders should summon the honesty to acknowledge this.

My friend M has put his finger on a problem that is much larger than he grasps. Here’s hoping that when he gets his degree he lands an academic job.  It’s certain he’ll never find employment in our nation’s capital.  As a soldier-turned-scholar, M inhabits what one of George W. Bush’s closest associates (believed to be Karl Rove) once derisively referred to as the “reality-based community.” People in Washington don’t have time for reality. They’re lost in a world of their own.

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  1. semiconscious

    ‘They aren’t just detached from reality, they are so wildly at odds with reality as to look deranged…’

    therein lies the problem: they don’t just ‘look’ deranged. they are deranged. they are ill. & we are all left helplessly witnessing the ever-more-tragic, ever-more-destructive results of their madness…

    my greatest fear: that, as they slowly but surely become aware of the just how insane they’ve become, & how warped & deluded is their vision, they, in their anger & despair, will become capable of doing literally anything you might imagine…

    our ‘leaders’, having dragged us all inside with them, have become lost in a funhouse of their own design…

    1. damian

      Being – “deranged” – may merely be context of the logic: see – Responsibility to Protect

      Ambassador Power rose to prominence in government circles as part of her campaign to promote a doctrine known as the Responsibility to Protect. This doctrine, advanced by the United Nations, is predicated on the proposition that sovereignty is a privilege, not a right, and that if any regime in any nation violates the prevailing precepts of acceptable governance, then the international community is morally obligated to “revoke” that nation’s sovereignty and assume command and control of the offending country.

      The three pillars of the United Nations-backed Responsibility to Protect are:

      • A state has a responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities.

      • The international community has a responsibility to assist the state if it is unable to protect its population on its own.

      • If the state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions.

      Should all others measures fail, then military intervention is required. Command and control of that force should be centered in the UN, according to Power and her colleagues.

      all the subjective interpretations of “atrocities” and bad country management and how you undermine that countries management – covertly – is served up by those like Obama and Powers – as the Kindergarten (Carol Quigley’s word) – who carry out their orders for those who make the decisions for endless war?

      1. Left in Wisconsin

        Did either the campaign or the project ever define: “the international community”? Seems like how you define it might make a difference.

        1. damian

          The USA is the “community” in this project just like NATO – everyone else is a poodle. The Word is merely disguising the decision makers

          Empire means community

          1. Bill H

            “Empire means community.” Are you kidding me? Empire is the precise opposite of community. Anything outside the empire is an enemy of the empire.

      2. Demeter

        What a convenient rationalization for doing anything one wants to one’s neighbors, one’s competition, or real enemies.

        Sovereignty is not a privilege! It’s a battle against thugs like US.

  2. David Lentini

    As usual, Bacevitch makes important points.

    But here, I think these “assumptions” are, at least at the highest levels, more “justifications” than real deomonstrations of thinking. And I disagree somewhat with Bacevitch’s point about fracking and US oil and gas production.

    First, the fracking. I think the better evidence—much of it developed here—is that our fracking effort will, like all binges, soon end with a huge hangover. I figure that the smart money understands that our fracking policies are for short-term political jockeying (mostly against Russia) that also is hugely profitable for our own oligarchs. But this will only work for a few years, after which we’ll be back to the Middle East and Russia. The game is whether that will be a better deal for us our oligarchs.

    So, the Middle East may wane in importance, but will eventuall return.

    As for the other arguments, I think these all can be better viewed as talking points by the élites in favor of justifying the actions they want to take for motives that we really don’t get to see.

    Thinking about Israel and our Arab Allies, I would argue that many in the establishment want a “Greater Israel” that dominates the region for both religious and political and economic ends. Stragely enough, the goal seems to be also tying Israel to the Saudis and other Gulf states with the idea of turning the ME into a relable petroleum production center dominated by the US. And we have to consider the stability of the Gulf stattes from the perspecitive of Wall Street and the recycling of petordollars. These odd bedfellows would be united by their need to keep the lid on the local Arab populations who are increasingly threatening to their governments.

    Seen from that perspective, the placement of US troops is used to keep the hand of hte US in the game, and to provide overwhemling violence when needed. That violence may be needed for genuine threats, or threats that are largely synthesized to stir the pot and create opportunities for exploitation. They are also needed to help guarantee the “Greater Israel” strategy. Of course. all of this breeds terrorism, but that’s viewed as a beneficial side effect useful to justify our troop deployments and domestic control.

    So, while it’s very true that each of the points Bacevitch makes (excepting possibly the fracking argument) are true, I think we need to get behind the smoke screen to the real strategy. How could anyone think that these deeper goals and plans could possbily work? In short, the people running these games are not as crazy and stupid as the seem from Bacevitch’s article—they’re worse!

    1. proximity1

      While you were writing your comment I was at work on mine–to follow– and, the numerous points of congruence in them are evident.

    2. Banger

      Good comment–I would just add that there are no “genuine” threats. While groups like ISIS are “dangerous” their success is mainly due to the CIA and its allies in Turkey, Saudi and elsewhere. Not to say they aren’t a powerful force or that they are under the control of the CIA–I think, as someone I know who claims to have experience in the region (I’m really not sure) said–they got out of control. But, for the most part, most “terrorists” in the region have been compromised and/or aided by intel operatives. There was a claim that Al-qaida was never infiltrated but no group in the region can exist without protection from some government powers. For example, had Bin Laden indeed been opposed to Saudi interests the Saudis would have killed his relatives one by one had he not stopped his actions–families and clans are tight in that region.

      1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

        1. Fracking is a financial Ponzi, NOT an energy independence reality. See Wolf Richter.
        2. We have absolutely ZERO debate about the causes of terrorism. Maybe just maybe people don’t want to be told how to run their countries by the US and be invaded or drone bombed if they resist.
        3. The actual threat of death by terrorism in the US is far lower than the threat of dying by falling television set. Yet (so far) no one has proposed a multi-billion dollar Department of Audio-Visual Safety, complete with spies and prison time if you don’t secure your device properly.
        4. There is a new Peace and Prosperity dividend we could earn if we just declared the peace and brought the troops home to build roads and bridges and hospitals here. You could keep the MIC tax dollars flowing just as they are if you wanted. Instead we get the complete corporate and cultural death cult (Clint’s latest movie comes to mind). Only by travelling outside the US do you really understand just how pervasive and terrifying the American Death Cult has become.

        1. John Zelnicker

          “if we just declared the peace and brought the troops home to build roads and bridges and hospitals here”

          At one time the Army Corps of Engineers was a great organization. It could be again.

    3. Nathanael

      The “Greater Israel” strategy is completely, utterly lunatic. Any attempt would end fairly promptly with the obliteration of Israel by the major regional powers. Turkey alone could wipe out Israel, so could Pakistan, and obviously so could Russia.

  3. proximity1

    I know that A.B.’s analyses here are what we could describe as being on “our side” of the various policy divides; he says things that, at bottom, need to be said and are of course contrary to these Washington bedrock assumptions–what could be called, by extension, a sort of Washington foreign policy consensus. If your post wins new adherents to the view that these five assumptions have spelt and shall continue to spell disaster beyond a certain closed circle of comfortable elite (CCCE), then of course I’m in favor of it.

    But, having said that, I should say that reading it gave me pause at several points. I agree that we should examine all five points but, as I do that, I hear the above-mentioned CCCE saying at each point, “Fine. Call it crazy but it works for us.”

    I take it for granted that you and Bacevich and probably nearly everyone frequenting this site of course understand that already and that the point here is to inform others of the gap between those who operate by these assumptions and those who don’t. But, in examining A.B.’s points, we should also ask “Why would otherwise intelligent people in power and decision-making positions ever think that this (or any such) status quo is good for them even if it’s a catastrophe for so many others?

    My moments of pause happened
    here: “The neocon vision, that the US has the right to remake the world, combined with how confidence in US virtue and exceptionalism seems to be rising even as our policy initiatives looks more and more mendacious and destructive even to our close allies (well, save the UK). (emphasis added)

    No exception needed for the U.K.–just a little nuance: the U.K. has been been for such a very long time steeped in the same neo-liberal economic nonsense that has framed U.S. policy that it’s both difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins and that, if the U.S. magically disappeared tomorrow, the U.K.’s own corrupted policy elite would probably continue holding on to their warped visions. But the U.K. is not an exception to the rule that these assumptions wreak havoc everywhere.
    and as related below:

    RE: 1) …”the pretense that positioning American soldiers in some Middle East hotspot will bring calm to troubled waters survives.”

    Starting, as _they_ do, from the premise that the U.S. (+ a “core” of NATO and the Five-Eyes) constitute a de facto imperial power, some such covering pretense has to be maintained unless there’s going to be a simple and frank admission of the fact that all that we are witness to are, indeed, not the consequences of the pursuit of respectable principles of justice but, rather, the usual imperatives that typically obtain wherever and whenever imperial power is prevalent.

    2) “The Importance of the Persian Gulf” — Fracking shale-oil reserves notwhwithstanding, there remain in the middle east vast reserves of readily exploitable petroleum and ready markets for its sale and use. Some years and significant fortunes remain before these are exhausted. As long as that’s true, the Persian Gulf is important even if its relative importance diminishes from a strictly political viewpoint. BTW, fracking oil shale is only a different sort of geopolitical disaster-in-the-making, not a sane substitute for what has been its leading competitor as sources of petroleum go.

    3 & 4) Arab Allies and Israel — No particular need to separate these; for practical purposes, they’re the same geo-strategically. If a loose collection of interests around the world, including banking and finance capital, together with petro-chemical and other key industrial interests, as well as major the political elite in Arab states, in Israel, the U.S. and in their putative allies can all find and maintain ways and means to a vastly lucrative political-commercial cooperation–yes, a costs which are, as A.B. rightly points out in his article, nothing short of staggering [ “The money (Note: i.e. _costs_ being incurred) should stagger you.”– then, for these aligned interests, all the death and destruction variously suffered and borne by others constitute just so many economic externalities and business expenses to be entered in the profit-and-loss ledgers.

    which leads neatly to item 5) Terrorism.

    Terrorism is the term which is conveniently used to encompass all the various blow-back from a world order which is morally vicious, corrupt and vile by design. If the money and resources expended in maintaining that vile world order were applied to redress the just grievances of millions of people around the world, those very people on whom fall most of the costs, burdens and pains of that order’s perpetuation, then those now reaping the undue rewards would suffer in something which resembles the extent to which the poor and unfairly suffering would be relieved of their suffering–if the rewards were fairly redistributed, that is.

    That I also take as generally understood by the readership here. But this sort of fairer restructuring of the costs and the benefits is precisely what the “mad leaders” and a more or less servile technocratic class which aids and abets their work have so effectively arranged to prevent from coming about. And they and their predecessors succeeded fairly magnificently at this through mutations and changes in vocabulary and self-serving moral-justifications since at least the mid-to-late 19th century.

    1. Banger

      Terrorism is far more than “blow-back.” It is an Orwellian enemy that replaced Communism as a raison d’etre for the National Security State. It would barely exist if it wasn’t directly or indirectly tolerated or supported by a variety of intel agencies and organized crime. As I said below–look closely into the formation of IS and its sudden explosion on the world stage.

      1. proximity1

        “Terrorism is … an Orwellian enemy that replaced Communism as a raison d’etre for the National Security State.”

        Fine. But try re-reading my comment and notice, please, that what _I’d_ written (*) is not in any way false or inconsistent with your apparent objection that ‘Terrorism is far more than “blow-back.” ‘ . The two are not incompatible. I agree that the usage of “terrorism” and “terrorist” serve many in similar or the same ways that “communism” and “communist” once did and still do for some–often the same–people.

        Here, again, is what I wrote, (which prompted your comment) :

        “Terrorism is the term which is conveniently used to encompass all the various blow-back from a world order” …

        [emphasis added]

        1. Banger

          Why do you assume I’m “attacking” you? Lighten up–just trying to make a point–other than that your comment was good and well-reasoned as they usually are.

  4. proximity1

    Note: I edited my post (just above) and I hit the “save” button at what I guess was the very last moment — the result came out renamed “undefined” but that’s still moi, there, as “undefined.”

  5. Working Class Nero

    Andrew Bacevich, who lost his only son in Iraq, surely knows very well what the true US policy goals are in the Middle East – he knows much more than he is letting on with this article. US foreign policy is working perfectly well in the Middle East (ME) – exactly as desired—the problem is in understanding the true goals. Instead of stating the obvious truth, Bacevich buys into establishment framing by giving this vague impression the US is involved in the ME to be somewhat helpful to the Islamic nations there. Since when in the history of imperialism did the leading great power of the day run around benevolently trying to be the global “handyman” fixing and improving every nation where they intervened? At a certain distance it is easy to read the Machiavellian reasons for previous global interventions. For example the Scramble for Africa was publicly justified as an attempt to wipe out the scourge of Arab Slave trading. Now sure there was indeed a horrific Arab trade in African slaves going on but only the most timid of thinkers would actually buy into this do-gooder sales pitch as anything but a cover story. But why are even critics of US foreign policy so afraid to look into the true goals of US foreign policy?

    The true goal of US foreign policy in the Middle East is to make that volatile region safe for Israel. And that does not mean bringing peace and stability to the region – quite the opposite. For example in Iraq, even taking into account the obvious attempts to prolong the Iran-Iraq war in the 80’s, a relatively stable and prosperous Iraq was able to launch Scud missiles at Israel in 1991. Never again is the goal of US foreign policy.

    So true success in Iraq is keeping them divided and weak enough so as to never again be able to attack Israel. Policy towards Iran is obviously along a similar track. Although Syria behaved fairly well, the war there will keep then divided and fighting so as to not be tempted to attack Israel in the future and more importantly, to eventually stop supporting Hezbollah.

    And so to go through his list:

    US forces in the Middle East – are required to act as a destabilizing force to make sure that never again an Islamic state will acquire both the wherewithal and will to attack Israel.

    Arab Allies – Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt are allies of Israel, which means they lack the will to attack Israel, and therefore receive favourable treatment Should there ever be a revolution that brought anti-Israeli forces to power then these countries would be ripe for invasion by US forces because they do indeed have the means to attack Israel.

    Persian Gulf – Since “fighting for Israel” is not a winning public relations campaign, other more benign reasons must be given. Just like in Africa the powers couldn’t give the real reasons for their interventions, US elites don’t want to be too forward about what is really driving policy in the Middle East lest people start posing awkward questions. So much better to discuss the price of gas, etc.

    Terrorism – See Persian Gulf. Again, the political elite need sales pitches in order to hide their true intentions.

    Israeli and US interests are not always aligned — And rather meekly, fourth on his list, Bacevich ever so gently gets to the heart of the matter.

    Historians a hundred years from now will be examining the reasons even critics of US policy were afraid to openly speak the truth about the true goals of US foreign policy.

    1. Banger

      Good points. However, I don’t know if you’re right about Bacevich. Having a pretty good understanding of the milieu he comes out of I am guessing that he really believes what he is saying–he may know more and have other ideas circling in his head but you underestimate denial and its power.

      I think we have moved from a culture of hypocrisy to one of denial–we really want so desperately to believe in American Exceptionalism and our own individual “goodness” that we simply refuse to see the truth when it stares us right in the face–we actually simply do not see what we see–we do not believe our own lying eyes. While we had a period in the 60’s when there was a cultural desire to face the truth the implications of those truths were so dire and so frightening that everyone retreated to “morning in America” where we still live. Interestingly, smart, well-educated people seem to be the most attached to being in denial and the most willing to entertain irrational beliefs simply so they do not have to face reality. Once you do it in one thing you get in the habit of doing it over and over again. So even if I introduce, as I do from time to time direct evidence that violates their view of the world they ignore it as if I had said nothing at all by a variety of excuses from “hairballs” to “even if it’s true I refuse to believe it” the last of which I heard directly from two people with advanced degrees from two of the most prestigious universities in the country.

      1. TheraP

        I agree with your culture of denial theory. But here’s how I see it operating. As Cognitive Dissonance. The more evidence accumulating that reality does not accord with American Exceptionalism, the more firmly entrenched the Belief in Exceptionalism-as-Reality.

        Think of it like a teeter-totter. Exceptionalism MUST be dominant, so denial is like adding weight to keep Exceptionalism “grounded” while reality sits “in the clouds” so to speak. The weight of denial will continue to hold that Teeter-totter in place, keeping us apparently tethered to earth, UNTIL that teeter-totter board cracks or totally breaks! Only then will cognitive dissonance no longer prevail and REAL reality take firm hold.

        What I’ve described covers a lot of territory, wherever denial is holding back sanity these days. The denial of evolution, of global warming, all the nonsense we are constantly faced with in this woebegone country of ours. We are in one heck of a mess!

        1. Left in Wisconsin

          I think you two are saying the same thing. The only open question is where denial shades from meaning “unobserved and thus unacknowledged by the self” into genuine cognitive dissonance, which I take to mean “observed but in conflict with core organizing principles of life and thus discounted,” both of which I understand to be somewhat sympathetic to the “naive” social participant (performer?). As compared to the outright lying cynicism of TBTB.

          If so, my question would be where to drawn the line between (hegemonic? naive?) self-delusion and outright lying cynicism. In particular, I know a number of ordinary, mid-level newspaper reporters who do not perceive there to be an MSM that has hard and fast rules about what can and cannot be said. What to think about such claims?

          1. TheraP

            Good question, but it’s largely unanswerable except person by person, personality configuration being where the various options flow from. Basically denial is a defense mechanism – a pretty primitive one. And cognitive dissonance is a conflict related to alternative paradigms. Denial is often not open to persuasion (and an assault on denial is likely to provoke rage) whereas cognitive dissonance is actually a stage (hopefully!) prior to a paradigm shift. The former is usually unconscious and the latter is generally more conscious often to a bothersome degree. Dissimulation, lying, that’s more in the line of sociopathy.

            People fall into different “categories” on an individual basis but on a societal level you’ve got group think, peer pressure, national myths of an idealized past or future, etc.

            It rarely works to confront denial. But in the case of cognitive dissonance, the best tactic is to support the irrational paradigm, perhaps illustrating its illogical consequences. Humor is very powerful in bypassing defenses – but only if used compassionately.

            Back to your question about reporters, or anyone unable to “see” the box they inhabit or the unwritten assumptions underlying their behavior… Well, this relates to self-reflection, a capacity for insight. In its absence, even the best therapist – absent powerful motivation due to inner misery and desire to change – has to be very patient.

            The truth is change is really hard to bring about. Our system, for example, it’s only likely to change if there’s a catastrophic situation. Some terrible misery. Some awful failure. And even given such a situation, there’s no predicting the behavioral outcomes. No assurance things will improve rather than get worse. (Ferguson is a perfect example.)

            I used to be so optimistic and naive….

      2. Nathanael

        A culture not so long ago which existed with massive denial, blaming all its internal problems on fictional outside ‘enemies’ and attacking everyone around the globe, was Hitler’s Germany. Didn’t turn out well for them.

    2. James Levy

      I think Israel serves American interests in being the local bully and a useful tool in US domestic politics. It is a proxy, an unsinkable aircraft carrier, and affords US Elites with plausible deniability (oh, those darned Israelis!). It also provides the US with an endless excuse to poke its nose into the Middle East (must keep an eye out for our poor, beleaguered friend Israel) and to maintain the pantomime of “honest broker” ad infinitum. That some rich and powerful interests here in the USA slavishly admire and are emotionally beholden to Israel doesn’t change these basic facts. We’d crap on Israel’s head if its interests and those of our Power Elite really seriously diverged. But as Banger and Nero point out, we have to look at what elite interests are being played out, not get caught up in what the American nation-state’s national interests should be or would be in another context (one where everything was not organized around the interests of the 1%).

    3. Pepsi

      Add all that to the fact that a partitioned Iraq is in Israel’s best interest, and that we armed the Sunni tribes fighting against the government with daeesh, and set up the Iraqi army so that it would fail, and you have it all.

  6. skippy

    Neocons… a pack of Neo-Kantians attempting to promote a revised notion of Judaism by military or economic force, with forethought.

    Skippy… will the real terrorists please answer the courtesy white phone…

    1. optimader

      Not sure if it’s politically incorrect here to point out that the current PM (as well as past PMs) of Israel was a proud member of a Terrorist organization (Irgun, now more popularly known as the IDF), but what the heck, I’ll just go for it.
      60th anniversary controversy[edit]
      In July 2006, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center organized a conference to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing. The conference was attended by past and future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former members of Irgun.[39] A plaque commemorating the bombing was unveiled, stating “For reasons known only to the British, the hotel was not evacuated.” The British Ambassador in Tel Aviv and the Consul-General in Jerusalem protested, saying “We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated”, and wrote to the Mayor of Jerusalem that such an act of terror could not be honoured, even if it was preceded by a warning. The British government also demanded the removal of the plaque, pointing out that the statement accusing the British of failing to evacuate the hotel was untrue and “did not absolve those who planted the bomb.”[39][40]

  7. Moneta

    The neocon vision, that the US has the right to remake the world, combined with how confidence in US virtue and exceptionalism seems to be rising even as our policy initiatives looks more and more mendacious and destructive even to our close allies (well, save the UK).
    It is rising because the US is in decline. If they did not believe this they would not be able to do their job. The bigger the dissonance the greater the rationalization.

  8. Carolinian

    Thank you for getting to the point that Bacevich and some of the other commenters tiptoe around. All American actions in the Middle East are not just foreign policy choices but also major domestic political choices. This goes back at least as far as Truman who reluctantly endorsed statehood for Israel because he needed the support of some wealthy donors for his 1948 campaign.

    Also, re the intro, Kissinger may have been an effective realpolitician when it came to Russia or China but it was more like crackpot realism concerning the Middle East. His long reign as foreign policy guru was the period when America’s destructive alliance with Israel was really took off. Before that, and before the 1967 war, our official stance was far more neutral as seen in the Eisenhower’s response to the 1950s Suez war. The culmination of this open turn toward Israel was the 1973 Arab oil embargo which also, perhaps not coincidentally, could be seen as the beginning of the decline of our post WW2 economic supremacy. Not for nothing was this described as an oil “shock.”

    1. Banger

      That’s not a result of Kissinger’s actions but because Israeli intel was able to infiltrate the U.S. establishment at all levels–I can assure you that there is a good section of official Washington (including Henry) that grumbles about Israel and its power in various agencies, the WH, and, above all, Congress. Kissinger, for example, had nothing to do with the almost hysterical pro-Israel support of both the RP and DP so much so that the DP at least will not allow anyone in Congress to substantially criticize Israeli policies. My own Congressman at the time, Moran, was threatened with being all but censured for mild-criticism of Israel in the 90s by Nancy Pelosi.

      1. Carolinian

        I’m not sure we should take Kissinger’s statements, now or then, at face value. Hitchens was quite right in suggesting Kissinger should be put in the dock.

        And with due respect I believe you once again exaggerate the power of the intelligence agencies, ours and the Israelis’, in shaping world events. Don’t forget that Nixon put our nuclear forces on high alert during the Yom Kippur war. Did the Mossad tell him to do that? There are always larger–American–forces at play when it comes to the Middle East, and this is not meant as some kind of ct rant against fifth columnists but a simple statement that our political system, which runs on money, is very prey to special pleaders be they pro-Israeli or pro-JPM. So we don’t have to scratch our heads about why the DC/NYC elites hold the delusional beliefs described Bacevich’s article. As always, follow the money.

        1. Banger

          What you say makes sense–on the other hand, don’t underestimate agencies that do not operate with the rules. These agencies are secret with secret alliances and always have a competitive advantage in any disagreement or conflict whether that disagreement is with Congress or the Executive. To be blunt–they have a license to kill. As for Nixon and Yom Kippur that was during the Cold War–quite a different time.

  9. steviefinn

    Obviously it’s now a much smaller world than back in the day when Rome was running things, but their empire lasted because they were forced to realise their limitations. Hadrian pulled back the Roman borders & used diplomacy especially in places like the middle East where the Parthians in particular had given the legions a hammering. I’m don’t think the empire in the West would have lasted another 300 or so years if they had been led by Neo-Cons, but perhaps in those days they still fully understood the meaning of the word ‘ Hubris ‘ & leaders, as Crassus discovered, had real skin in the game.

    Great article btw.

  10. Banger

    Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted.

    Quite simply, there was never an intention of creating a “new” Iraq in the sense of a healthy cohesive state if they had, they would have left the Iraqi Army in place and pursued very different policies from the git-go. The intention was to hand out plum contracts to friends and political supporters of those in power in Washington. There was no serious attempt to remake Iraq only plunder it just as they did with Russia after the end of the Cold War (which was indirectly responsible for the McMansions that popped up around the DC suburbs around that time). The Bushites tore up the policy recommendations of bothe the State Department and the CIA (this has been reported on and confirmed by a source of mine who was in the know at State). What commentators miss is that while there are the ideologues and idealists in the government who delude themselves into thinking along the lines the propaganda organs (MSM) report, that actual nature of Washington at this particular time is that it is has become quite fragmented and overly complicated and that has allowed old-fashioned corruption to flourishfragmented.

    The United States and Israel share more than a few interests in common. A commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem does not number among them. On that issue, Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s purposes diverge widely. In all likelihood, they are irreconcilable.

    No, the U.S. is not wedded to the “two-state solution” but to the same policy Israel is pursuing a gradual evolution towards “greater Israel” and the elimination of the Palestinian population. There is a faction of the foreign policy elite that is not fond of Israel but they cannot afford to say that because Israel has infiltrated the National Security State and most think-tanks and has been able through intimidation and a reward system to control Congress and the U.S. mainstream media. So Israel, more or less, controls U.S. policy towards Israel even though most policy-makers don’t like it. At this point, no one takes the two-state solution seriously and hasn’t since the end of the Clinton administration. Quite simply, such a solution is as impossible as rain falling up.

    In the face of an outbreak of it [terrorism], prompt, effective action to reduce the danger permits normal life to continue. Wisdom lies in striking a balance between the actually existing threat and exertions undertaken to deal with that threat.

    Wise words, to be sure, but the fact is that most terrorism in the Central Asia, Middle East and so on are a result of the interplay of intel agencies from a variety of countries and not mainly “blow-back” as is the common view on the left. If you look carefully at the rise of IS you can see the broad outlines of what that cooperative endeavor looks like. I suggest to you that no major movement in the ME or Central Asia exists without the direct involvement of criminal and intel agencies being well integrated into that movement. AQ did not arise as some kind of elaborate and genius independent force–I’m not going to go into this any further but suggest people think this out remembering just who the Bin Laden family is and the history of AQ.

  11. Demeter

    All wise and insightful comments. Now WHO WILL BELL THIS CAT?

    My father once said that the road to peace requires one nuclear bomb on Jerusalem. I think he may have been right, if it hit the Knesset, or wherever the leadership lurks….That might take the Israeli cooks (too many cooks spoil the broth) out of the kitchen, but that wouldn’t be sufficient.

    We have to clean house in the USA. If we could take care of our own corruption, we wouldn’t have to worry about Israel’s….and Jerusalem could continue to boil without our adding fuel and armaments to the fire.

    It’s far more likely that other nations will take care of our corruption problem, not by armed invasion or military attack, but by finishing the task of undermining the dollar and destroying our ability to dictate global economy.
    That would be our best possible solution, and most peaceful outcome. I would really like to find out how it progresses, if I am granted that much time.

  12. Demeter

    A “technical” point: as one trained in the engineering discipline, I must cringe and beg for a label change. Whatever these morons are, they are not “Technocrats”, not any more than calling Economics, Psychology or the like “Sciences”. These people are very good at destroying things, but so is the average 2-year-old. It takes a real engineer to build something: a true technocrat.

    1. Carolinian

      Well speaking as an old English major I think technocrat–a conflation of technician and bureaucrat–is just fine. Bear in mind the term is mostly used derisively about self-described scientists, not a general swipe at hard science and engineering.

      As for your previous comment, jokes about nuclear bombs probably not in the best of taste. Certainly the Israelis don’t see it as a joke which is why they have prepared the “Samson option.”

        1. Nathanael

          It would be a tragedy for archaeology if Jersualem were destroyed by bombing, just as it was when Syria and Iraq were.

          Really, peace requires the total elimination of the apartheid system in Israel. At this point, given that Israel is fascist state, that probably requires defeating it decisively in a war. There are a lot of countries which could do that; they don’t because of the US military backing of Israel. The US loses every war it gets into, too, but it makes such a big mess while losing that nobody who has anything to lose wants to get involved with that.

  13. GlassHammer

    If I had to pick one “Washington assumption” to tackle it would be the following:
    -The U.S. can create a functioning democracy without the process of democratization. (I.E. skip the strikes/protest of labor movements, forgo the extension of effective political rights to the people, and ignore equality under the law)

  14. dearieme

    “our policy initiatives looks more and more mendacious and destructive even to our close allies (well, save the UK)”: this little chunk of the UK has pretty much despaired of you. Americans, OK; American government, rotten to the core.

  15. dearieme

    “It turns out that the lunatics chanting “drill, baby, drill” were right after all.” Plain wrong; it was their opponents who were the loonies. But if the US govt had any sense it would combine the new energy supplies with a swingeing tax on gasoline, accompanied by some offsetting cut in taxes aimed at the working poor; cut their Soc Sec contributions, for example. This combo should have been tried in the seventies, but it’s never too late. Get on with it.

  16. dearieme

    “Saudi Arabia, Planet Earth’s closest equivalent to an absolute monarchy”: no, it comes second, behind N Korea.

  17. Steven

    I’m wondering it there isn’t an underlying ‘rational’ (sic) explanation for this ‘America as the exceptional nation’ BS. The logic would be based upon an underlying belief in the necessity to rule the world with an iron fist if the US is to remain the world’s banker. Just like Britain before it, the ‘smart money’ in the US converted much of its real wealth, e.g. the factories and mills that used machine guns to ensure their workers kept their shoulders to the wheel, to money. The classic example and leader of the pack of course is John D. Rockefeller. Not only do you get the advantage of your own considerable fortune leveraged to the hilt to buy up the world; in Rockefeller’s case the use of other people’s money as well.

    The U.S. envisioned a Grand Area under its control following WWII within which countries would follow its dictates about how they used the wealth indigenous to their territory. The former Soviet Union wasn’t a part of that Grand Area from the get-go – but China was. China was probably the first to successfully say ‘no’ to Wall Street’s Washington-resident economic planners, followed in quick succession by Vietnam and others. But starting with Nixon in 1971, it looked for a while like what was lost would soon be found. Washington would rule the world with money instead of guns. When it became clear that the US could continue to be both the world’s banker and its consumer of last resort following the collapse of the 1944 Bretton Woods monetary system (once again, see Hudson’s “Super Imperialism”), the path to a post-industrial economy in which greedy, over-reaching US workers could be disciplined and denied the benefits of future productivity increases seemed clear.

    But all along, to maintain the market for Wall Street and Washington’s debt (what Hudson calls the “product” of the former), military Keynesian economics seemed to be the best use for those continuing productivity increases – to keep both its own workers in line and to enforce the dictates of Wall Street / Washington.

    And the rest, as they say is (the end of?) history.

  18. blucollarAl

    Yep, Israel. The “elephant in the room” of U.S. foreign policy.

    Israel does not explain everything but is the “sine qua non” for explaining anything. To ignore or underweight Israel is equivalent to trying to understand U.S. financial legislation and (lack of) regulation without factoring the capture of the government by the power of the banks, oligarchs, and the interests of Capital.

    Israel, its power and interests, ought not to be simply placed on a list of foreign policy assumptions as one assumption among many; it is the backdrop, the unquestioned because (politically) unquestionable horizon, the cosmological dome under which all of the petty actors play out their ridiculous roles conducting U.S. ME policy.

    1. JerseyJeffersonian

      Yes, true dat. But saying so has been the social and political equivalent to a long walk off a short pier. The reach and the power of The Lobby, in both its overtly political form, as well as in its subterranean form of extremely active and aggressive espionage has been sacrosanct; like grasping a nettle in its first aspect, and largely off-limits to criminal prosecution in the second aspect. But there are increasing signs that this impunity is waning. I only hope that the spell is broken before our nation is dragged down to ruination.

      1. Nathanael

        The devotion given to the utterly abhorrent, untrustworthy Saudi Arabia — because oil — is just as important as the insane attachment to apartheid/fascist Israel.

  19. knowbuddhau

    This thinking underlying these “Washington assumptions” is not just arrogant but has a rigidity that is almost religious in nature.

    Oh my, music to my ears. One might even say, it’s a madness of mythic proportions. I strongly believe what we’re witnessing is the terminal phase of the same mythic madness that has afflicted every empire. The way we spend money on our military would make a drunken pharaoh blush. The madness comes from their conception of the world.

    They really do believe, with zealous fervor, that god loves them, and Israel, the most. They really do believe their dominance of the world (one might even call it full-spectrum dominance, as the Pentagon has) is ordained by the biggest man up the highest stairs. No expense will be spared in making this impossible dream come true.

    It’s a common conceit that the power of myth has been supplanted by the power of science. ISTM we’ve reduced the world at least one level too far. In all the analysis of TPTB in Washington and Israel, few ever mention one highly salient commonality: their shared belief in their god-given right to rule the world.

    One reason the fanatics in Washington will always support the fanatics in Israel, is the belief that doing otherwise will mean their eternal damnation. There are a lot of people in positions of power who are terrified that their sorry little sinful souls will burn in hell with the rest of humanity unless they demonstrate sufficient support of Israel. Our dominance is proof of god’s love, and vice versa. The forces that oppose them are believed to be tantamount to the devil himself. Tragically, their opponents believe the same thing only reversed.

    What do you expect from people who believe life is a holy war? Manifest destiny wasn’t about economic policy back in the 19th century, and it still isn’t. It’s about the mythology!

    We who prefer a scientific mode of explanation reduce this very important factor right out of the picture. We’re always looking for reasonable, rational explanations. Yes, TPTB do appear to be bat-shit crazy. Seeing things through the lenses of comparative mythology allows us to make sense of what otherwise appears insane.

    One other thing. I’ve searched through a lot of Bacevich’s articles for “crime” and “crimes.” As far as I can tell, he hasn’t yet called our wars what they really are: criminal. Mistakes, blunders, poor policy of epic proportions, etc., but not what they really are. Such a disconnect with reality is truly psychotic.

    Like so many empires before us, the various wannabee war-gods at the top will drive the whole thing into the ground because they can’t imagine doing otherwise. They’re trying to vindicate their crimes by dominating the world. Failure doesn’t just mean losing on the political level, but far worse: eternal torment. They’re running from the gates of hell itself. It’ll take an unprecedented cascading series of epiphanies for that to change. I’m not holding my breath.

    Oh, and another thing: what about the Deep State? ;-)

    1. Steven

      As far as I can tell, he hasn’t yet called our wars what they really are: criminal.

      Small point but shouldn’t this be “criminal insanity”? If it is just “criminal” then the perps knew what they were doing.

      1. proximity1

        I’m convinced that in many–the vast majority–of the cases, the perpetrators do know what they’re doing–i.e. their intentions are malign and self-serving. Whatever we can figure out–and much more,besides– in discussions here, these operators are fully capable of figuring out. That goes for all the evident disaster their actions court. Of course, they can and do make stupendous unintended blunders, the foreign relations equivalent of blowing up the chem. lab. But, that is usually ignored or excused by “nobody’s perfect.”
        As an aside and to all, generally, RE “deep state” — I think that it would help us to either use “deep state” only in very carefully limited and clearly defined denotations or find another, better, term for what is meant by it. As it is, it’s vague and probably misleading in much of its applications. Is the “deep state” simply the military-industrial complex? Is it always and only the evil aspects of what is more descriptively called the permanent bureaucracy? Or is it everything–good and bad–which this bureaucracy does? Is it a confluence of coincidental interests or an elaborate and full-fledged conspiracy of personal and corporate actors?

        A de facto imperial power is practically bound to look and act like a vast evil conspiracy and, surely, to be just that to some greater or lesser extent. How “deep” that structure is depends on a host of variables. In many instances, it needn’t be that “deep.” Many people, including, not least, those who can’t recognize their nation as part of this imperial structure are quite devoted to those aspects of it which are ugly and cruel.

  20. susan the other

    This post was interesting to me for its vacuousness. Very unlike Bacevich. So it was surprising too. And I also most definitely think he is way off the mark when he talks about fracking, etc. The thing I’ve always liked about Bacevich is his dedication to at least the idea of a peaceful world. Which he maintains, of course. But he is using such a soft touch it sounds almost like the opposite of his usual points. And for anyone to gloss over the biggest issue of our time – fossil fuels and their limits – is disappointing. If the US were actually changing policies in the ME and taking an independent stand, not influenced by the Saudis or Israelis, we might extend the Iran Nuclear talks for another 6 months, say till July 2015. If we were promoting peace we might include the Saudis, our longtime partners, in our American shale and sand promotions; we might include them in the buy-in of PEMEX, or maybe even the appropriation of Venezuela’s resources. We might call Israel’s bluff and not hide our own outrage when they bomb Palestine back to the stone age. We might even recognize Palestine. Since Sweden did. And France is planning to. Even tho’ Netanyahu has threatened France with grave consequences. We might shake up the Dept of Def. and find military solutions which do not include bombing civilians. (Not sure why Hagel was fired – they said he had the wrong skill set.) We might give up the rat race of capitalism that ultimately leads to international strife and war. And other things. But if we did these things it would look like chaos. Because it would be chaos. Henry Kissinger is right – we should not sanction Russia and screw up the EU. But we probably are just saying we are imposing sanctions in the MSM and letting Kerry wink it off with Lavrov. And etc. What if we broke the Warfare-Austerity-Welfare economic model we have used for a century. What would that look like? I’m very confused but I’m hoping to learn there is both rhyme and reason to it all.

    1. susan the other

      And also too. The TPP and TIPP. We still want to stick with our most lucrative export: Protection. Both armaments and military treaties disguised so far as “free trade”. In a real world, what would other countries need to trade with us for? (Hint: Not Much.) And why would any trade agreement then need to be so secretive, unilateral, anti-social, anti-democratic and just plain pointless? We’ll, we do have to foam the runway for a bit longer. And the goal is?

  21. Kris Kaul

    I’m confused – why all the talk about Andrew Bacevich when the WaPo article seems to have been written by David Ignatius?

    1. H. Alexander Ivey

      I agree, I think it is Bacevich who is pointing out the thinking of Ignatius, who is a insider of the Beltway. The deranged thinking seems to be Ignatius.

  22. kevinearick

    Societies drug their children with food, religion, politics and war, to ensure inflexible brain activity, because the collective event horizon can only fear the future and prefers to live in a cave. Doctors short the short with derivative drugs, and bankers monetize the resulting artificial scarcity with inflation / lost purchasing power, growing income inequality with technology for leverage, loading the spring as the system falls behind the human development curve.

    It’s always a food war. Putin didn’t cut off food imports as retaliation. Russia is playing chess, while America is playing checkers, and Germany is supplying the technology, in a game of artificial scarcity, benefitting the banks as usual, which is neither here nor there to labor. CAChina is just a symptom. Provide your children with nutrition and the opportunity to play with others doing the same.

    Lorentz failed to solve the food chain problem on the assumption that empire was the problem and not the solution. Creatures of habit cannot move forward. When you walk into an organization as a consultant, your one and only value is trust, which cannot exist in any organization other than marriage, for the purpose of raising productive children, the beginning and the end, new world order same as the old.

    Recognize the form creating the log-jam, by the behavior of the controlling tyrant working for the passive aggressive, saying one thing and doing another. Funny, what happens when you change the job description, to measure productivity. Banks financing compliance make-work jobs with toilet paper inflation is not work.

    Empire provides the brake, labor provides the accelerator and your children provide the steering. Faith is a function of experience, discounting the empire, to see that which remains, those who do not suffer from anxiety in the bipolar agenda collider, capable of changing the channel. Making TVs inside TVs is not the answer; it’s the problemsolution.

    The Middle East has just played longer.

  23. Synapsid

    “New technologies have once again made the US the world’s largest producer of oil.”


    Beginning a few years ago the definition of oil that we see in public media began to change, from crude oil plus condensate, which had been the definition in the industry for decades, to crude oil plus condensate plus natural-gas liquids (bottled gas) plus biofuels (made from corn) plus even refinery gain. The US is the world’s third largest producer of crude plus condensate, after Russia and Saudi Arabia, and has been for years and years.

    US production of crude plus condensate has indeed increased rapidly in the past few years but not because of new technologies (applied to shales.) The technologies have been there right along. What was new, that kicked off the utilization of the shales, was oil prices in the vicinity of $100 a barrel, year on year. Had oil been priced at $90 a barrel in 1990 you’d have seen a burst of horizontal drilling and fracking in the shales then.

    Can you please make Naked Capitalism the one non-technical site on the web that DOESN’T repeat that sentence I quoted at the top of this post? That would be more useful and informative (being informative is important, yes?) than continuing to sound like you’re quoting the Koch brothers, really it would.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, I can’t correct every misstatement in otherwise interesting posts but I will make more effort to shellack that particular one in the future.

  24. peteybee

    @Everyone —

    I am with you all 100% but when we ask others to be open-minded and believe our eyes rather than the theories in our heads, we should do the same. I’m talking about the real changes brought about in the economics of oil and natgas production.

    The environmental concerns are real, but from the point of view of a realist, I’m sorry to say that in the United States, that battle has now been fought and lost, for the most part. Economies of scale, and improvements in equipment technology, operating techniques, and improved ability to “find the sweet spots” have made a difference. It’s most certainly not a permanent “cure”, but it has, in real life, deferred a lot of the “peak oil” stuff that’s been fun to talk about for the last 10 years. Unpleasant as it may seem, this changes some things.

  25. Rosario

    I believe the saying goes, “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” The US middle east policy was always junk because it was always empire building, and it was always unsustainable. There is no “recalibrating” this one, the mistakes were terminal from the outset. Also, all that about protecting “our” vital energy assets. Do they mean the 3:1, 2:1 (at best) EROEI tar sands and shale oil and gas? Industries that have been riding on those creative Anglo-American financial instruments from their outset are not industries that provide a lasting “energy independence”. I’m willing to bet those in the know in D.C. are very aware of this so they want to wring the middle eastern oil sponge until it is completely dry. It’s a herd mentality in US foreign policy circles, a great deal of ground rumble but little reasoned direction.

  26. Nathanael

    Agreed, Yves. All five of these are frankly lunatic — delusions which should be grounds for a psych evaluation to check for hallucinations.

    The politicians and bureaucrats who believe this delusional stuff will probably never see any comeuppance for it. However, the US will keep on losing power and influence. At this point, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before the US is defeated properly — the US loses every war it gets into, but what I mean is, completely wiped out, Navy sunk, Air Force grounded, Army interned.

    This is bound to happen eventually unless the lunatics in charge are replaced with people who aren’t completely insane. It may take a while.

    Maybe the collapse of the Saudi government will wake up the idiots in DC and cause them to abandon their delusions. The Saudi government will collapse within 40 years, max. Probably much sooner. (It’s hard to predict exactly when, because it depends on the exact rate of solar panel and battery tech deployment, which is exponential, so small changes in rate mean huge changes in the number of years before the Saudi government collapses.)

  27. Nathanael

    ” Watching the US manage to devise even worse policies out of a warped, ideologically-driven notion of virtue is both perverse and chilling, like watching someone with a mental illness play out their delusions.”

    Can I say this again? It’s like the government of Hitler, who also had a warped, ideologically-driven notion of virtue, and was delusional and mentally it. The US is following the same path as Hitler’s Germany did at the moment.

  28. Fiver

    Ten million Syrian refugees are going to be very cold and hungry and exposed this winter (but not as cold as the 200,000 dead) while the countries who plotted and planned and paid for and participated in this horror absolutely refuse to accept responsibility for it – not a single word or gesture, not the slightest tic of an eye to indicate a consciousness capable of awareness of the unspeakable pain and utter desolation had been visited on Sixth of Seven.

  29. proximity1

    This article by Bacevich, published at the site,

    ” Malarkey on the Potomac
    Five Bedrock Washington Assumptions That Are Hot Air ”
    By Andrew J. Bacevich

    was the impetus for this thread. Hence the focus on A.B. Bacevich only mentions Ignatius in the body of his essay, viz:

    ” So when David Ignatius, a well-informed and normally sober columnist for the Washington Post, reflects on what the United States must do to get Iraq War 3.0 right, he offers this “mental checklist” [ ] : …”

  30. hermanas

    “Faith is to believe what you do not see;
    the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
    Saint Augustine

  31. Minor Heretic

    In regards to U.S. foreign policy, chaos in the Middle East is a feature, not a bug. Imagine a peaceful M.E.; low oil prices, few arms sales, no pricey interventions, pushback towards the NSA/CIA/contractors, and minimal U.S. influence as the protection racketeer. Where’s the 3rd quarter earnings in that?

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