Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Forever War

History professor and retired military officer Andrew Bacevich offers some insight into the mindset of the Perpetual War Machine.
No one doubted that Israelis (regionally) and Americans (globally) enjoyed unquestioned military dominance. Throughout Israel’s near abroad, its tanks, fighter-bombers, and warships operated at will. So, too, did American tanks, fighter-bombers, and warships wherever they were sent.

So what? Events made it increasingly evident that military dominance did not translate into concrete political advantage. Rather than enhancing the prospects for peace, coercion produced ever more complications. No matter how badly battered and beaten, the “terrorists” (a catch-all term applied to anyone resisting Israeli or American authority) weren’t intimidated, remained unrepentant, and kept coming back for more.

Despite the obvious limitations, one senior Army general explained how the Pentagon had war all figured out:

“We are now able to create decision superiority that is enabled by networked systems, new sensors and command and control capabilities that are producing unprecedented near real time situational awareness, increased information availability, and an ability to deliver precision munitions throughout the breadth and depth of the battlespace… Combined, these capabilities of the future networked force will leverage information dominance, speed and precision, and result in decision superiority.”

Bacevich sees past the blather.
Such claims of success, however, proved obscenely premature. Campaigns advertised as being wrapped up in weeks dragged on for years, while American troops struggled with their own intifadas. When it came to achieving decisions that actually stuck, the Pentagon (like the IDF) remained clueless
Nearly 20 years ago, a querulous Madeleine Albright demanded to know: “What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?” Today, an altogether different question deserves our attention: What’s the point of constantly using our superb military if doing so doesn’t actually work?

Washington’s refusal to pose that question provides a measure of the corruption and dishonesty permeating our politics.

We should all be so perceptive.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Generation (Yet Again)

My personal history is inextricably linked to the history of my generation, the Baby Boom. Which means that I am in part responsible for my generation's accomplishments, a dubious distinction to say the least. It was probably an illusion in the 1960's when we thought we would be a different, a transforming force in America. That illusion was short-lived as my generation made its way into the world and quickly bought into all the institutions we reviled in previous years. I'll let Chris Hedges chronicle the results.
The decline of American empire began long before the current economic meltdown or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It began before the first Gulf War or Ronald Reagan. It began when we shifted, in the words of Harvard historian Charles Maier, from an “empire of production” to an “empire of consumption.” By the end of the Vietnam War, when the costs of the war ate away at Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and domestic oil production began its steady, inexorable decline, we saw our country transformed from one that primarily produced to one that primarily consumed. We started borrowing to maintain a level of consumption as well as an empire we could no longer afford. We began to use force, especially in the Middle East, to feed our insatiable thirst for cheap oil. We substituted the illusion of growth and prosperity for real growth and prosperity. The bill is now due. America’s most dangerous enemies are not Islamic radicals but those who sold us the perverted ideology of free-market capitalism and globalization. They have dynamited the very foundations of our society. In the 17th century these speculators would have been hung. Today they run the government and consume billions in taxpayer subsidies.

Boomers didn't start the decline but we kept it going as we assumed and exercised power in America. About the only remaining vestige of our youthful ideals are the ones we held on to individually. I see them in activists who continue the pursuit of social and economic justice. I still believe in and act on those ideals which is all well and good for my own peace of mind but my efforts have not made a difference. Much of what Hedges describes happened on my watch, as the result of decisions my generation's leaders made.

Collectively my generation failed to maintain and extend the economic and social gains we inherited from earlier generations. And we sure as held did not live up to our hype and hopes. Saint Ronald Reagan once famously asked, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" These days I ask, "Are young adults as well off as I was at their age?" My answer is "Sadly, no."

My generation, indeed.

(h/t to Alternate Brain

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