Man­i­fest Destiny in the Mid­dle East

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Mil­i­tary his­to­rian An­drew Bace­vich

The book’s themes will also serve as the ba­sis for Bace­vich’s talk at the Len­sic. “I will be re­flect­ing on why it’s so dif­fi­cult to ex­tri­cate our­selves from the wars in the Greater Mid­dle East, de­spite the ob­vi­ous fact that they are fail­ing,” he said. “And at least by way of a foot­note, I will be ad­dress­ing what the con­se­quences of a Trump pres­i­dency may be for the re­gion and for U.S. for­eign pol­icy.”

As Bace­vich makes clear, the war for the Greater Mid­dle East has looked re­mark­ably sim­i­lar un­der both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions. “To most Amer­i­can ob­servers of U.S. pol­i­tics, it tends to be the dif­fer­ences be­tween pres­i­dents and poli­cies that are worth not­ing. But in the case of the Mid­dle East, the con­ti­nu­ities be­tween pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions are far more im­por­tant than the dif­fer­ences,” he said.

If any­thing, Bace­vich ar­gues, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pushed U.S. mil­i­tary operations into Pak­istan in a man­ner rem­i­nis­cent of Nixon’s clan­des­tine bomb­ings of Cam­bo­dia dur­ing the Viet­nam War. “By the time Obama un­leashed mis­sile-fir­ing UAVs and com­man­dos on Pak­istan, few both­ered to ques­tion the le­gal­ity of se­cret at­tacks in coun­tries with which the United States was not at war,” he writes. “Un­less large num­bers of U.S. ground troops were in­volved, the pre­rog­a­tives en­joyed by the Amer­i­can com­man­der in chief any­where in the Greater Mid­dle East had by now be­come pretty much lim­it­less.”

A large part of the prob­lem, Bace­vich ar­gues, is that Amer­ica’s lead­ers have an un­wa­ver­ing be­lief in the U.S. mil­i­tary’s abil­ity to solve prob­lems in the Mid­dle East that are ac­tu­ally eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, or cul­tural in na­ture. “We live in a so­ci­ety in which the ma­jor­ity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple are per­suaded that we have the great­est mil­i­tary the world has ever seen,” he said. “They believe that if prop­erly pre­pared, the U.S. mil­i­tary can do any­thing. Our in­volve­ment in the Mid­dle East and Is­lamic world sug­gests some­thing to the con­trary. No pub­lic fig­ure has been will­ing to ac­knowl­edge that.”

While pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has sig­naled that he would re­duce U.S. mil­i­tary en­gage­ment in the Mid­dle East, Bace­vich is hes­i­tant to pre­dict what sort of for­eign pol­icy or mil­i­tary en­gage­ments in the Mid­dle East the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will pro­duce. “Had Hil­lary Clin­ton pre­vailed, this war for the Greater Mid­dle East would have con­tin­ued with the same tra­jec­tory,” he said. “But with Trump as pres­i­dent, all bets are off. By no means am I sug­gest­ing he is pur­su­ing an al­ter­na­tive course in the Mid­dle East. Who knows what Trump is go­ing to do? But he has sug­gested he him­self may not be par­tic­u­larly en­am­oured with con­tin­u­ing our mil­i­tary ef­forts in the re­gion.” Bace­vich ac­knowl­edges the tremen­dous difficulty of shift­ing U.S. for­eign pol­icy and mil­i­tary en­gage­ments in the Mid­dle East when less than one per­cent of Amer­i­cans serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. To at­tempt to change the course of Amer­i­can pol­icy in the Mid­dle East, he said, would mean chang­ing core be­liefs about Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism and its role as a cru­sad­ing global po­lice force.

“There is a psy­cho­log­i­cal el­e­ment to our persistence,” Bace­vich said. “There is a col­lec­tive sense of our place in his­tory. Ever since World War II and the start of the Cold War, there is a sense that we are the driver of his­tory and that his­tory has a tra­jec­tory. When it comes to Amer­ica’s War for the Greater Mid­dle East, there’s a per­sis­tent be­lief that we are a peo­ple to whom lim­its don’t ap­ply.” ▼

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