Andy Bacevich had yet another interview with Bill Moyers the other day, and the video and transcript are now online. Bacevich makes a succinct and reasonable case for why our Afghan adventure should be ended, and what we should do instead:
First of all, we need to assess the threat realistically. Osama bin Laden is not Adolf Hitler. Al-Qaeda is not Nazi Germany. Al-Qaeda poses a threat. It does not pose an existential threat. We should view Al-Qaeda as the equivalent of an international criminal conspiracy. Sort of a mafia that in some way or another draws its energy or legitimacy from a distorted understanding of a particular religious tradition.
And as with any other international criminal conspiracy, the proper response is a police effort. I mean, a ruthless, sustained, international police effort to identify the thugs, root out the networks and destroy it. Something that would take a long period of time and would no more succeed fully in eliminating the threat than the NYPD is able to fully eliminate criminality in New York City.
The whole thing is worth a listen. Unlike Gerson or Brooks, Bacevich is a minor media figure who is rarely quoted or published in the Times or the Post, simply because he is consistent, straightforward, honest and right.
I’d be sore pressed to defeat this man in verbal battle, and not because he’s batshit insane living in the land where water flows faster the more you close the tap.
I remember how good a reception John Kerry got in the Presidential campaign for suggesting this sort of viewpoint. He was widely embraced by ordinary conservatives and the billion dollar news media for this well-thought through call for greater rationalism and less dangerous adventurism.
comrade scott's agenda of rage
He’s also shrill, another reason why the Corporate Media Whores won’t listen to him.
“International police efforts” don’t generate any revenue for the military industrial complex, so that’s clearly a non-starter.
Er, I mean, Very Serious People don’t think you can be Very Serious without talking about invasions and nuclear weapons to stop criminals.
Al-Qaeda does not pose an existential threat. But our collective reaction to the threat that Al-Qaeda poses does pose an existential threat. In other words, the question of whether Al-Qaeda poses an existential threat could be characterized as semantic. Until we can change our collective reaction, that is.
you can’t finance f-35 raptors, aircraft carriers, [add your military boondoggle here], etc on an international criminal conspiracy
given that realistically assessing the threat is itself a threat to the electoral strategy of one of the two major political parties in the US, this will not happen.
licensed to kill time
I absolutely agree with Bacevich in his opinion on this, and have always wondered what might have happened in an alternate universe had Gore or Kerry been president in terms of the way they would have handled 9/11. I daydream about it sometimes. No two wars, no millions of people misplaced, dead, wounded, traumatized, no Gitmo. Just some criminals pursued, prosecuted and locked up. Sigh.
It could’ve happened, right?
I think the Mafia comparison fails in one significant regard…
The Mafia isn’t focused on acts of mass murder against civilian populations.
this is dangerous, dangerous talk. Why do you hate America?
Unfortunately, just like it took Nixon to go to China, it’s going to take a Republican to officially end the GWOT and turn it into a police effort like it should have been all along.
@licensed to kill time: during the 2004 election I made a series of flyers about this. The theme was wouldn’t it have been nice if we had a President that actually did everything he could to stop 9/11 instead of staying on vacation for over a month? I’m not even a LIHOP truther, but it sure would have been nice if the Bushies had looked like they were trying.
Al Qaeda is not a nationalist organization, and (I forget who first said this, but I didn’t) in terms of military firepower, they’re roughly on par with the Crips.
This is not a military problem.
Seriously, this guy is hitting triples at every at bat and the wingnuts can only stand by and watch:
That’s a pretty big win right there. Any honest broker on the right would agree, but I suspect nobody on the right is willing to be smeared with that label.
The italians who’ve lived with IRA style bombings from the Mafia targetted at those who’ve pissed them off for generations would disagree.
If we treat this like a Police Effort, then who do we nuke?
@Martin: I’m predicting “Obama forces US ally to be defenseless against Soviet aggression.”
Personally, I find Republicans, Teabaggers, and religionists of all stripes to be existential threats to me. So al Qaeda is only a small cohort among all the much larger and just as ignorant and blood-thirsty assholes who I find to be absolute proof that the entire idea of a god, let alone some paternal being who supposedly loves me, is a huge cosmic joke.
Spare me from the fear mongering about al Qaeda. They are the absolute least of my worries.
If you have the time, make sure to watch the full extended Moyers interview with Bacevich, which wasn’t aired (a shame), but only available online.
Replace the Mafia with the American militia or Patriot movement. Kinda works then, huh?
I make a point to read Bacevich whenever possible; he wrote a great piece about Catholics and the Vatican one day last week. He’s a good writer and seems to come across very clearly and concisely, which is nice in this day and age.
That would be a more apt comparison, yes.
No it isn’t. Nixon went to China because it was an appropriate time for Americans and Chinese to reestablish diplomatic relations. That Nixon was able to silently reign in the anti-Communist lynch mobs within his own party doesn’t make him diplomatic magic. Had Johnson or Humphrey been in office, either one could have easily made the trip. Nixon just happened to be relatively immune from the madness he happily stirred up against his opposition.
What’s more, we don’t have much in the way of modern day Nixons anymore. Tricky Dick knew when to bow to political winds – he knew when the country demanded accountability and created the EPA, he knew how to play the Vietnam War to look like a hawk to the warmongers and a dove to the easily-duped centrists, he knew when to raise taxes, and he knew when to axe his VP and to step down from the Presidency.
Modern Republicans simply don’t understand those things today. Rumsfeld stayed in office well past his expiration date. Cheney’s undisclosed location couldn’t completely shield his staff from Valarie Plame blowback. McCain went down chanting “Drill, Baby, Drill” alongside his Wasilla Wingnut.
Put a Republican in office and he’ll double Gitmo, he’ll stomp his feet for 100 more years in Iraq, and he’ll try to repeal health care so he can get government out of your Medicare. Now, more than ever, the Republican base WILL NOT LET NIXON GO TO CHINA. They can’t do much of anything, really, except taking wild stabs at the liberals.
@pharniel: Is this sarcasm? How on Earth is Bacevich “batshit insane?”
@licensed to kill time:
No, it wouldn’t have happened. Gore may be fat, but he’s not crazy.
Seriously, what is the difference between the Armed Forces and a SWAT Team?
One wears green fatigues, while the other wears blue?
licensed to kill time
Well, I’m not even going to get into the prevention aspect because whatever way it happened, it did occur. I have always thought that the planners and actors in that scenario succeeded beyond their wildest expectations, and that the response they provoked was even more than what they had hoped for.
My daydream has always been about the response to 9/11. I remember the way the whole world was shocked and sympathetic and outraged on America’s behalf, and it took Bush & Co. about a millisecond to change that sentiment. They played right into the hands of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Inflating them into the world’s boogeyman was probably intensely gratifying for them. I wish they had been looked upon with scorn and hunted like the criminals that they are instead. Marginalized, instead of being made the focus of so much attention. That would have been humiliating for them, and richly deserved.
Some of Bacevich’s macroeconomics is wrong and plays into the hands of the deficit hawks who seem to only worry about deficit spending when it goes to social insurance.
But at least he is consistent, and includes excessive and counterproductive military spending for imperialistic adventures in his analysis.
So, I think overall he provides a good perspective.
Second that. My only contact w. Bacevich was to cold-call him for insight on a blog post I was doing about a McArdle blargh on careerism in higher ed. choices among the US military officer corps. He spoke with a complete stranger for about twenty minutes, was clear, corrected some of my misconceptions and generally did his best in the middle of his working day to make sure that his caller got the key ideas right.
He then had the kindness to check my use of his time to make sure (at my request) I hadn’t committed any arrant acts of stupidity. Remember — all this in the middle of his working life as a full time professor in term time, and whatever else he does as a public intellectual.
He’s the real deal. Gerson, Bobo and the rest…not so much.
Very few such pundits — term used quite loosely — are. However, I attribute this more to the near-impossibility of consistently being right, rather than a blacklist.
The only person of any prominence that I can think of who, going back at least a decade, has been on the side of angels about pretty much everything is Hendrik Hertzberg. Took a lot of guts to say, as he did in the immediate aftermath of September 11, that the U.S. should not go to war, but instead treat the apprehension of those responsible “as a police matter, of the most urgent kind.”
Why? Because “[the terrorists] may enjoy the corrupt protection of a state…[B]ut they do not constitute or control a state.”
Clearly, this was a minority view, even on the left.
@Cacti: Air support? Artillery?
@Citizen_X: I read pharniel’s comment to mean that you would not want to get involved with Republicans in a verbal battle because they are batshit insane and not subject to logic, but that you don’t want to mess with Bacevich for other reasons (ie. he is smart and knowledgable)
kommrade reproductive vigor
Well of course not. The man obviously hates America, the troops and ponies.
I bet if we started waterboarding Italian Catholics we could get a 9-0 Supreme Court majority outlawing torture.
@Cacti: Well, I’m pretty sure SWAT teams are held to a higher standard when it comes to gunning down civilians.
SWAT teams, for instance, aren’t allowed to fly a helicopter over a city street and just light up a bunch of civilians they think have guns. In fact, if there’s one thing SWAT tends to lack that gets a lot of civilians killed in Iraq, it’s aerial artillery.
I was also under the impression that SWAT teams usually required a warrant. Which loosely translates into “accountability”.
I saw this on Friday, 4/9, evening. Good interview. Too bad our America prefers never ending war.
Brooks’s job is to pump out social opinion engineering that is useful for established powers. Whether it has anything to do with facts or rational argument is beside the point. It is like selling junk food and fake weight loss supplements. You just do whatever it takes to get the marks to buy the line.
Brooks fantasy that Butler is a grubby working class college that punches above its weight, a kind of ‘real American’ Los Angeles State University is easy to disprove.
His dishonest or ignorant fantasy social and economic history is less easy to counter in a few words.
But both serve their purposes for social engineering.
He’s not. that’s the point. You actually have to look at his points, determine if there’s a weakness, and attempt to address that.
rather than attempt to determine if the guy you’re talking to even agree on basic assumptions, such as ‘the earch goes around the sun”
Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., an optometrist in Fairfax County, Va, was under investigation for gambling. When authorities decided it was time to arrest him, they set up a meeting between Culosi and an undercover agent. They also sent out a SWAT team as backup. The unarmed and non-violent Culosi was shot and killed during the encounter when an agent’s gun accidentally misfired.
SWAT teams don’t light up civilians. They accidentally misfire
What always baffles me about the right’s approach to Iraq/Afghanistan is the need to stay until we “win” without actually defining what the hell that means.
Admitting that terrorism can be contained but never be totally eliminated is a step in the right direction.
@licensed to kill time:
In the wake of 9/11, Iran made their first formal diplomatic overture in over 20 years by sending a formal condolence message. And what did we do in return? We invaded their next-door neighbor and called them part of the “axis of evil.”
That’s what really pisses me off about the Bush years. We had the opportunity of a lifetime to unite the world against terrorism and we shat it down the toilet on purpose.
Let the freak out and endless posts about how Obama is insulting Hillary, again — begin, from Taylor Marsh and the rest of PUMA’s: Obama is not nominating Hillary to SCOTUS
Interesting interview, but I’m not sure that it offers an accurate assesment of the problem, or possible solutions. Much of it is the standard pacificist narrative that war is just sooooo unnecessary, and we just need to unleash the cops, CSI, the FBI and maybe Interpol and life will just be groovy. This kind of thing entirely ignores the political objectives of Al-Qaeda.
Perhaps Afghanistan is an unresolvable muddle, and troops on the ground won’t solve anything. But Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is part of the larger problem of the resurgent Taleban in the region, and the threat that a victorious Taleban would again support Al-Qaeda or other terrorists groups, and also attempt to destabilize Pakistan.
In an ideal world, I would like to see some kind of diplomatic solution, and some of the Obama Administration’s efforts don’t seem particularly effective (although we don’t know what behind-the-scenes stuff is going on).
Oh, and by the way, if we just pull the troops out, do we also halt all military aid to Pakistan? Also, by the way, since some of the aid that we gave to Pakistan in the past emboldened that country into covertly supporting the Taleban, our involvement in the region is longer and messier than some want to acknowledge (oh yeah, and we backed Pakistan against Bangladesh when that poor country was trying to assert its independence).
But reading the transcript, apart from “pull the troops out,” there isn’t much of a recommendation of what they hell to do in the region to minimize future problems.
The last time I checked, the mafia didn’t particularly give a rat’s ass about politics, as long as government officials stayed out of their business or just shut up and took their bribes. Also, since when does the mafia draw energy from a “distorted understanding of a particular religious tradition?”
I mean, a ruthless, sustained, international police effort to identify the thugs, root out the networks and destroy it. Something that would take a long period of time
A strategy that would demand intelligence, flexibility and patience, hence totally beyond the capabilities of Cheney, Bush and the batshit-insane, political-expediency-craving, dumb-it-down, kill-kill-torture, ADD chickenhawk dumbfucks of the Repig party.
What party does Bacevich belong to, again? If the GOP don’t get to blow shit up and play bang-bang with their toy soldiers to impress their mouth-breathing bloodthirsty base, they just don’t give a fuck.
Well, they are mostly Catholic, right?
I’m with Bacevich. We definitely should have called the Afghan 5-0 and gotten them on the case. I’m sure they’d have put their best guys on it. Right away. And they’d definitely find the real killers.
Not that war is the answer but sending out Officer Clancy against the dudes who defeated the Soviet Army probably isn’t exactly realistic either.
And as with any other international criminal conspiracy, the proper response is a police effort.
While that sort of thinking is certainly on the right track, let’s not get carried away into Bizarro-land. If the Mafia or any other criminal organization launched a 9/11 style attack, I kind of doubt a law-enforcement-only response would be appropriate or even practical.
Using the NYPD in the analogy also makes me wince.
Considering their record of gunning down unarmed people of color, and the torture of Abner Louima…
Does anyone expect New York’s finest to exercise restraint and respect for the rule of law if they’re certain they have the goods on a suspected “terrorist” (whether true or not)?
licensed to kill time
And that is the difference between competent leadership and a kneejerk response. Terrible things happen, but how you respond to those things is what makes all the difference. A great leader would do what is best for the country and for the world, but Bush & Co. seized the opportunity to further their own aims, to twist what happened into an opportunity to carry out an agenda that served only their own purposes, while making brave noises about freedom and democracy.
It could have been radically different. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and they blew it in the most spectacular way. It’s been a huge success for al Qaeda and bin Laden, though. Now half the world hates or at least mistrusts the U.S.
I remember a cartoon from around the time of the Iraq “Shock and Awe” thing that showed a couple of kids in front of the TV, saying “I hope they don’t bring freedom and democracy to our country”.
Enduring Freedom, indeed.
@Liz: is there a link to the article?
As if to further underscore Bacevich’s lack of the razzle-dazzle that fascinates the media, he was born in Normal, IL.
Mistermix, can you ask John to add Bacevich’s newer blog to the roll?
@Cacti: And this story made it all the way into local paper as actual news. Furthermore, SWAT can be held liable for the incident in ways the US Military simply is not.
An investigation was conducted, regular police were involved, those arrested (and not shot) were afforded civilian trials, etc, etc…
That someone on SWAT got trigger happy does not make SWAT and the Marines identical outfits, and if you can’t distinguish the shades of gray between military firepower constrained by civil law and military firepower constrained by military whim, I can’t help you.
…and all I got was this lousy police state instead.
Given the long and well-documented history of US law enforcement agencies violating the constitutional rights of, and using excessive and unjustified lethal force against US citizens of a non-white hue…
Why should I believe that turning anti-terror operations over to law enforcement agencies won’t exacerbate these problems?
@srv: Sure. Thanks for the link.
Wasn’t Bacevich’s son a soldier who died in Iraq?
Martin, totally agree.
I like this line from Gibbs:
I assume it will be met with a bitchy chorus of “LEAVE PRESIDENT BUNNYPANTS ALOOOOOOOOOONEEEEE!”
licensed to kill time
Yes. Here’s something he wrote about it in 2007.
@licensed to kill time:
Thanks. The letter clearly was written by a man who loved both his son and his country…even if some Americans missed that point…
And yet we haven’t invaded Mexico even though they’re killing our consular employees. Unless you have definite proof that the government of the country where the terrorists are operating from is actively supporting them, invading that country is counterproductive, to say the least.
(Afghanistan, IMO, was rightly invaded because the government of that country was actively aiding and abetting al-Qaeda.)
Why have any faith in any sort of government whatsoever? Just go full blown Libertarian and wave your shotgun at the next guy in a uniform that approaches your front door.
Or you could acknowledge the long and well-documented history of US law enforcement agencies being held accountable to their actions externally via the legislative and judicial process or reformed internally via new management.
The civil branches have a better history of reform than the military. DNA testing releases criminals from death row. Habeus corpus protects civilians from endless detainment before trial. A host of civil rights are on the books to protect you from the police.
Rodney King and OJ Simpson are perfect examples of individuals wronged by the police system (despite being guilty as fuck) that were vindicated under the police system.
Those safety valves simply don’t exist in Iraq. There is no functional appellate process worth mentioning against the military. There is no serious judicial system for POWs or enemy combatants. There is no oversight for the chain gun totting soldier, no internal threat of repercussion.
Even a system prone to failure is better than no system. And Sal’s case is working it’s way through the system.
Again, not perfect by any stretch, but one to work within.
I watched it last night. It was pretty depressing and I couldn’t help thinking about what might have been. Maybe it would have turned out the same had we not invaded Iraq, but my heart still aches for the children there.
Are you being sarcastic? Or stupid?
The good news is that Bacevich is a profoundly sane and rational voice in his subject area, the nexus between foreign and military policy in this country.
The bad news is that his voice is talking to a country whose powerful minority party mostly believes in the End Times, has a bellicose attitude toward all world affairs, and constantly forces the nation into reactionary and self-defeating policies on the world stage.
Oh, and Pharniel at #1: Whut? I think that Binford(tm) 1000 Combination Food-Word Processor you are using has thrown a gear.
Edit: Pharniel at #35: Ok.
Right. If you’re innocent, you’ve got nothing to hide. Trust the badge. A liberal position if ever I’ve heard one.
Anyway, this is the top local law enforcement in my neighborhood. Call me nutty cuckoo libertarian if I don’t think handing Anti-Terrorism enforcement over to his department is a great idea.
” Andy Bacevich” seems a bit informal. Considering he has a fair amount of national service under his belt, it may help the newbies and less addicted newsies if you refer to him as Colonal Andrew Bacevich (Ret.)
Oh damn, typo, “Colonel” not colonal.
Enter “Andrew J. Bacevich” in the TomDispatch search box for more online articles.
Engelhardt has my thanks for running A.J.B. articles and links for several years now.
What is so great about Bacevich, and you’ll notice this if you watch the Moyers’ video, is that he actually thinks before he speaks and chooses his words carefully. It seems so simple, but when you watch pretty much any news show out there and see some pundit filling their speech with “errs” and “Umms”, you really begin to understand the tremendous benefit that such a simple step as making sure you have something to say before you open your mouth has on clarity and correctness.