May 28, 2007

Bacevich's Prescriptions

I had never heard of Professor Andrew Bacevich until the sad news came that the son of this war opponent lost his life in combat in Iraq. It should be no consolation at all that a draft-deferred old blogger came to know of the father because he learned of the son's death.

Be that as it may, I've just read Bacevich père's latest, The New American Militarism. Bacevich tries to account for the place the military has acquired in American life post-Vietnam, and finds much that alarms him. What's significant is that Bacevich himself is a West Pointer and a Vietnam vet, and rarely is seduced by the enthusiasms of the Europhilic, oikophobic élites.

For all that an academic style occasionally obtrudes, the book is an interesting read. Unlike many such critiques, the book ends with a set of rather specific prescriptions. These are worth summarizing, and I trust will be regarded as fair use.
  1. Heed the intentions of the Founders. By this notion Bacevich suggests we return to the Constitution's preamble, in which the union is intended, among other things, "to provide for the common defense," but not for remaking the world in our image, or in the name of some imagined ideal.
  2. Revitalize the separation of powers. In a word, this means giving the Congress a backbone transplant when it comes to foreign adventures.
  3. View force as a last resort. Bacevich would renounce the notion of preventive war. He would use force to act in genuine self defense, to retaliate for acts of aggression, and in concert with other nations to prevent things like genocide.
  4. Enhance U.S. strategic self-sufficiency. Bacevich views true autarchy as impossible or too costly to achieve, but a greater degree of energy independence is possible and desirable.
  5. Organize U.S. forces explicitly for national defense. This notion is the negative conclusion one would draw from Madeline Albright's query as to what good all this military strength does if we don't use it. A military organized to defend trade routes, our borders and shores, would be less likely to be misused abroad, because it would be less usable in imperial ventures. This notion also means closing garrisons abroad and restricting obligations to others who could defend themselves, South Korea being an example. Bacevich (unlike me) doesn't necessarily want to jettison NATO, but he suggests a European commander.
  6. Devise a gauge for a level of defense spending. Bacevich points out that if we spend as much as the next ten nations combined, the reduction would be substantial.
  7. Enhance alternative instruments of statecraft. In short, reform and improve our diplomatic capability.
  8. Revive the citizen-soldier. Bacevich recognizes that the draft is a non-starter, but suggests that excessive professionalization and separation of the officer corps from the society, especially the upper classes. He suggests that "citizens who defend the country should get a free college education; those who choose not to do so ought to pay their own way."
  9. Enhance the role of the National Guard and the reserve. This notion is something different from the current reality of nearly constant deployment overseas to a force that is organized to respond to threats to the homeland, whether military or natural disasters.
  10. Reconcile the American military profession to American society. Bacevich points to the service academies and the war colleges as emphasizing distinctions between "us" and "them," and suggests all officers should obtain degrees at civilian universities and then go to a service academy for a a year or two; and all career officers should do graduate work at civilian universities.
There's much to chew on, here. Those who are skeptical of the ideology and spirit of our universities might dwell comment on the leftward bias of our universities as an obstacle to the reform Bacevich proposes:
Indeed, participation of the Left in rejuvenating higher education on matters related to national defense is crucial. Few things are more important to promoting a critical appreciation of the dilemmas facing the United States as a military superpower than to induce the Left to recognize that, like it or not, war remains part of the human condition and central to the human experience and hence eminently worthy of study.
The importance of this work, beyond its specific analyses and prescriptions, is that it is an example of an approach to matters military that is patriotic, realistic about the place of force in human experience, and yet neither jingoistic nor expansionist.

My condolences to Prof. Bacevich and my congratulations on his intellectual effort.

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