Outlook: Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance

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Andrew Bacevich
Monday, June 28, 2010; 11:00 AM

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, discusses his <a href='http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062502160.html '>Outlook article </a> titled ''Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance,' about Afghanistan, Iraq and the dangers of protracted conflict for military and civilian leaders.

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Andrew Bacevich: I am grateful to the Post for allowing me to participate in this exchange.Andrew Bacevich

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military-civilian interaction: Doesn't military disregard for civilian control predate Vietnam? In "Death of a President," Manchester noted that when Sec. of Defense McNamara and Jean Kennedy Smith went to Arlington in a downpour to look over the grave site, military men accompanying them held umbrellas over the senior military man present and over Ms. Smith--the woman--but allowed the Secretary of Defense, who was technically their superior, to get soaked. This was before opposition to the Vietnam War was widespread.

Andrew Bacevich: So the principle is one that citizens should never take for granted.

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The Narrowing Demographics of the Army Officer Corps as a Contributing Factor to this Dilemma: Dr. Bacevich, Thanks for your outstanding article. For a number of years, I've been following the changing regional and demographic trends of our entering cohorts of Army officers. The broad changes in the pool of those seeking an officers' commission, and where they are drawn from, is profound and deserves greater attention. The national realignment in Army ROTC program allocations since 1989 is perhaps the best lens to view this trend through.In 2004, fully 59% of Army ROTC graduates hailed from the South while only a meager 18% were drawn from the Northeast. Since 1989, the Northeast saw its authorized number of Army ROTC programs slashed from 50 to 27 (note: these closures were unilateral decisions by the Army). In contrast, Alabama alone currently has 10 Army ROTC programs and Georgia has 9. States such as South Dakota (pop. less than 900K) and Utah (pop less than 3 million) have the same Army ROTC program allocation - 3 - as New Jersey (pop. 9 million) and more than NYC (pop. 8 million with 2 programs) or Chicago (pop. 3 million with 1 program).Do you feel that the geographic and ideological narrowing of those joining our increasingly self-selecting officer corps contributes to the trends you describe? Do you feel that the worldview and attitudes of our current senior leadership contributes to the Army's continued movement away from Metropolitan America as a source of its future leaders? The emergence of a "warrior caste" in the U.S. is among my biggest concerns and I genuinely believe that these personnel trends are hastening its emergence. I would appreciate your thoughts and I greatly respect your work. Here are some graphics the WSJ produced on this trend that you may find informative.Sincerely, Stephen K. Trynosky CPT, MS, USAR

Andrew Bacevich: academies be transformed from undergraduate institutions into "commissioning schools," that all officer candidates would attend after completing their education at a civilian college or university.

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"Honest" Military and the Citizen Soldier: Please comment on the value of 'citizen' as opposed to 'career' military personnel entering and exiting our military forces and their potential to impact 'honesty', constitutional loyality, and our nation's protection from both foreign and domestic enemies. Harry Truman proposed a type of one-year rotation for all citizens back in 1945.

Andrew Bacevich: I find the idea to be tremendously appealing, but the cultural conditions don't seem to be right.

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A Timely Message We Should Take as a Call to Action: There is little I can add to this eloquent and profound warning. I would only ask the Washington Post to expand the author's biographical note so that readers realize this message comes from an academic who also wore his nation's uniform for most of his life and fought and bled for the nation. He knows the military culture of which he speaks.

Andrea Caumont: I've done so, thank you. And here is Prof. Bacevich's Wikipedia entry and his Boston University bio.

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If it is arrogance, it is well-paid arrogance: Not only is this endless war, but it has resulted in an unbelievable inflation in military salaries, largely a response to keeping U.S. forces in far-off lands.If you look it up, you will find that based on his service (he is a Class of 1976 graduate of West Point), MdChrystal was earning $213,420 a year as a four-star general in the U.S. Army. Since he was serving in a combat zone, that is tax free money, again thanks of a Congress anxious to have enough troops to send to unpopular places. McChrystal's pension now is 50 percent of his salary, or $106,710 a year, but that will be taxable.This is not a military force, it is a mercenary force. You didn't address this directly, but there is an alternative, and that is to bring back the draft. It would be much more democratic, it would be cheaper, and it would be how we have fought all our wars in the past. And it would put a stop to the establishment of an imperial military, which is what I believe we now have in this country.I agree with you that the comments of McChrystal's staff and those of the general himself show an "us" versus "them" attitude that is dangerous in any democracy. But we _ or at least our elected representatives _ have made this situation. So distasteful are the memories of Vietnam that only a few voices in Congress today support the idea of having a draft, but I think we need a discussion to bring it back to save the military from itself. When the generals earn more than Supreme Court justices or members of Congress, something is terribly wrong. I think one thing is clear, and that is we would not have 10-year wars if we had a draft.

Andrew Bacevich: But we are kidding ourselves if we think that God and country can adequately explain why the young 18-year-old shows up at his local recruiter's office.

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Endless War - 4 Star Arrogance: Is this partly the result of the Generals concluding the political objectives they have been given, for say Afghanistan, are unachievable?

Andrew Bacevich: Well, who knows? It was not exactly shoved down their throat.

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Limited War: The Truman Administration put us on a path of "limited war". In other words, total war to win became obsolete because of the fear of nuclear destruction. Thus our military has been haltered a la Korea etc. It is certainly not hard to understand the conflict. Civilian leaders seek limited war (restore the situation to it's previous mark) whereas military personnel are trained/taught to win. As a retired Marine Office of 26 years service in Korea and Viet Nam it certainly rankled me. How do you view this division?

Andrew Bacevich: Political considerations must remain paramount or war cannot possibly make any sense or be morally justifiable.

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Quagmire: I found the article fascinating and thought provoking. My question is now that we have had this "standing army" for years...how do we "exit" these "long wars" and return to a citizen army with a common purpose?

Andrew Bacevich: If we shrink our foreign policy, then restoring good sense to our military policies will become feasible.

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Professional Military vs. Ragtag Opponents: Often we read that the U.S. has the most professionaly trained military in the world. Along with that, we have the most advanced weaponry and air power vs. that of tribal warlords of Afghanistan. How is it that these militants, without this combination, are able to hold us in such a defensive position for all these many years? Richard Reidy

Andrew Bacevich: 1. War is a tough business. We are not as smart as we think we are. Our adversaries are determined and possess advantages that they skillfully exploit.4. What we're good at is not necessarily all that relevant to the problem at hand.

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Endless War: Prof. Bacevich, how does your thesis of endless war fit with the increasing "contracting out" of America's wars and security to groups like Blackstone (Xe), Dyncorp, and others? Don't these contractors also represent a potential threat to civilian/democratic control of the military and/or the state's monopoly of the use of organized violence?

Andrew Bacevich: So it will continue.

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Respect for Civilian Authority: I earned a Ph.D. in military history after returning from Vietnam 40 years ago, and have been teaching Active and Reserve officers for the past 25+ years. I think respect for civilian authority has eroded substantially, especially over the last 15 years. Also more coarse behavior and cynicism in the officer corps. You think that has anything to do with heavy emphasis on "warrior spirit" and "warrior ethos?" Has SF mentality become the norm? If so, is that a good thing?

Andrew Bacevich: I think that's why I prefer the word soldier.

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Outlook: Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance: Your worries are well worth taking seriously. Who is Marcus Flavius, and what is your ancient source for his comments? As a retired classics professor, I am eager to examine the context from which his apprehensions spring.

Andrew Bacevich: I'm pretty sure Larteguy used the quote.

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Political action to implement "The Limits of Power": Are there any organizations engaged in political action to encourage adoption of your vision of American foreign and military policy (as laid out in the "Limits of Power")? Providing the intellectual framework is vital, but we also need people working in an organized way to make it happen.

Andrew Bacevich:

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Military Law: Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (military law) states "Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." Why have we not seen any action taken against Gen McCrystal on the basis of this?

Andrew Bacevich: But don't count on it.

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Respect between civilian and military personnel...: Shouldn't it be a two-way street? When civilian protesters insist on getting ROTC off college campuses, how much respect might the military feel in return for their civilian bosses? Granted the bosses and the protestors might not be the same people, although I suspect that sometimes they are... Since the Vietnam War at least, there has been a lessening of respect for the military generally among civilians (dare I say especially among Democrat and/or leftist civilians) and I can understand why some in the military return the compliment.

Andrew Bacevich: To my knowledge (which may be imperfect) this hasn't happened in decades.

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Neo-cons stranglehold on the GOP: As a paleo-conservative, it disturbs me that the neo-conservatives, with their unquenchable thirst for military adventures, have such a stranglehold on the Republican Party and the conservative movement. With the military stretched and the country heading toward bankruptcy, are the neo-conservatives not only ideologically delusional but truly not conservative?

Andrew Bacevich: instead, it's intellectually bankrupt.

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Andrew Bacevich: My apologies for not answering more questions, but I've got to run.Andrew Bacevich


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