Andrew Bacevich Shellacks the New York Times’ Usefully Idiotic Coverage of America’s Never-Ending Wars

Yves here. While Bacevich is measured in his tone, his critique of the New York Times’ reporting is deadly. And in a bit of synchronicity, a Canadian reader discussed with me long form yesterday how one of his big concerns is how the US has been fomenting wars and engaged in nation-breaking, yet that is conveniently not very well covered in the US press.

By Andrew J. Bacevich, the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History and other books.Originally published at TomDispatch

March 20, 2018

Dear Mr. Sulzberger:

Congratulations on assuming the reins of this nation’s — and arguably, the world’s — most influential publication. It’s the family business, of course, so your appointment to succeed your father doesn’t exactly qualify as a surprise.  Even so, the responsibility for guiding the fortunes of a great institution must weigh heavily on you, especially when the media landscape is changing so rapidly and radically.

Undoubtedly, you’re already getting plenty of advice on how to run the paper, probably more than you want or need.  Still, with your indulgence, I’d like to offer an outsider’s perspective on “the news that’s fit to print.”  The famous motto of the Times insists that the paper is committed to publishing “all” such news — an admirable aspiration even if an impossibility.  In practice, what readers like me get on a daily basis is “all the news that Times editors deem worthy of print.”

Of course, within that somewhat more restrictive universe of news, not all stories are equal.  Some appear on the front page above the fold.  Others are consigned to page A17 on Saturday morning.

And some topics receive more attention than others.  In recent years, comprehensive coverage of issues touching on diversity, sexuality, and the status of women has become a Times hallmark.  When it comes to Donald Trump, “comprehensive” can’t do justice to the attention he receives.  At the Times (and more than a few other media outlets), he has induced a form of mania, with his daily effusion of taunts, insults, preposterous assertions, bogus claims, and decisions made, then immediately renounced, all reported in masochistic detail.  Throw in salacious revelations from Trump’s colorful past and leaks from the ongoing Mueller investigation of his campaign and our 45th president has become for the Times something akin to a Great White Whale, albeit with a comb-over and a preference for baggy suits.

In the meantime, other issues of equal or even greater importance — I would put climate change in this category — receive no more than sporadic or irregular coverage.  And, of course, some topics simply don’t make the cut at all, like just about anything short of a school shooting that happens in that vast expanse west of the Hudson that Saul Steinberg years ago so memorably depicted for the New Yorker.

The point of this admittedly unsolicited memo is not to urge the Times to open a bureau in Terre Haute or in the rapidly melting Arctic. Nor am I implying that the paper should tone down its efforts to dismantle the hetero-normative order, empower women, and promote equality for transgender persons. Yet I do want to suggest that obsessing about this administration’s stupefying tomfoolery finds the Times overlooking one particular issue that predates and transcends the Trump Moment. That issue is the normalization of armed conflict, with your writers, editors, and editorial board having tacitly accepted that, for the United States, war has become a permanent condition.

Let me stipulate that the Times does devote an impressive number of column-inches to the myriad U.S. military activities around the planet.  Stories about deployments, firefights, airstrikes, sieges, and casualties abound.  Readers can count on the Times to convey the latest White House or Pentagon pronouncements about the briefly visible light at the end of some very long tunnel. And features describing the plight of veterans back from the war zone also appear with appropriate and commendable frequency.   

So anyone reading the Times for a week or a month will have absorbed the essential facts of the case, including the following:

* Over 6,000 days after it began, America’s war in Afghanistan continues, with Times correspondents providing regular and regularly repetitive updates;

* In the seven-year-long civil war that has engulfed Syria, the ever-shifting cast of belligerents now includes at least 2,000 (some sources say 4,000) U.S. special operators, the rationale for their presence changing from week to week, even as plans to keep U.S. troops in Syria indefinitely take shape;

* In Iraq, now liberated from ISIS, itself a byproduct of U.S. invasion and occupation, U.S. troops are now poised to stay on, more or less as they did in West Germany in 1945 and in South Korea after 1953;

* On the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. forces have partnered with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud in brutalizing Yemen, thereby creating a vast humanitarian disaster despite the absence of discernible U.S. interests at stake;

* In the military equivalent of whacking self-sown weeds, American drones routinely attack Libyan militant groups that owe their existence to the chaos created in 2011 when the United States impulsively participated in the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi;

* More than a quarter-century after American troops entered Somalia to feed the starving, the U.S. military mission continues, presently in the form of recurring airstrikes;

* Elsewhere in Africa, the latest theater to offer opportunities for road-testing the most recent counterterrorism techniques, the U.S. military footprint is rapidly expanding, all but devoid of congressional (or possibly any other kind of) oversight;

* From the Levant to South Asia, a flood of American-manufactured weaponry continues to flow unabated, to the delight of the military-industrial complex, but with little evidence that the arms we sell or give away are contributing to regional peace and stability;

*Amid this endless spiral of undeclared American wars and conflicts, Congress stands by passively, only rousing itself as needed to appropriate money that ensures the unimpeded continuation of all of the above;

*Meanwhile, President Trump, though assessing all of this military hyperactivity as misbegotten — “Seven trillion dollars. What a mistake.” — is effectively perpetuating and even ramping up the policies pioneered by his predecessors.

This conglomeration of circumstances, I submit, invites attention to several first-order questions to which the Times appears stubbornly oblivious. These questions are by no means original with me. Indeed, Mr. Sulzberger (may I call you A.G.?), if you’ve kept up with TomDispatch — if you haven’t, you really should — you will already have encountered several of them.  Yet in the higher reaches of mainstream journalism they remain sadly neglected, with disastrous practical and moral implications.

The key point is that when it comes to recent American wars, the Times offers coverage without perspective. “All the news” is shallow and redundant. Lots of dots, few connections.

To put it another way, what’s missing is any sort of Big Picture. The Times would never depict Russian military actions in the Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria, along with its cyber-provocations, as somehow unrelated to one another. Yet it devotes remarkably little energy to identifying any links between what U.S. forces today are doing in Niger and what they are doing in Afghanistan; between U.S. drone attacks that target this group of “terrorists” and those that target some other group; or, more fundamentally, between what we thought we were doing as far back as the 1980s when Washington supported Saddam Hussein and what we imagine we’re doing today in the various Muslim-majority nations in which the U.S. military is present, whether welcome or not.

Crudely put, the central question that goes not only unanswered but unasked is this: What the hell is going on? Allow me to deconstruct that in ways that might resonate with Times correspondents:

What exactly should we call the enterprise in which U.S. forces have been engaged all these years?  The term that George W. Bush introduced back in 2001, “Global War on Terrorism,” fell out of favor long ago. Nothing has appeared to replace it.  A project that today finds U.S. forces mired in open-ended hostilities across a broad expanse of Muslim-majority nations does, I suggest, deserve a name, even if the commander-in-chief consigns most of those countries to “shithole” status. A while back, I proposed “War for the Greater Middle East,” but that didn’t catch on. Surely, the president or perhaps one of his many generals could come up with something better, some phrase that conveys a sense of purpose, scope, stakes, or location. The paper of record should insist that whatever it is the troops out there may be doing, their exertions ought to have a descriptive name.

What is our overall objective in waging that no-name war?  After 9/11, George W. Bush vowed at various times to eliminate terrorism, liberate the oppressed, spread freedom and democracy, advance the cause of women’s rights across the Islamic world, and even end evil itself. Today, such aims seem like so many fantasies. So what is it we’re trying to accomplish?  What will we settle for? Without a readily identifiable objective, how will anyone know when to raise that “Mission Accomplished” banner (again) and let the troops come home?

By extension, what exactly is the strategy for bringing our no-name war to a successful conclusion? A strategy is a kind of roadmap aimed at identifying resources, defining enemies (as well as friends), and describing a sequence of steps that will lead to some approximation of victory.  It should offer a vision that gets us from where we are to where we want to be.  Yet when it comes to waging its no-name war, Washington today has no strategy worthy of the name.  This fact should outrage the American people and embarrass the national security establishment. It should also attract the curiosity of the New York Times.

Roughly speaking, in what year, decade, or century might this war end?  Even if only approximately, it would help to know — and the American people deserve to know — when the front page of the Times might possibly carry a headline reading “Peace Secured” or “Hostilities Ended” or even merely “It’s Over.” On the other hand, if it’s unrealistic to expect the ever-morphing, ever-spreading no-name war to end at all, then shouldn’t someone say so, allowing citizens to chew on the implications of that prospect?  Who better to reveal this secret hidden in plain sight than the newspaper over which you preside?

What can we expect the no-name war to cost?  Although the president’s estimate of $7 trillion may be a trifle premature, it’s not wrong. It may even end up being on the low side.  What that money might otherwise have paid for — including infrastructure, education, scientific and medical research, and possibly making amends for all the havoc wreaked by our ill-considered military endeavors — certainly merits detailed discussion. Here’s a way to start just such a discussion:  Imagine a running tally of sunk and projected cumulative costs featured on the front page of the Times every morning. Just two numbers: the first a tabulation of what the Pentagon has already spent pursuant to all U.S. military interventions, large and small, since 9/11; the second, a projection of what the final bill might look like decades from now when the last of this generation’s war vets passes on.

Finally, what are the implications of saddling future generations with this financial burden?  With the sole exception of the very brief Gulf War of 1990-1991, the no-name war is the only substantial armed conflict in American history where the generation in whose name it was waged resolutely refused to pay for it — indeed, happily accepted tax cuts when increases were very much in order. With astonishingly few exceptions, politicians endorsed this arrangement.  One might think that enterprising reporters would want to investigate the various factors that foster such irresponsibility.

So that’s my take. I’m sure, A.G., that journalists in your employ could sharpen my questions and devise more of their own.  But here’s a small proposition: just for a single day, confine Donald Trump to page A17 and give our no-name war the attention that the Times normally reserves for the president it loathes.

I’m not a newspaperman, but I’m reminded of that wonderful 1940 Hitchcock movie Foreign Correspondent.  I expect you’ve seen it.  Europe is stumbling toward war and Mr. Powers, head honcho at the fictitious New York Globe, is tired of getting the same-old same-old from the people he has on the scene. “I don’t want any more economists, sages, or oracles bombinating over our cables,” he rages. “I want a reporter.  Somebody who doesn’t know the difference between an ism and a kangaroo.” 

His rant requires deciphering. What Powers wants is someone with the combination of guts and naiveté to pose questions that more seasoned journalists trapped in a defective narrative of their own creation simply overlook.

So he pulls the decidedly unseasoned and spectacularly uninformed John Jones off the police beat, renames him Huntley Haverstock, sets him up with an expense account, and sends him off to take a fresh look at what gives in Europe.  Haverstock proceeds to unearth the big truths to which his more sophisticated colleagues have become blind.  Almost singlehandedly he alerts the American people to the dangers just ahead — and he also gets the girl.  Terrific movie (even if, given Hitchcock’s well-documented mistreatment of women, it may be politically incorrect to say so).

Anyway, A.G., we need you to do something approximating what Mr. Powers did, but in real life.  Good luck.  I’m in your corner.

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  1. dcrane

    But here’s a small proposition: just for a single day, confine Donald Trump to page A17 and give our no-name war the attention that the Times normally reserves for the president it loathes.

    Ironically, even as Trump’s election damaged the credibility and pride of the mainstream media, it offered them the best excuse ever for completely ignoring most of what Washington does, and thereby avoiding the alienation of their friends and allies in both government and business.

      1. WheresOurTeddy

        Sometimes you read a comment and something just jumps out at you as your blood turns cold.

        What do you imagine is entailed if the clown prince “resolves” NK? RESOLVES. Like it’s our responsibility to set it right. Ick.

          1. JTMcPhee

            Let’s remember that the Empire “resolved Korea” from 1950-53, by bombing and napalming the snot out of the area, dropping more tonnage of bombs and incendiaries than was used during the whole Imperial involvement in WW II, and killing millions. And most here in America count that as “one in the win column.” With the goal back then of “leaving not one brick atop another.” So there’s that “tradition” to bear in mind, as the Imperial Mighty turn their doleful attention to “Little Rocket Man.”

      2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

        That traitor (The Orange Man) even had the temerity to insinuate that a constructive relationship with Russia could be beneficial.

        Did he not get the memo? Does he not hear the unified, clarion call by the nation’s media, letting Americans know that under every bed, inside every Tweet, and behind every Facebook post there is an evil Russian on the brink of destroying our entire American way of life? And if we do not do *something* right away, they will sap our national essence by adulterating our precious bodily fluids?

        Luckily the New York Times recognizes this existential threat to our Republic. No amount of our national treasure can be spared until this Red Menace has been defeated.

        1. polecat

          “I’m sorry Dave .. but I cannot allow you to jeopardize this vital Neolibraconian mission. This mission is too important to be explained away by lowly bloggers, whistleblowers .. or even russians. These things can only be attributed to .. 80% plebian error .. goodbye.”

  2. divadab

    No institution is all bad. The NY Times does still employ actual journalists who do actual journalism. Well-written, well-edited, interesting writing on topical issues.
    However, in the realms of foreign policy it is not a reliable source of information. Rather, its content can only be characterized as State propaganda of the imperial sort. In this it is not alone – all the teevee and cable networks are also not useful sources of information other than information on what the government and its agencies and political funders (owners) want the masses to “know”.

    I suppose this has been true for some time but it does seem particularly bad in the current decades, especially after the 9-11 show. In any event, I haven’t watched teevee since 2004 when we moved and didn’t buy a cable package, and I rarely if ever read the Times or any other domestic newspaper for that matter – they seem to me to be nothing other than arms of a controlled propaganda apparatus designed to deceive the masses in favor of war and oligarchic interests and against their interests as free citizens of a free country.

    1. JTMcPhee

      If you hardly ever read the Times or any other domesticated newspaper, how can you claim the Times “still employs actual journalists who do actual journalism”? One asks for a definition of terms here. Krugman? Miller?

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      They’ve been driving those journalists out. Go look at the buyouts. And Gretchen Morgenson left for the Wall Street Journal.

    3. sierra7

      In my book the NYT will never live down the cheerleading, outright false “journalism” of David Brooks and Judith Miller pre-2003 invasion of Iraq. The continuation of their employ is shameless and an insult to what is left of the “credibility” of the NYT.

  3. Ignacio

    Nice piece.

    I wonder how many go to the NYT just to pulse the state of the NYT rather than as a source for news. That’s what I do when I visit news outlets.

    1. jsn

      Same here, I had a subscription from 1984 until 2016 and was deeply skeptical from the time of the El Mazote massacre.

      I don’t remember the details but the Times actually self reported within a few years on the tension between Ray Bonner and Abe Rosenthal and also had some decent introspection regarding their execrable coverage of the intifada, but maybe that’s just a gloss of nostalgia. The rot really set in after W was installed by SCOTUS.

      For the ten years up to 2016 I kept it for the cultural sections but by the time Trump was elected those sections had all devolved into extensions of the “mergers and acquisitions” Weddings Section, an incestuous chronology of Jr. Punch’s sense of who’s who and what they were paying their kids to do.

      Now, apparently like you, I’m content to scan the front page on line as a kind of elite hysteria thermostat.

      1. JTMcPhee

        As to when the rot set in, Operation Mockingbird long predates Bush the Lesser. And AIPAC- and Kochian “news articles” with important bylines go way back, too.

        1. jsn

          In the yen and yang of American politics, 1946, just after Roosevelt’s death, our leftist light was at its brightest. But even at that moment the Dulles brothers, at the heart of the system were carrying the bile of our current rot. Between the rat lines Alan used to invent “the black budget” by populating our “allies” around the world with rich Nazi fugitives, eager to repay his hospitality and the subterfuges of his and John’s in sabotaging every effort Eisenhower made at rapprochement with the Russians, even before the OSS became the CIA, the toxic bile was there.

          The thing is, in the bright years between 46 and 73 or so, it was difficult to tell just how evil the secret government was: it was still basking in the glow of defeating the Nazis with the secret of it’s cooptation of/by them at war’s end still carefully guarded, and in general where exposed disbelieved by a population inculcated by the rigors of war to high levels of trust and cooperation.

          I knew a number of academics and former State Department people in the age bracket between my parents and grand parents who cooperated with or likely were agents for the CIA in the 40s, 50s and 60s, posted to places like Vienna, Budapest and Prague in Europe or Laos, Thailand and Cambodia in Asia. They were good people, real New Dealers, despite most being Republicans and believed in the civilizing mission of the Marshall Plan policies they self identified with. It’s never really black and white, there’s always some of the other.

          1. JTMcPhee

            “They were good people.” Same thing was and is said about Mafia types. And sociopaths of various sorts. A thin coat of white often covers up a whole lot of black. They were all just acting for the greater good, right? Hey, I enlisted in the Imperial Army, got to go to Vietnam to help fight the Commies and all that. There’s always the Game going on, and there are those who saw the game board and draft the rules of play, those that set the pieces, those who move them, and those who are the pieces… We should take comfort that “there’s a little bad in the best of us, and a little good in he worst of us?” When by observation it appears that the bad just gets on using the little bit of good to geometrically increase the bad?

            1. jsn

              I understand what you say and I think I understand what you mean. But the temperament to contextualize and deeply understand your day to day in a geopolitical context is in my experience no more common than psychopathy.

              These I knew were mostly progressive republicans and it was they who raised and educated me as a critical thinker and moral agent to the best of my ability. So yes I think they were net good.

              As you say, the Game is always there, but even the most self aware have to engage it with what limited knowledge and experience they have when it washes over the levy of their ideals.

              It’s rarely black and white, but occasionally it is. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, a lot to think about.

    2. WheresOurTeddy

      It is important to note what the Blob wants you to think so if you mistakenly arrive at one of their conclusions, you can check your work and see where your math went wrong.

      I don’t give them clicks though. Only secondary sites reporting on them that don’t feed the Sulzberger propaganda arm. Like NC!

  4. The Rev Kev

    Any articles by Andrew J. Bacevich are always worth paying attention to. I invite any interested to read his Wikipedia entry ( but here is an ex-soldier who knows what he is talking about having seen combat in Vietnam.
    If he talks a lot about the so-called war on terror or whatever it is called these days, it is not because he is trying to simply flog his books. He actually has a personal stake in this subject as his son, 1st Lt. Andrew John Bacevich, was killed in action in Iraq back in 2007 by an IED as part of the Long War.

    1. Alex Cox

      The statement that Bacevich knows what he is talking about because he is “an ex soldier” is exactly what is wrong with US politics and US involvement in endless wars. Bacevich himself has pointed out that only 1% of Americans participate in the military, and a much smaller percentage see any combat.

      The notion that military veterans are somehow more able to discuss these matters disenfranchises the rest of us.

      1. Wukchumni

        Once upon a time from the fall of Saigon to Operation Urgent Fury, a period of 8 years, the military was considered loserville…

        Watch this 1979 SNL sarcastic as all get up clip with the title:

        “Navy, It’s Not Just A Job, It’s $96.78 A Week”

        How do we get back to the point where we can make fun of the military?

      2. Jake Mudrosti

        The notion that military veterans are somehow more able to discuss these matters disenfranchises the rest of us.

        There’s a reality to Bacevich’s experiences, not just the repeated slogans heard on college campuses.

        There’s a different way of reading the phrase “an ex-soldier who knows what he is talking about” — more like the scene in All Quiet on the Western Front, where the young soldier is patronizingly lectured by the armchair pro-war theorizers, and the soldier realizes that his actual war experience leaves him totally unable to communicate with them.

        1. The Rev Kev

          I know exactly what you are talking about as I have a copy of that book on my shelf in the original German. The guy who wrote that was an actual veteran of WW1 and used his experiences to write it and others. It is made plain that the people that sent this guy to war had never taken part in one before and filled their heads with patriotic nonsense, especially the schoolchildren.
          I will always cut a combat vet some slack as they at least have seen combat. Not like the laptop bombardiers of the Reagan era who said that the world could “survive a limited nuclear war” or the present ones who try to build up a first strike capacity against China and Russia. Remember Dick Cheney? He never went to Nam as he had “other priorities”, Reagan never went to war unlike Jimmy Stewart who served as a bomber pilot over Europe, Kennedy did which was why he was not so quick to call a strike on Cuba which would have lead to WW3 and us being all dead.

          1. Norb

            Cross of Iron, by Willi Heinrich, is another good book that gets into the complexities of war. Written by a WWII veteran of the Eastern Front, fighting the Russians, it’s probably a good time to dust this one off and give it a read, considering the rabid Russia hating going on.

            The story was so good, Hollywood attempted to remake this one also as a movie. Staring James Coburn, and directed by Sam Peckinpah. Like most Hollywood work, the human complexity and underlying moral tragedy gets lost in translation to a great degree.

            Being willing and able to fight is completely different than wanting to fight. An anti-war veteran seems a person with some wisdom to share with the rest of us who haven’t seen combat. Underling war’s cheerleaders, is always some form of narrow self-interest as the driving force. Openly stated or not.

          2. Scott1

            I’ve gotten to Rev Kev in the comments. It occurred to me that we have had magazines
            That did the work of providing the long answers.
            I’m thinking of the New Yorker for all their
            wonderful features.

            You do have to know a great deal to write a Magazine Feature Article about the industry
            of war. In fact writing a magazine feature about
            any specific subject is very hard work.

            Far as whether or not the US has the money
            It definitely does.

            Defense getting the money they actually need
            is no problem. By the same token MMT
            is proven.

            I’d have Randall Wray give me a proper
            Economic System for it is the way
            War (as we fear it comes down upon us)
            provides the Write Offs necessary but
            Refused by Roman Banking Practices.

            War is a constant and the spies & mobsters
            know that.

            We aren’t supposed to know it, or be spies.

            P.S. Recently my deal is to attack Ayn Rand Objectivism that came from Russian Dystopian Fiction, and is at the heart of the pain in our
            I say that Eclectic American Pragmatism acted
            within our society in a profoundly more
            just and intellectually and spiritually positive manner. We were admired for our philosophy.
            Pragmatism as blamed on William James is
            world wide considered the only legitimate
            philosophy to come from the United States.
            Objectivism came from dystopia & creates dystopia.
            Here I am grateful to Yves for giving me some
            column inches.

      3. WheresOurTeddy

        Theoretically, in a representative republic under a 3-branch government, the military is commanded by the highest-ranking civilian, the president, who is elected directly by the people. A veteran has not served as president since 1989-1993, and that guy was a spook who was awful for everything but rich people.

        The idea that the 99% of us who have not served possess opinions which are less valid than someone who has been in the murder for profit business is an authoritarian impulse and an appeal to the mindset that use of force is acceptable as anything but the last option. Evolve.

  5. Heraclitus

    Andrew Bacevich demonstrated his ignorance of American history and politics when he called for renaming anything named for Robert E. Lee at West Point. I think his opinions are dangerous opinions, which are fortunately not shared by the Army.

    1. pretzelattack

      how precisely did that demonstrate ignorance of history and politics? why do you think it is dangerous to question the official pro war propaganda which the times catapults with such monotonous regularity?

    2. Al Swearengen

      But did not Robert E Lee act as the de facto Chief of Staff of an army waging war/engaged in treason against the United States?

      I well understand all the issues/complexities of the era (insomuch as it is possible for anyone in the 21st Century to do so) but my own opinion has a hard time leaping that hurdle.

      Not a “statue demolisher” here by any means (quite the opposite), but if it’s me in charge in 1865 everyone in any position of any authority in the CSA is going straight up a scaffold. And I’m sure as hell not going to honor those people subsequently at the military academy of the USA.

      1. Roger Bigod

        While we’re getting rid of memorials to traitors, we should certainly demolish the monuments to Washington and Jefferson in our national capital, the current name of which is an abomination..

      2. Scott1

        My resonate hero is Grant who is understood as a greater strategic General. (Also a great writer.)
        I tried to give Robert E. Lee a chance but came to see him as a “Well dressed traitorous pervert.”

        1. Roger Bigod

          Grant is the only historical figure I feel personal gratitude toward. My g-grandfather signed up for the CSA with a fresh MD from the U of AL. In the defense of the eastern approaches to Vicksburg, two cousins in his unit were KIA in the same day. After the Siege, Grant offered the members of the unit their freedom in exchange for signing an oath of loyalty to the Union and abandoning the fight. He signed, along with about half of the unit. The others were exchanged for Union prisoners, reconstituted the unit and fought on. There’s certainly a possibility that I wouldn’t be here except for Grant’s offer. Way to go, Ulysses S.

          I’m related to Lee, also his wife. His father Lighthorse Harry blew his fortune on unwise land speculation. His mother was a Carter, once the richest family in VA but fallen on hard times. RE was conceived while his father was in debtor’s prison. The Carters set up a trust which his father wasn’t allowed to touch. RE was a bright math student and wanted to attend Harvard. But there wasn’t enough money, so he had to settle for West Point.

    3. Quanka

      You clearly haven’t read much of his work – and if your solution to his errors is that we should all pay attention to what the officialdom in the Army says then you’ve shown your cards.

    4. ambrit

      Opinions become ‘dangerous’ when they threaten the status quo. The status quo always changes. That is basic to everything. Smart humans question the status quo and imagine future statuses from every angle so as to manage the changes with a minimum of disruption and pain. A famous quote says that the Army, any army, is always planning for the last war. So, Tradition has its’ uses and its’ drawbacks. If you have a disagreement with Col. Bacevitch, argue with him, do not dismiss him. Otherwise, we will end up like the old Soviet Union under Stalin before WW2. Dissent was criminalized and millions died.

    5. JCC

      He’s a West Point Graduate himself. Maybe he knows a little bit of what goes on there and its history than the average American pundit.

      And just because he happens to favor not putting up statues to honor traitors to the Federal Govt at a Federal School does not mean that everything else he writes is worthless. For example, when the present, and longest, war in American History started, he predicted we would be stuck in the Middle East longer than we were stuck in Viet Nam. Was he wrong?

      It’s unfortunate his opinions were and are not shared by the Institutional US Army. In fact, based on my experience in Iraq 13 years ago, his opinions were shared by many of the troops, both officers and enlisted. Unfortunately it’s tough for honest and educated advice to be considered when massive amounts of ignorant BS are covering up everything.

    6. Doug Hillman

      Dangerous opinions, indeed, with dangerous questions and implications: “What is our overall objective in waging that no-name war?” (Longer than any in US history; do not think profit). And it’s dangerous to ask how well the variously stated objectives of defending freedom and democracy, nation-building, humanitarianism, and anti-terrorism have been measurably achieved in each country we’ve attacked. It’s also dangerous to ask what else we might have invested $7,000,000,000,000 in, such as education, infrastructure, or healthcare. Good American soldiers follow orders and don’t ask why.

    7. EoH

      That would be Robert E. Lee the traitor, right?

      And which army would your views represent? The one that sends their fine and well-trained young men and women into innumerable unnamed wars based on lies, fights them with no strategy and no plan to end them (or is that the point?), outsources its needs to for-profit firms, thereby dramatically increasing the costs for same, and stands by while the government it defends cuts the medical benefits of those no longer fit to serve?

      I think I’d prefer the views of at least one Marine, who concluded, after decades of fighting such wars, that war is a racket, and he a highly-decorated enforcer.

    8. WheresOurTeddy

      Wow I was going to pile on you, Heraclitus, but the comments above me have eviscerated your bootlicking comment pretty thoroughly already.

      Everyone involved with the Confederacy should be wiped from history and it should be illegal to honor them like it is in Germany for the criminals of the 1930s and 1940s.

      “I think his opinions are dangerous opinions, which are fortunately not shared by the Army” might be one of the most authoritarian things I’ve ever read.

      Beware anyone who would withhold your access to information, for in his heart he imagines himself your master.

    9. Sid_finster

      So Colonel Bacevich points out the monstrous crimes we have committed, the dead, the refugees, the destruction on a hitlerian scale, all in our name, in the name of a supposed democracy, not to mention the trillions of dollars wasted to no good end, but we don’t have to pay any attention to that because we gotta address the REALLY important stuff!

      Like preserving the statue of a traitor who fought in an evil but losing cause.

      Some people’s opinions deserve to be piled on. This is one.

  6. SufferinSuccotash

    The trouble with Bacevich is that he’s one of those old-fashioned Clausewitzians who actually believes that war is a continuation of politics by other means. Very quaint. Very archaic. The fact is, as Martin van Crefeld argued not too long ago, is that nowadays war has become its own justification. We no longer fight in the name of causes; we adopt causes so we can fight. A century ago this notion was often associated with fascism. Now it’s become normalized to the point of forming a background narrative to interminable armed conflict.
    For further details, consult Book Three of Thucydides.

    1. ambrit

      The corollary to that is that the violence underlying the ‘foreign’ wars always returns to the originating society, and wrecks it.
      Your definition can also be used as a description of Barbarism.

      1. Anon

        This corollary is front and center in Matt Taibbi’s recent article in The Rolling Stone Magazine (online version). Taibbi is a much more colorful writer than Bacevich. Taibbi’s take(down) on the 15th anniversary of the start of “Shock & Awe” is priceless.

    2. Synoia

      war is a continuation of politics by other means.

      What’s changed? It still appears correct.

      A century ago this notion was often associated with fascism.

      Yes. What changed? It still appears correct.

      1. a different chris

        What’s changed? War is now a continuation of business by other means.

        Yeah politics and business have always been entangled, but now the American version of war is more tuned to business needs rather than political ones.

        1. whine country

          Your statement that war is a continuation of business by other means is not only true but ironic coming in a post about the press. Most know that Calvin Coolidge reputedly said:: “The business of America is Business”. Left out is the fact that the actual statement was made in a speech entitled “The Press Under a Free Government”. His actual words:

          “There does not seem to be cause for alarm in the dual relationship of the press to the public, whereby it is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise. Rather, it is probable that a press which maintains an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation, is likely to be more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences.After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life”

          As to why the NYT chooses to ignore the questions raised by Mr. Bacevich I think they feel it would be plain bad business for them and the good old USA to do so.

    3. Carolinian

      Or to put it another way: “war is the health of the state.” In other words it’s a way for a ruling class to maintain itself and typically has little to do with “national interest” in the larger sense. After all the World Wars of the last century were ostensibly about national interest but ended up devastating all of the combatants except the United States.

      So seen in that light the stance of the Times and the Post–mouthpieces for the ruling class–make perfect sense. As our religious war against communism faded a new enemy was needed and so we now have a religious war against Islam (although nobody will say so). America, which 200 years ago went on its own path and stepped away from all those European wars of religion, is back in the game.

      Bacevich probably understands all this. He’s just being arch.

      1. hemeantwell

        I don’t think he’s being arch at all. My repeated complaint here about Bacevich is that he always avoids serious consideration of left-wing criticisms/analysis of US foreign policy. Here, consistently and incredibly, all he does is raise the sort of questions those criticisms try to answer. The terms “market” or “imperialism” are absent from his vocabulary, just as they are here. “Control” doesn’t even show up. “Israel”? Nah. It’s great that he’s going after the Times, but why in such a doggedly agnostic vein? To borrow from those great case studies by Oliver Sacks, he’s “The Man Who Could Not See Imperialism.”

    4. der

      Major Crispin Burke:

      Sun-Tzu, Clausewitz, Thucydides: It’s only a lot of reading if you do it. Great military strategists are oft-quoted, but rarely read.

      Burke: What’s a budding young strategist to do, then? By all means, read the classics. Read them in full, cover-to-cover…or at least the portions written by the original authors (I skip the hundreds of pages of forewards and afterwards). Next thing you know, you’ll be far more adept at recognizing the obligatory gratuitous Clausewitz quote. It won’t be long before you find yourself groaning at the inevitable article which begins by invoking “politics by other means”.

      On van Creveld:

      1. jsn

        Nice! Have you noticed lately the increasing use of “kinetic war” by our generals to refer to, well, actual war? The obviously imagine politics to be a continuation of war by other means.

    5. animalogic

      “Without a readily identifiable objective, how will anyone know when to raise that “Mission Accomplished” banner (again) and let the troops come home?”
      Regardless of Mr Bacevich’s rhetorical purposes here the objectives of the US (ie its Elites) are not exactly shrouded in mystery.
      The US has one primary purpose: to maintain, & expand its power & hegemony( & Israel’s) over as much of the world as it can. The US has two primary threats (& opportunities) re its primary purpose: the “revisionist” nations Russia & China — & their allies, friends or neighbors.
      The US employs a number of strategies, military, intelligence, economic, psyops (propaganda etc) to serve these purposes, whether directly or indirectly (Syria, for example is a of more direct strategy: open up pipeline possibilities for allies; destroy a Russian ally; weaken Russia (diplomatically/prestige & militarily by denying it a naval base on the Med); destroy/weaken another M.E secular state– thus, protecting/extending US/Israeli interests in the region. Afghanistan, seems, if more than a grotesque mistake, a more indirect strategy of denial of an important geo–strategic nation…although, it does give the US the easy opportunity to bully, intimidate others in the area such as Pakistan)
      There’s nothing illogical per se with such goals, except that they take NO account of reality.

    6. Arthur Dent

      War is Peace
      Freedom is Slavery
      Ignorance is Strength

      – George Orwell 1948

      Other than destabilizing large areas of the world and killing many people, my biggest concern about the “Long War” is the impact on discourse at home. We are seeing knee-jerk jingoism where questioning authority and requesting improvements in civil rights is denounced as un-American. This is reminiscent of the late 60s-early 70s when it was culminating in National Guard troops shooting white students on a university campus. Nowadays, we are seeing it in the angry reaction to black athletes kneeling during the national anthem. I hope our troops are off fighting for something more than the Star-Spangled Banner and the flag, say like the Bill or Rights, etc. I think the focus on gun rights is also part of this reaction which is getting so extreme that mass shootings in schools is viewed as acceptable collateral damage.

      1. Wukchumni

        Since 9/11, adults have been repeatedly told to go out and get as armed and dangerous as possible against an unquenchable foe, us.

        What were the Nikolas Cruz’s and contemporaries to do, but emulate their elders actions.

      2. Elizabeth Burton

        Questioning authority has been discouraged in the US for a very long time. Indeed, it was posited recently on an article I read about the ongoing destruction of free public education in large part by eliminating professionally trained teachers that the “education reform” movement may have been devised because schools suddenly stopped being places where children were taught by rote. Instead, teachers began to encourage them to learn by absorbing the material and thinking about it; that is, they were being taught critical thinking.

        And is it not the case that the right-wing religious fundamentalist movement’s basic tenant is a return to a time when men were the sole authority and those men in positions of power the only ones who dared wield it?

        It took me decades to stop cringing before those who gave the appearance of authority, because I grew up when children were taught obedience was the only option. I still do—inside. The reaction is deep and visceral—perhaps even a form of PTSD, given obedience was enforced by the use of trauma.

    7. djrichard

      Come now, we have all these evil doers all over the world. Can’t we all agree on that?

      Once again, it’s left to the US to pick up the mantle of fighting the good fight against them. If only there was more leadership in other parts of the world. Sigh.

      And truth be told, now the US faces this very enemy inside the US. Look at all the evil doers in our midst: white nationalists, sexual predators, school shooters. And those that are one evil act away from being evil doers: misogynists, populists, gun nuts, etc.

      Sure these evil doers and one-step-away-from-being-evil-doers were always with us. But if 9/11 and the election of Trump has taught us anything, it’s that we need to look at these evil doers through a new lens. A lens that tells us that we can solve the problem of these evil-doers and one-step-away-from-being-evil-doers once and for all. We just need to endeavor to persevere (with apologies to Lone Watie,

  7. RenoDino

    Bacevish is being coy. He knows very well what the hell is going on here. We’ve cast aside any pretense of defender and liberator and have embraced the role of exceptional imperial hegemon, with all the accoutrements that go with the role of an empire that hope to sit astride the earth for one thousand years. Now he wants the readers of the NYT to know it.

    That’s why Trump is the perfect avatar of America. The first rule of Empire is to never stop lying, and most importantly, never stop lying to oneself. But his lies are too transparent for the NYT’s tastes. He is bringing full disclosure to the goals we seek. He has dropped the pretense of noble causes. His garish, freakish display undermines the imperial charade. He must be stopped. Fortunately, there is a wide audience for maintaining the self-delusion that America only rides to the rescue of a beleaguered world.

    The front page of the NYT is a perfect distillation of the above. Trump is evil, but America still rules the world with good intentions at the point of a gun. Bacevish wants the Times to reconcile these two opposites. Not only will such a request be unprofitable for the NYT, it will dismantle the lies the Empire depends on.

    1. John Wright

      I remember Richard Nixon asserting that we had to “respect the office of the President” as if the person in that office was deserving of respect.

      I thought GW Bush might disabuse Americans of this notion, but that did not seem to happen as the media deemed his march into war as Presidential.

      Donald Trump might be quite useful if he causes Americans to question the actions of the USA government overseas.

      It would be good if we got to the state that Trump wants to do some military action overseas and the Times, the Democrats and Repubs are critical.

      Maybe this is hoping for too much.

      1. Wukchumni

        At this point, our best hopes seem to be that the reign of error will make golf go away-being tied to him as his only hobby aside from fornicating with women he’s not married to, and there ought to be rejoicing over the prospect.

      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        The problem is that the bipartisan mainstream Depublicrats want these wars and war actions. When Trump ordered a bunch of missiles fired on Syria, the NyTimes and others talked about how Trump was perhaps becoming a responsible statesman.

        If Trump ramps up support for the hotsie-totsie Banderazi coup regime in Kiev, the mainstream MSM will information-operationize all its readers and viewers about how Trump is showing promise of becoming a responsible statesman.

        If Trump adopts the permanent cold war with Russia which Clinton wanted and ran on, the MSM will say Trump shows promise of becoming a responsible statesman.

        So yes, it is hoping too much. Actually, it is hoping for the exact opposite of how the MSM and the Depublicrats will actually react. How they will actually react is to celebrate Trump’s acceptance of the pragmatic bipartisan foreign policy consensus. They will tell their readers how Trump has finally matured into a True Statesman.

  8. The Rev Kev

    I think that I would dispute this as it implies that there is no context or underlying causes to modern wars and that every war is a “one-off” with no lessons need learning. Actually, I would update Clausewitz and say that nowadays, that war is a continuation of economics by other means. If you don’t believe me, then read the words of Major General Smedley Butler-

  9. funemployed

    I’m an oldish millennial (mid 30s) who teaches undergraduates. Every once in a while, I try to make the point that, not so long ago, when I was not much younger than most of them, things like being at war and people shooting up schools were not considered normal.

    They just look at me as if I’m fondly reminiscing about rotary phones.

    1. Whiteylockmandoubled

      Uh, and when exactly was that? I’m a few years older than you, and can assure you that permanent war did not begin on September 11, 2001.

      1. Anon

        Exactly. I’m an early Boomer, so I remember: Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, Kosovo (as a proxy), “Grenada” ;), Surreptitious Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc.). . .

        As for homegrown violence: Texas Tower Massacre (Austin) occurred in the mid-60’s, Unabomber in the 70’s, and so on. This is one violent society!

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          The Texas tower massacre guy may not prove any useful political/cultural point. I remember reading that he left a note behind before he went up the tower. The note said to examine his brain to see what was wrong with it and why it would drive him up the Tower.

          I read further that his brain was indeed examined, and a tumor was found growing inside the rage-hatred-fury center inside the brain.

  10. Jef

    Global War OF Terrorism!

    A highly profitable self propagating industry.

    What makes being a bully work (and it really does work for getting what you want ) is making it very clear that you are just crazy enough to “go berserk on your a$$”. At least here in the US we got that going for us.

  11. Wukchumni

    Has there ever been a country that waged war as we do, not to garner the other guy’s stuff, but to profit only from having made armaments for the occasion?

    It’s often said that a gallon of gas that costs $3.50 here in one of the priciest locales in these United States, is more like $400.00 a gallon delivered in Helmand Province.

    Somebody’s making $396.50 per gallon on the gig, wonder who?

  12. Chauncey Gardiner

    What a marvelous proposition: “give our no-name war the attention that the Times normally reserves for the president it loathes”… “just for a single day”.

    And who else is really in a position to do this now?… Bezos’ WaPo has arguably been neutered on this subject by the reported $53 billion Pentagon et al procurement arrangement with Amazon under the NDAA and that paper’s hometown considerations. Perhaps one of the television networks could, but time constraints, format considerations, and audience fragmentation limit the depth and breadth of their coverage

    Bacevich mentioned some of the costs of this war, but what about the undiscussed upsides: The strategic realpolitic economic and geopolitical power considerations behind the curtain that so benefit the American people and the people of the MENA?

    1. djrichard

      “Bacevich mentioned some of the costs of this war, but what about the undiscussed upsides …”

      In particular, that the US has the power of discerning who deserves war and punishment and the right to inflict that upon them. Not only outside of the US, but inside the US as well (albeit through a less obvious touch). So if you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your head down low and not get in the way of their business.

      I suspect the WaPo would be just as timid as it is now, even without the Bezos/CIA connections.

  13. Peter Dorman

    This is a wonderful piece, with just one misstep, which I’m surprised no one at NC has jumped on. It occurs in the form of his final question, “Finally, what are the implications of saddling future generations with this financial burden?”

    Individuals and organizations can have financial burdens, not generations. (Yeah, I know there’s a formal argument to the contrary, but it depends on the conventions of overlapping generations models. This ain’t the place for that.)

    Future generations face an economic burden from these wars if prosecuting them depresses current investment. If you think deficit financing of military adventures has this effect, you have to make the argument. From what I see, the poor performance of nonresidential private fixed investment (and public investment) has other sources.

    That’s my only gripe though. The rest of the piece is great.

    1. Howard Hawhee

      This comment touches on the beginning of an answer, but I’d be interested to read an explicitly MMT-centric take on military spending and war. While the government and “future generations” can’t go broke as long as it has a sovereign currency, I hear Peter Dorman saying that there are forms of resource allocation that are more and less helpful and more and less harmful. Could someone elaborate on that thought some time? The work of the late, great Seymour Melman comes to mind.

      1. Scott1

        I’ve studied the hell out of WWI & WWII.
        From an MMT point of view I would say
        That as a mechanism for writing off un payable
        enslaving debt, the war worked for the Germans.

        The reason MMT needs to be more understood
        & either the EU free its members from the Euro
        or give them their currencies back,
        Is how effectively Economic Warfare can create
        War conditions.

        War conditions are you dying so the jet setters
        can get away with your money. Dying for your country & its banks,
        isn’t the same as dying to protect your borders.
        Dying for the sanctity of your loved ones & your way of life
        is more justified under international law.

        Its a lousy way to achieve write offs & write downs so corporations & rentiers & feudalist, are freed from foreign debt.

  14. Fastball

    I have a suggestion for Mr. Bacevich. (We’re both Andrews so we have that going for us, eh?)

    I think this no name war should be called America’s Forever War. Hopefully to get it across to our compatriots that our betters in the MIC want this war to never, ever end.

    1. Wukchumni

      I’m holding off calling it the Second Thirty Years War, as we’re only a little past the halfway point now.

    2. Ames Gilbert

      Joe Haldeman, who had direct combat experience and accompanying wounds (Vietnam) wrote the first of a series of two books, called “The Forever War” in 1974. This military science fiction focused on the possible development of war in the far future. But in many ways, it turns out that what he foretold/extrapolated is happening right now, especially in terms of how individual humans react to war when it affects them directly and personally.

  15. everyday joe

    NYT can also post civilian death toll along with troop deaths and $ count.
    I was at my local public library which also sells old National Geographics from the 80s and 90s ..There was a feature on Iraq and how women actually had freedoms, worked as professionals ….American foreign policy did more damage to civilian life in the middle east than Putin did in Crimea…
    Iraq was a 21st century colonial excess.

    1. HotFlash

      Very true. My BFF was an Assyriologist (now retired) but for the profs and students of her dept, working in Iraq on digs, research trips, etc. was commonplace in her department. Ditto frequent Iraqi as well as Iranian, Egyptian, Turkish and Israeli visitors for lectures, student exchanges and such. Back then (mid 60’s through the mid-80’s) lady diggers were expected to cover up decently (depending on local customs, eg, long sleeves and pants in Iraq, while bikinis were OK in Israel) but going there was safe. Not the case since The War started, and of course digging and research opportunities in the ME are essentially non-existent these days. So, we know less and less about the people we are killing and fewer and fewer students opt to specialize in the subject.

      Oh, interesting development in her old Dept — formerly called “Near Eastern Studies” and essentially confined to the ancient near east. It has been amalgamated with modern studies and to form something they called Middle Eastern Studies (IIRC), now Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. Many courses in Hebrew, both ancient and modern, Talmud, not so much ancient Babylonian, Sumerian or Akkadian. This, of course, may be merely a coincidence.

  16. David

    Bacevich is always worth reading.
    Pedantic note: the confusion about Clausewitz is because English is one of the few European languages (perhaps the only one) with separate words for “politics” as an activity and career, and “policy” – ie state policy. When Clausewitz talks about War and Politik he clearly means the second, since there was no politics, as we understand it, in the Prussia of his day. He’s just saying that it’s silly to look at war without asking yourself what objectives the war is serving. He would have understood perfectly the Endless War the US is engaged in, just as he would have understood Johnson’s decision to continue in Vietnam when the US could not win, because he was afraid of making the country look weak if he withdrew. It remains true, though, that if you don’t know what you’re trying to do, it’s very hard to define a military strategy to achieve it. What we’re seeing here, I suspect, is another iteration of the historical truth that it’s easier to get into a war than to get out of it. When there is never a good moment for stopping it you just carry on, leaving your military to try to identify something useful to do.

  17. Altandmain

    The issue is that the NYTimes and similar publications are basically the neoliberal equal of Pravda.

    They are presenting the news in a way that the rich would like you to think. They may have a few features that are worth reading and sometimes I even cite them, but their political opinion and foreign policy are basically the opinions of the plutocrats.

    Look at who they hire and whose articles are the most prominent. They have conservative commentators like David Brooks and then some so called centrists like Paul Krugman.

    The absence of legitimate left wing commentary on their editorial stances is notable. What they are saying is that it is ok to be Establishment Democratic or Establishment GOP. People who want real change need not apply.

    We should not forget about their pro-war coverage leading up to the Iraq War. I believe that it was Chris Hedges, currently at Truthdig who got dismissed by the NYT over his refusal to be a propagandist for the Bush administration.

    1. Anonymous

      Very worth underlining. The NYT isn’t, and hasn’t been in living memory, a vehicle for putting out truthful information. Rather, it’s been a vehicle for promoting the preferred worldview of it’s owners, senior executives, and customers (recall that readers are the product being sold to the Times’ actual customers, the corporations that buy ads). There’s no way the paper is going to publish anything that upsets the paper’s major stakeholders; anyone waiting for them to do it is in for a long wait.

      I’m not sure if Bacevich is being naive or just impish in his piece above. Anyone who wants answers to the questions he asks needs to look at the dissident press in the US and elsewhere. Or start their own!

  18. Tobin Paz

    Maybe it’s because I follow America’s imperial rampage closer than the average person, but this article said absolutely nothing that isn’t already well known. Not one mention of war crimes or crimes against humanity. I also found it ironic that he would mention that “American Occupied Iraq” has been liberated from ISIS.

    Articles like these can appear everyday of the year and not a damn thing will change until accountability and justice are demanded.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Ahem, I think that was his point, that he is saying things that are both known and not controversial yet the NYT refuses to say them.

  19. mrtmbrnmn

    In today’s “brave new world”, the purpose of wars is to HAVE them, NOT to win them. As Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler said way back in the amnesia of history: War is a racket. Nothing has changed except the bu$ine$$ of war is bigger than ever. When will Amazon get into that bu$ine$$, if it isn’t already?

  20. Wukchumni

    Utterly Krupp’d we are, but eventually we’ll get off the war wagon largely, and what will the USA more closely resemble in terms of countries, then?

  21. WheresOurTeddy

    The extent to which the Identity Politics crowd in the US can look past war and peace is astounding to me.

    Wouldn’t preventing death and destruction be the ultimate “virtue signaling”?

  22. schmoe

    Good post and wake me up when Rachel Maddow does a segment asking why we have 2,000 (or 4,000) troops in Syria.

  23. RBHoughton

    It seems the representatives in Congress have neglected their duty. The advice from a comedian is “Don’t vote, it only encourages them.” Its not yet illegal to withhold a vote in America.

    The author makes an excellent point. If the MSM was to join-up all America’s wars and draw the inevitable conclusions, the American people would finally be able to sit in judgement on their representatives. As the MSM does not do that, it has fallen to numerous digital sites operated by a few good men to join-up the dots. That’s something the NYT should note.

    We opted for the term GWOT because assymetrical warfare was bound to provoke hatred. Your enemy hits you but you cannot hit back except by sneaking into his cities and making explosions – that’s terrorism so long as you ignore its cause.

    GWOT s a form of war that cannot be won. Each new generation in Asia and Africa will take up the challenge from their parents. Foreign policy is substituting political policies (Republican or Democrat) for submission or destruction. That’s why the Pentagon must stay in every war zone where it enforces this dynamic. The day they stop the people will rebel and no foreigner in that country will be safe.

    1. Lambert Strether


      And he’s not wrong, is he?

      * * *

      Taibbi also writes:

      Shock and awe, we called it: a new plan for “achieving rapid dominance.” What a great Hollywood name, and goddamn if people didn’t sit glued to their TVs to watch its rollout, getting off like a bunch of kids blowing up frogs.

      For those who came in late — and not that this matters, since he has now been rehabilitated by liberal Democrats so they can appeal to suburban Republicans, and is now a Hero of the Republic — George W. Bush actually did blow up frogs, with firecrackers, as a child. See link at NC here.

  24. Jen


    “The chaos this has caused in the Middle East is well-documented. But the damage all this has done to our national psyche at home has been awesome, far-reaching, and poorly understood.

    It was for sure a contributing factor in the election of Donald Trump, whose total ignorance and disrespect for both the law and the rights of people deviates not one iota from our official policies as they’ve evolved in the last fifteen years.

    Trump is just too stupid to use the antiseptic terminology we once thought we had to cook up to cloak our barbarism. He says “torture” instead of “enhanced interrogation” because he can’t remember what the difference is supposed to be. Which is understandable. Fifteen years is a long time for a rotting brain to keep up a pretense.

    We flatter ourselves that Trump is an aberration. He isn’t. He’s a depraved, cowardly, above-the-law bully, just like the country we’ve allowed ourselves to become in the last fifteen years.”

    Matt’s not wrong about any of it.

  25. Roland

    @ Succotash,

    War is indeed politics by other means. Clausewitz is right. The politics of today’s US wars are the politics of empire. The policy was made explicit by the Bush defense doctrine: “Full spectrum dominance; permit no peer rival.”

    Remember that both Iraq and Libya were flirting with the idea of selling their exports on world markets in exchange for something other than USD.

    The USA didn’t smash those countries in order to steal some oil. The USA smashed those countries because if they remained independent and defiant, the rot could spread, possibly undermining the ability of the USA to purchase anything in the world in exchange for promises.

    From the imperial perspective, these wars are quite cheap. Consider:

    1. The opponents are weak, the causalties are low, recruitment of volunteers and mercanaeries has been adequate throughout. Morale remains good–no mutinies or desertions. No rioting youths burning draft cards.

    2. The financial cost has been met entirely through money printing. Nobody’s taxes got raised in the USA. There are no Victory Bond drives. It’s not like the USG has to persuade a lender of the business case, or persuade a taxpayer that the sacrifice is worth it. Instead a completely unaccountable central monetary authority quietly provides the sinews of war. No citizens ever got to vote for the Fed Reserve chair, even though that’s one of the most powerful offices in the republic.

    Anybody who accepts that war-fiat effectively finances the wars. The PRC bankrolled the Iraq War because it continued to accept fiat USD in exchange for huge amounts of real goods. Saudi Arabia financed the wars because it refuses to accept anything other than USD in exchange for its real goods.

    In a hard currency world trade system, empire aims to achieve a current account surplus. The imperial wealth extraction shows up in the figures as a flow of money towards the imperial centre.

    In a soft currency world trade system, empire aims to maximize current account deficits. The figures show up in the form of everbody else “lending” to the empire. In actuality, the world sends tribute in the form of their real goods in exchange for paper promises that the imperial centre can create merely at will.

    China wants another trillion? Fine, whatever, just pick up the phone and call the Fed. They send containers, we send them keystrokes. What a deal!

    In other words, Lenin’s critique in his pamphlet Imperialism remains perfectly valid, as long as one makes the appropriate adjustment for a soft currency regime.

    Imperial tribute extraction has big domestic implications. If you’re an American who makes his or her living by selling real goods or services that are unrelated to the imperial project, then your life just keeps getting harder.

    If you have to produce real goods or services in exchange for your money, then how do you compete with those who can borrow for free from the central bank and then purchase those goods and services from abroad? Is it any wonder that an imperial economy gets “hollowed out,” with the only thriving sectors being the administration and the military?

    Now you would expect foreign sellers to demand real good and services in exchange, but what if they’re pretty much forced to accept ever more fiat by the imperial control of the overall world market system? That system is ultimately backed by the threat of superior force. Mr. Market follows rules–who makes the rules?

    What makes this set-up so lovely is that the imperial forces are funded by the fiat. The subjugated pay for their own subjugation, forever and ever, Amen!

    Empire means subjugated people abroad, and subjugated people at home. I suppose at least the subjugated people at home can bask in the reflected rays of imperial “glory.”

    The NYT is a media organ politically aligned with the groups that benefit from this overall set-up. That’s why the thought of a dissident RF, or a more confident PRC, or an America refocused on domestic production, makes them so panicky. These threats to them seem mortal.

    War is politics? Of course it is.

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