The second key assumption “takes it for granted that as the sole global superpower the United States possesses not only the wisdom but also the wherewithal to control and direct such forces.” This hubris prevails despite the mountain of evidence showing that we do not, and cannot. Third, U.S. officials believe that U.S. military power is the “irreplaceable facilitator or catalyst” that will move “history toward its foreordained destination.” And, finally, the elites who construct and maintain the conventional wisdom on U.S. foreign policy believe that America’s good intentions will win broad acceptance. The liberators will eventually, and inevitably, Bacevich summarizes, “be granted the honors that [they] rightly deserve.”
American elites chose the Middle East as the place to test their premise, as spelled out in the draft Defense Planning Guidance of 1992, that U.S. military power would “shape” the international system in the post‐Cold War era.
It was an odd choice. The Middle East was never actually that important to the United States, a point that others have made, and well, and the region has become even less important with the passage of time.
But the greater error was the foreign policy establishment’s exaggeration of the U.S. military’s capacity for altering the course of global politics. To be sure, the Middle East has proved a particularly tough nut to crack, and the presence of U.S. forces has engendered considerable resistance. It isn’t clear, however, that the DPG’s version of hegemonic stability theory would have fared that much better in other troubled regions. The military is a blunt instrument and the ability to project power often doesn’t translate into the ability to produce desired results.
If Washington persists with its grandiose plans for reshaping the region, and the world, we must assume that they have ignored Andrew Bacevich’s cogent analysis. But they can’t say they weren’t warned.
* Bacevich will be at the Cato Institute next week to discuss his new book, and he will be joined by CSIS’s Jon Alterman, and my Cato colleague Doug Bandow. More details here.