Andrew J. Bacevich

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The Forgotten Lessons of Black Hawk Down

Twenty-five years ago this week, a Somali warlord named Mohammed Farah Aidid offered the American military a glimpse of its future. But neither policymakers back in Washington nor commanders in the field were attuned to what he had on offer.

A mission that had begun 10 months earlier to provide relief supplies to starving Somalis had evolved into a vastly more ambitious nation-building project. On the night of Oct. 3-4, 1993, an American military operation to capture Mr. Aidid ended in catastrophic failure, including 18 Americans dead. Soon afterward the entire mission collapsed, and the United States withdrew. Yet any lessons that might have been learned from this debacle stayed in Mogadishu, alongside the smoldering wreckage of the Black Hawk helicopter that Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Never-Ending War in Afghanistan

Remember Afghanistan? The longest war in American history? Ever?

When it comes to wars, we Americans have a selective memory. The Afghan war, dating from October 2001, has earned the distinction of having been forgotten while still underway.

President Trump’s Inaugural Address included no mention of Afghanistan. Nor did his remarks last month at a joint session of Congress. For the new commander in chief, the war there qualifies at best as an afterthought — assuming, that is, he has thought about it all.

A similar attitude prevails on Capitol Hill. Congressional oversight has become pro forma. Last week Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, told Congress that the Pentagon would probably need more troops in Afghanistan, a statement that seemed to catch politicians and reporters by surprise — but that was old news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the conflict.…  Seguir leyendo »

In his second term, President Obama has demonstrated a real knack for ticking off putative American friends. First, he annoyed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who registered his complaint by promptly taking it to Capitol Hill. Now (apparently) he has irked Saudi Arabia's King Salman, who signaled his unhappiness by skipping this week's summit with gulf allies at Camp David.

The rocky turn in U.S. relations with two long-standing strategic partners has caused much hand-wringing. But is it really such a bad thing? Or does it hint at a long-overdue policy shift that will align U.S. commitments to these countries with actual American interests?…  Seguir leyendo »

"Comprehensive strategy.” That's the operative phrase that the Obama administration has employed in rolling out its new campaign to take on Islamic State. With its connotations of scope and gravity, the phrase resonates — not unlike “extra heavy duty” or “bigger and better than ever.” Among observers on both the militant left and the militarized right, it has found favor. That the Islamic State poses something akin to a planetary threat has become the consensus view in such quarters. This, offered after perhaps a bit too much hesitation, is the response that may yet save the day.

In fact, whatever else we may say of the approach that the administration has cobbled together — American air power (assuming the availability of suitable targets) plus surrogates on the ground (if motivated to fight) supported by a hastily assembled coalition vaguely promising to assist “as appropriate” — it does not qualify as a comprehensive strategy.…  Seguir leyendo »

From a moral perspective, President Obama's response to the plight of Iraqi minorities targeted for extinction by vicious Islamists is justifiable and even commendable. Yet the resumption of American military action in Iraq — bombs for the wicked, bundles for the innocent — cannot disguise the overall disarray of U.S. policy in the region.

The moral sensibilities that have apparently moved the Obama administration to renew the Iraq war are, to put it mildly, selective. Elsewhere in the immediate region, Washington has hesitated to confront wickedness and has stood by while innocents have been subjected to the cruelest treatment. Whatever the factors that have shaped the U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

The government of Iraq last week announced that it had padlocked the infamous prison at Abu Ghraib. The gates are closed, the inmates moved. Whether the closure is permanent or temporary — Iraqi officials suggest the latter — this ought to qualify as a notable milestone. By any measure, this ought to qualify as a notable milestone. What does it signify?

Sometimes a prison is just a building, its closure of no more significance than the demolition of a market or the shuttering of a strip mall. Yet from time to time, the closing of a facility constructed for the purpose of confining humans invites reflection.…  Seguir leyendo »

What Jimmy Carter began, Barack Obama is ending. Washington is bringing down the curtain on its 30-plus-year military effort to pull the Islamic world into conformity with American interests and expectations. It’s about time.

Back in 1980, when his promulgation of the Carter Doctrine launched that effort, Carter acted with only a vague understanding of what might follow. Yet circumstance — the overthrow of the shah in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — compelled him to act. Or more accurately, the domestic political uproar triggered by those events compelled the president, facing a tough reelection campaign, to make a show of doing something.…  Seguir leyendo »

When it comes to Egypt, the U.S. has little leverage and therefore no real options. That's according to the prevailing wisdom, at least.

Yet this analysis — endlessly reiterated in mainstream commentary — is misleading. The absence of leverage does not preclude options. It certainly does not require the Obama administration to debase itself by pretending that the military overthrow of a freely elected government is not a coup or by accepting the Egyptian army's slaughter of civilians with no more than a tsk-tsk. The administration may choose to do these things, but not because circumstances oblige it to do so.…  Seguir leyendo »

Are Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden traitors or patriots? With Manning in jail and Snowden the subject of a global APB, the Obama administration has made its position on the question clear.

Yet for the rest of us, the question presumes a prior one: To whom do Army privates and intelligence contractors owe their loyalty? To state or to country? To the national security apparatus that employs them or to the people that apparatus is said to protect?

Those who speak for that apparatus, preeminently the president, assert that the interests of the state and the interests of the country are indistinguishable.…  Seguir leyendo »

The history of U.S.-Pakistani relations is one of wild swings between feigned friendship and ill-disguised mistrust. When the United States needs Pakistan, Washington showers Islamabad with money, weapons and expressions of high esteem. Once the need wanes, the gratuities cease, often with brutal abruptness. Instead of largesse, Pakistan gets lectures, with the instruction seldom well received.

The events of 9/11inaugurated the relationship's most recent period of contrived warmth. Proximity to Afghanistan transformed Pakistan overnight from a pariah — the planet's leading proliferator of nuclear weapons technology — into a key partner in the global war on terrorism. Prior to 9/11, U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chief among the problems facing the United States today is this: too many obligations piled high without the wherewithal to meet them. Among those obligations are the varied and sundry commitments implied by the phrase "American global leadership." If ever there were an opportune moment for reassessing the assumptions embedded in that phrase, it's now.

With too few Americans taking notice, history has entered a new era. The "unipolar moment" created by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has passed. To refer to the United States today as the world's "sole superpower" makes about as much sense as General Motors bragging that it's the world's No.1 car company: Nostalgia ill-befits an enterprise beset with competitors breathing down its neck.…  Seguir leyendo »

As Arab dominoes teeter and topple, Washington finds itself caught on the horns of a dilemma. Where should America place its bets? Which is more likely to serve U. S. interests: propping up the existing order or trying something new? Sticking with the familiar or taking a flyer on change?

Thus far, the Obama administration has tried to split the difference, favoring the removal of nasty autocrats except where it doesn't. As a result, loudly proclaimed moral arguments provide a rationale for hammering Moammar Kadafi's Libya with airstrikes; tacitly understood prudential considerations require giving Bahrain's King Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa a pass.…  Seguir leyendo »

The ongoing upheaval in the Arab world (and in Iran) has rendered a definitive judgment on U.S. policy over the last decade. Relying on their own resources and employing means of their own devising, the people of the Middle East intent on transforming that region have effectively consigned the entire "war on terror" to the category of strategic irrelevance.

When first conceived in the wake of 9/11, two convictions underpinned that war. According to the first, precluding further attacks on the United States meant that the Islamic world needed to change. According to the second, because Muslims were manifestly unable to change on their own, the United States needed to engineer the process, with American military might serving as catalyst.…  Seguir leyendo »

With Afghan President Hamid Karzai visiting Washington this week, The Post asked experts whether the surge in Afghanistan was working. Below are contributions from Erin M. Simpson, Gilles Dorronsoro, Kurt Volker, John Nagl, Thomas H. Johnson and Andrew J. Bacevich.

Any discussion of the effectiveness of the surge must begin with two observations. First, counterinsurgency is an exercise in competitive governance, meaning the troops "surged" to Afghanistan are only part of a very complex equation. Second, less than half the troops that President Obama authorized in December have arrived here. It's far too early to tell whether the so-called surge has "worked."…  Seguir leyendo »

Foreign policy and political experts assess the president's speech. Below are responses from Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Matthew Dowd, Meghan O'Sullivan, Gilles Dorronsoro, Douglas E. Schoen, Andrew J. Bacevich, Ed Rogers and Dennis Kucinich.

Buried in the unfortunate rhetoric of timelines and exit strategies is a critical fact that gives reason to support the ongoing effort in Afghanistan: The president intends to give Gen. Stanley McChrystal 100,000 U.S. troops to use at his discretion for 18 months to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy. McChrystal and his team are the most clear-eyed and determined command group the United States has had in Afghanistan in years.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last fall, when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified before Congress, the Op-Ed editors asked military and diplomatic experts to suggest questions they would like to ask America’s two top men in Iraq. Now, with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to appear again before the Senate today and the House tomorrow, the editors asked three of last year’s contributors to reflect on the changes of the last seven months — and to suggest new questions they would pose were they members of Congress.

a) Legislation's Limits

By Douglas J. Feith, a former under secretary of defense for policy and the author of War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism.…  Seguir leyendo »

Today and tomorrow, the United States ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and the top American general there, David Petraeus, will appear before Congress to offer a progress report on the war. The Op-Ed page asked six experts on the Iraq conflict to come up with three questions they would pose to the two men.

Beyond the Surge

1. General Petraeus, has the surge bought us anything more enduring than fleeting tactical victories?

2. You and Adm. Michael Mullen, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both said the surge will end in April 2008. What options do we have then?…  Seguir leyendo »

Los padres que pierden a un hijo, ya sea por un accidente o por una enfermedad, inevitablemente se preguntan qué podrían haber hecho para impedir su pérdida. Cuando mi hijo de 27 años falleció en Irak a principios de mayo, me sorprendí reflexionando sobre mi responsabilidad en su muerte.

Entre los cientos de mensajes que hemos recibido mi mujer y yo, dos trataban directamente esta cuestión. Ambos me hicieron sentir culpable, al insistir en que mi oposición pública a la guerra había ofrecido ayuda y consuelo al enemigo. Ambos decían que la muerte de mi hijo fue una consecuencia directa de mis escritos contra la guerra.…  Seguir leyendo »