Bacevich on US imperialism in the Greater Middle East

n+1 has published an excellent review of Andrew Bacevich’s America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016).

Here is an excerpt on the nature of US military actions against Iraq after the Gulf War:

In August 1992, the US added a no-fly zone in the south to snuff out any military activity on Saddam’s part. By the time Bush II invaded Iraq, American air units enforcing these no-fly zones had flown more than 225,000 sorties. “What we have effectively done since 1992,” said US Air Force chief of staff Ronald R. Fogleman, “is conduct an air occupation of a country.” Nineteen ninety-eight saw the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, which made it the explicit policy of the US to support regime change. Two thousand US bombs and missiles hit Iraqi targets during the following two years. It is hard to see how all this did not amount to an undeclared conventional war, a war that suggests the extent to which the executive branch and the military establishment were now pervaded by what Bacevich calls “a heedless absence of self-restraint.”

And here is an excerpt on the restructuring of US military forces under the Obama administration:

During his campaign, Obama promised to drastically reduce US military involvement in the Middle East. He didn’t keep that promise. Instead he reduced the number of US Army troops stationed in the region and replaced them with drones and the US Special Operations Command, or SOCOM. Bacevich points out that SOCOM is well on track “to surpass the entire British Army in overall size,” and it is also easily the most widely deployed military force in the history of the world. In 2013 alone, SOCOM carried out operations in 134 countries, including Canada, Italy, and Uruguay.

Bacevich’s views were influenced by the work of William Appleman Williams, a counter-establishment foreign policy thinker of the early Cold war.  As the review points out, returning to this work gives a bit more nuance to Bacevich’s argument about how oil was the driving force of US imperialism in the Middle East, by pointing out the more general role that capitalism plays in driving US foreign policy:

Williams argued that since the late 19th century, the United States has depended on commercial expansion to alleviate racial and ethnic tensions that would otherwise have destabilized the country from within. In response to an unprecedented domestic economic crisis that helped fuel the rise of populism, the US pursued what secretary of state John Hay referred to as an “Open Door” policy of encouraging an open international economic system, backed when necessary by force of arms. When markets closed, the American domestic system — everything connoted by “the American way of life” — was threatened. Williams convincingly argued that this quest to make the world safe for American capital was not some unconscious desire seething underneath the more innocent, openly stated desire that the world’s peoples exercise self-determination, but rather had become the country’s entire raison d’être.


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