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Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, Bashing "Isolationists" While at War in the World

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&id=1e41682ade">here.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: In early September, we first offered TomDispatch readers personalized, signed copies of Andrew Bacevich's new book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, in return for a $100 contribution to the site. Many of you took us up on that and we couldn't be more appreciative. From Rachel Maddow in the  New York Times   Book Review  to Jonathan Yardley in the  Washington Post , Moyers & Company to the Colbert Report, Bacevich's book has since been hailed as a powerful, groundbreaking look at this country and its military. For any of you who meant to get an autographed copy via TomDispatch, the offer is still open -- check out our donation page for the details -- but only for one more week. Tom]

Hey, Private First Class Dorothy: when that next tornado hits Kansas, it's slated to transport you not to Oz, but to somewhere in Africa, maybe Chad or Niger or Mauritania.  And that's war, American-style, for you, or so reports the New York Times's Eric Schmitt from Fort Riley, Kansas, where an Army brigade is gearing up for a series of complex future deployments to Africa. Here is the money paragraph of his report, if you want to understand Washington's present orientation toward perpetual war: "But with the United States military out of Iraq and pulling out of Afghanistan, the Army is looking for new missions around the world. "As we reduce the rotational requirement to combat areas, we can use these forces to great effect in Africa,' Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the head of the Africa Command, told Congress this year."

In the view of our leaders these days, having extra troops on hand and keeping them in cold storage in this country is like having extra money around and stuffing it under your mattress or parking it in a local bank at next to no interest. Why would you do that when you could go out and play the market -- or, in the case of the U.S. military, pivot toward Africa? So many "partnerships" to forge as you lend a helping hand to the counterterrorism struggle on -- and the destabilization of -- that continent using that brigade in Kansas, Special Operations forces like the ones recently sent on raids into Libya and Somalia, and the drones whose bases are spreading in the region.

In Washington, war and preparations for war remain the options of choice, no matter the traffic jam of U.S. military disasters in this century.  Despite all the recent talk about pivoting to Asia, preparations of every sort, not just at Ft. Riley, suggest that Africa may prove the actual pivot point for this country's endless war policies in the coming decade, as TomDispatch has been reporting now for the last year or more.  In the meantime, Andrew Bacevich, author most recently of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, offers a little primer on just how to cut any critics of the relentless American global mission impossible off at the knees. Just call them "isolationists" and go right on with your next operation.  It works like a dream. Tom

Always and Everywhere 
The New York Times  and the Enduring "Threat" of Isolationism 
By Andrew J. Bacevich

The abiding defect of U.S. foreign policy? It's isolationism, my friend. Purporting to steer clear of war, isolationism fosters it. Isolationism impedes the spread of democracy. It inhibits trade and therefore prosperity. It allows evildoers to get away with murder. Isolationists prevent the United States from accomplishing its providentially assigned global mission. Wean the American people from their persistent inclination to look inward and who knows what wonders our leaders will accomplish.

The United States has been at war for well over a decade now, with U.S. attacks and excursions in distant lands having become as commonplace as floods and forest fires. Yet during the recent debate over Syria, the absence of popular enthusiasm for opening up another active front evoked expressions of concern in Washington that Americans were once more turning their backs on the world.

As he was proclaiming the imperative of punishing the government of Bashar al-Assad, Secretary of State John Kerry also chided skeptical members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "this is not the time for armchair isolationism."  Commentators keen to have a go at the Syrian autocrat wasted little time in expanding on Kerry's theme.

Reflecting on "where isolationism leads," Jennifer Rubin, the reliably bellicose Washington Post  columnist , was quick to chime in, denouncing those hesitant to initiate another war as "infantile." American isolationists, she insisted, were giving a green light to aggression. Any nation that counted on the United States for protection had now become a "sitting duck," with "Eastern Europe [and] neighbors of Venezuela and Israel" among those left exposed and vulnerable.  News reports of Venezuelan troop movements threatening Brazil, Colombia, or Guyana were notably absent from the Post or any other media outlet, but no matter -- you get the idea.

Military analyst Frederick Kagan was equally troubled.  Also writing in the Post, he worried that "the isolationist narrative is rapidly becoming dominant."  His preferred narrative emphasized the need for ever greater military exertions, with Syria just the place to launch a new campaign.  For Bret Stephens, a columnist with the Wall Street Journal, the problem was the Republican Party.  Where had the hawks gone?  The Syria debate, he lamented, was "exposing the isolationist worm eating its way through the GOP apple." 

The Journal's op-ed page also gave the redoubtable Norman Podhoretz, not only still alive but vigorously kicking, a chance to vent.  Unmasking President Obama as "a left-wing radical" intent on "reduc[ing] the country's power and influence," the unrepentant neoconservative accused the president of exploiting the "war-weariness of the American people and the rise of isolationist sentiment... on the left and right" to bring about "a greater diminution of American power than he probably envisaged even in his wildest radical dreams."

Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, "got" Osama bin Laden, toppled one Arab dictator in Libya, and bashed and bombed targets in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere.  Even so, it turns out he is actually part of the isolationist conspiracy to destroy America!

Over at the New York Times, similar concerns, even if less hysterically expressed, prevailed.  According to Times columnist Roger Cohen, President Obama's reluctance to pull the trigger showed that he had "deferred to a growing isolationism."  Bill Keller concurred.  "America is again in a deep isolationist mood."  In a column entitled, "Our New Isolationism," he decried "the fears and defeatist slogans of knee-jerk isolationism" that were impeding military action.  (For Keller, the proper antidote to isolationism is amnesia.  As he put it, "Getting Syria right starts with getting over Iraq.")

For his part, Times staff writer Sam Tanenhaus contributed a bizarre two-minute exercise in video agitprop -- complete with faked scenes of the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbor -- that slapped the isolationist label on anyone opposing entry into any war whatsoever, or tiring of a war gone awry, or proposing that America go it alone.

When the "New Isolationism" Was New 

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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