Breach of Trust by Andrew Bacevich

History After “the End of History”

The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us. Hardly had this period commenced before observers fell into the habit of referring to it as the “post-Cold War” era. Now that it’s over, a more descriptive name might be in order.  My suggestion: America’s Age of Great Expectations.  Forgive and Forget The end of the Cold War caught the United States completely by surprise.  During the 1980s, even with Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin, few in Washington questioned the prevailing conviction that the Soviet-American rivalry was and would remain a defining feature of international politics more or less in perpetuity. […]

Breach of Trust by Andrew Bacevich

Trump Loves to Do It, But American Generals Have Forgotten How

President-elect Donald Trump’s message for the nation’s senior military leadership is ambiguously unambiguous. Here is he on 60 Minutes just days after winning the election. Trump: “We have some great generals. We have great generals.” Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.” Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. OK, look at the job they’ve done. They haven’t done the job.” In reality, Trump, the former reality show host, knows next to nothing about ISIS, one of many gaps in his education that his impending encounter with actual reality is likely to fill.  Yet when it comes to America’s generals, our president-to-be is onto something.  No doubt our three- and four-star officers qualify as “great” in the sense that they mean well, work hard, and are altogether fine men and women. That they have not […]

America's War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich

Donald and Hillary Take a No-First-Use Pledge on Relevant Information

You may have missed it. Perhaps you dozed off. Or wandered into the kitchen to grab a snack. Or by that point in the proceedings were checking out Seinfeld reruns. During the latter part of the much hyped but excruciating-to-watch first presidential debate, NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt posed a seemingly straightforward but cunningly devised question. His purpose was to test whether the candidates understood the essentials of nuclear strategy. A moderator given to plain speaking might have said this: “Explain why the United States keeps such a large arsenal of nuclear weapons and when you might consider using those weapons.” What Holt actually said was: “On nuclear weapons, President Obama reportedly considered changing the nation’s longstanding policy on first use.  Do you support the current policy?” The framing of the question posited no small amount of knowledge on the part of the two candidates. Specifically, it assumed that […]

America's War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich

An Ode to Ike and Adlai

My earliest recollection of national politics dates back exactly 60 years to the moment, in the summer of 1956, when I watched the political conventions in the company of that wondrous new addition to our family, television.  My parents were supporting President Dwight D. Eisenhower for a second term and that was good enough for me.  Even as a youngster, I sensed that Ike, the former supreme commander of allied forces in Europe in World War II, was someone of real stature.  In a troubled time, he exuded authority and self-confidence.  By comparison, Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson came across as vaguely suspect.  Next to the five-star incumbent, he seemed soft, even foppish, and therefore not up to the job.  So at least it appeared to a nine-year-old living in Chicagoland. Of the seamy underside of politics I knew nothing, of course.  On the surface, all seemed reassuring.  As if by […]

America's War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich

A Multi-Trillion-Dollar Bridge to Nowhere in the Greater Middle East

We have it on highest authority: the recent killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan marks “an important milestone.” So the president of the United States has declared, with that claim duly echoed and implicitly endorsed by media commentary — the New York Times reporting, for example, that Mansour’s death leaves the Taliban leadership “shocked” and “shaken.” But a question remains: A milestone toward what exactly? Toward victory? Peace? Reconciliation? At the very least, toward the prospect of the violence abating? Merely posing the question is to imply that U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world serve some larger purpose. Yet for years now that has not been the case. The assassination of Mansour instead joins a long list of previous milestones, turning points, and landmarks briefly heralded as significant achievements only to prove much less than advertised. […]

America's War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew Bacevich

How the United States Became a Prisoner of War and Congress Went MIA

Let’s face it: in times of war, the Constitution tends to take a beating. With the safety or survival of the nation said to be at risk, the basic law of the land — otherwise considered sacrosanct — becomes nonbinding, subject to being waived at the whim of government authorities who are impatient, scared, panicky, or just plain pissed off. The examples are legion.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln arbitrarily suspended the writ of habeas corpus and ignored court orders that took issue with his authority to do so. After U.S. entry into World War I, the administration of Woodrow Wilson mounted a comprehensive effort to crush dissent, shutting down anti-war publications in complete disregard of the First Amendment. Amid the hysteria triggered by Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order consigning to concentration camps more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans, many of them native-born citizens. Asked in 1944 to […]

Breach of Trust by Andrew Bacevich

What Trumpism Means for Democracy

Whether or not Donald Trump ultimately succeeds in winning the White House, historians are likely to rank him as the most consequential presidential candidate of at least the past half-century. He has already transformed the tone and temper of American political life. If he becomes the Republican nominee, he will demolish its structural underpinnings as well. Should he prevail in November, his election will alter its very fabric in ways likely to prove irreversible. Whether Trump ever delivers on his promise to “Make America Great Again,” he is already transforming American democratic practice. Trump takes obvious delight in thumbing his nose at the political establishment and flouting its norms. Yet to classify him as an anti-establishment figure is to miss his true significance. He is to American politics what Martin Shkreli is to Big Pharma. Each represents in exaggerated form the distilled essence of a much larger and more disturbing […]