American Militarism

ANDREW BACEVICH – We are today moving towards a multi-polar world, “although few in Washington are yet willing to acknowledge that.”

You wrote in March 2003, on the eve of the Iraq War, that “if, as seems probable, the effort encounters greater resistance than its architects imagine, our way of life may find itself tested in ways that will make the Vietnam War look like a mere blip in American history.” Has this prediction come true? How has the United States been “tested”? 

It’s probably too soon to tell, but my guess is that Iraq War will prove to be a turning point in US history in ways that Vietnam was not.  Above all, historians are likely to see Iraq as the event that rendered no longer credible American claims that the US was the “indispensable nation” or the “sole superpower.”  We are moving toward a multi-polar global order although few in Washington are yet willing to acknowledge that.

 You challenge the usefulness of American ‘militarism’ in the diplomatic arena. What are the consequences for this country if it does not rethink the “Washington consensus”?

Unless Americans awake to the fact that our militarized approach to policy costs more than it delivers in benefits, then we will hasten the process of decline and make it irreversible.

How should the end of combat operations in Iraq shape the role which the United States expects to play in the Middle East?

A first step toward wisdom is to recognize that the United States possesses precious little ability to “shape” Iraq or Afghanistan or any other country.  The very concept is absurd — as absurd (and as patronizing), for example, as some Chinese official claiming that China possesses the capability to “shape” the United States.

Noam Chomsky described the responsibility of intellectuals during wartime. Over the course of two wars which many have likened to Vietnam, how have you interpreted your responsibility as a scholar?

I don’t think being a scholar has anything to do with responsibility. Regardless of our particular calling or station in life, we are all summoned to seek the truth and to speak the truth.


ANDREW BACEVICH is Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he received his PhD in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. Before joining the faculty of Boston University, he taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins. Bacevich is the author of many books, the most recent of which is Washington Rules: America’s Path to War (2010).

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