Andrew Bacevich is a retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam, Europe, and the Persian Gulf. He is professor of international relations and history at Boston University and has authored numerous books on U.S. military history and foreign policy. His latest book is America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. He recently stopped by the offices of The Progressive for a chat.
Q: In the book, you say all of our policies in the Middle East have been ill-advised, based on missed opportunities, misread signs, and a failure to take religion and local culture into account. How could we be so wrong for so long?
Andrew Bacevich: Well, let me explain first why the book begins with Jimmy Carter. It's certainly not the case that the U.S. had no involvement in the Middle East or, more broadly, in the Islamic world, before Carter. But what happens during the Carter administration is that, in January 1980, Carter promulgates what we have come to call the Carter Doctrine. The Carter Doctrine says the Persian Gulf is a vital U.S. national security interest--a place that we will fight for. That statement initiates the militarization of U.S. policy [in the region]. Beginning in 1980, we have had endless military involvement.
My book tries to tell the story of these continuing American military campaigns, big and small. It argues that this militarization of U.S. policy has led to disastrous consequences and results. Whatever we thought we were doing in the region--whether trying to democratize it or liberate it or stabilize it or bring it to heel--we have not achieved those purposes, and in many respects have made things worse. It's time for us to recognize that this military effort is a failed one. It's time to abandon it and base our policies toward this part of the world on entirely different premises.
Q: What drives U.S. policy in the Middle East? Is it control of the oil in the Persian Gulf? Or is it, as some say, about bringing democracy and changing cultures?
Bacevich: There's no question in my mind this began as a war for oil. When Carter promulgated his doctrine, it was in direct response to the Iranian revolution and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Those two events were misinterpreted as suggesting that U.S. access to Persian Gulf oil was at risk. But I argue that, even at the outset, it was about much more than that.
I think the real explanation for the persistence of our military interventions...