Militarism & the US Role in a Transformed World

Monday, September 20, 2021 - 1:00pm
Andrew Bacevich

As the U.S. completes its military withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, we would do well to remember that our country has not won a war since 1945, even though we have been fighting somewhere or another almost every year since. Except for a couple small excursions, every conflict has ended in stalemate or defeat. This is in spite of having the world’s largest, most modern military machine with an ever expanding budget. Military historian Andrew Bacevich has long been calling for an end to our permanent wars. In his newest book After the Apocalypse: America’s Role in a World Transformed, Bacevich argues Washington’s insistence that a market economy is compatible with the common good, its faith in the idea of the “West” and its “special relationships,” its conviction that global military primacy is the key to a stable and sustainable world order―these have brought endless wars and a succession of moral and material disasters.

Bacevich places current policies in historical context as part of a U.S. tradition going back to the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a tradition (of an interventionist, militarized foreign policy) which has strong bi-partisan roots. He says what is urgently needed is a new approach to foreign policy based on moral pragmatism, mutual coexistence, and war as a last resort. Confronting the threats of the future―accelerating climate change, a shift in the international balance of power, and the ascendance of information technology over brute weapons of war―calls for nothing less than a profound overhaul of our understanding of national security.

A former professor of International Relations and History at Boston University, Bacevich is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Now he is president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. This center seeks “to bring together like-minded progressives and conservatives” around the proposition that “the foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of U.S. interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind. Political leaders have increasingly deployed the military in a costly, counterproductive, and indiscriminate manner, normalizing war and treating armed dominance as an end in itself.”

A prolific writer, Bacevich has previously published The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory (2020), Twilight of the American Century (2018), America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2017), Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013), Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010), The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project) (2009), The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II (2009), The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005), American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (2004).