Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’


No End of a lesson- Unlearned

William R. Polk

HNN June 15, 2014

America appears once again to be on the brink of a war. This time the war is likely to be in Syria and/or in Iraq. If we jump into one or both of these wars, they will join, by my count since our independence, about 200 significant military operations (not all of which were legally “wars”) as well as countless “proactive” interventions, regime-change undertakings, covert action schemes and search-and-destroy missions. In addition the United States has provided weapons, training and funding for a variety of non-American military and quasi-military forces throughout the world. Within recent months we have added five new African countries. History and contemporary events show that we Americans are a warring people.

So we should ask: what have we learned about ourselves, our adversaries and the process in which we have engaged?

The short answer appears to be “very little.”

As both a historian and a former policy planner for the American government, I will very briefly here (as I have mentioned in a previous essay, I am in the final stages of a book to be called A Warring People, on these issues), illustrate what I mean by “very little.”

I begin with us, the American people. There is overwhelming historical evidence that war is popular with us. Politicians from our earliest days as a republic, indeed even before when we were British colonies, could nearly always count on gaining popularity by demonstrating our valor. Few successful politicians were pacifists.

Even supposed pacifists found reasons to engage in the use of force. Take the man most often cited as a peacemaker or at least a peaceseeker, Woodrow Wilson. He promised to “keep us out of war,” by which he meant keeping us out of big, expensive European war. Before becoming president, however, he approved the American conquest of Cuba and the Philippines and described himself as an imperialist; then, as president, he occupied Haiti, sent the Marines into the Dominican Republic and ordered the Cavalry into Mexico. In 1918, he also put American troops into Russia. Not only sending soldiers: his administration carried out naval blockades, economic sanctions, covert operations — one of which, allegedly, involved an assassination attempt on a foreign leader — and furnished large-scale arms supplies to insurgents in on-going wars.

The purpose, and explanation, of our wars varied. I think most of us would agree that our Revolution, the First World War and the Second World War were completely justified. Probably Korea was also. The United States had no choice on the Civil war or, perhaps, on the War of 1812. Many, particularly those against the Native Americans would today be classified as war crimes. It is the middle range that seem to me to be the most important to understand. I see them like this.

Some military ventures were really misadventures in the sense that they were based on misunderstandings or deliberate misinformation. I think that most students of history would put the Spanish-American, Vietnamese, Iraqi and a few other conflicts in this category. Our government lied to us — the Spaniards did not blow up the Maine; the Gulf of Tonkin was not a dastardly attack on our innocent ships and Iraq was not about to attack us with a nuclear weapon, which it did not have.

But we citizens listened uncritically. We did not demand the facts. It is hard to avoid the charge that we were either complicit, lazy or ignorant. We did not hold our government to account.

Several war and other forms of intervention were for supposed local or regional requirements of the Cold War. We knowingly told one another that the “domino theory” was reality: so a hint of Communist subversion or even criticism of us sent us racing off to protect almost any form of political association that pretended to be on our side. And we believed or feared that even countries that had little or no connections with one another would topple at the touch — or even before their neighbors appeared to be in trouble. Therefore, regardless of their domestic political style, monarchy, dictatorship. democracy., it mattered not, they had to be protected. Our protection often included threats of invasion, actual intervention, paramilitary operations, subversion and/or bribery, justified by our proclaimed intent to keep them free. Or at least free from Soviet control. Included among them were Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Chile, Italy, Greece, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Indonesia, Vietnam and various African countries.

Some interventions were for acquisition of their resources or protection of our economic assets. Guatemala, Chile, Iraq, Iran and Indonesia come to mind.

Few, if any, were to establish the basis of peace or even to bring about ceasefires. Those tasks we usually left to the United Nations or regional associations.

The costs have been high. Just counting recent interventions, they have cost us well over a hundred thousand casualties and some multiple of that in wounded; they have cost “the others” — both our enemies and our friends — large multiples of those numbers. The monetary cost is perhaps beyond counting both to them and to us. Figures range upward from $10 trillion.

The rate of success of these aspects of our foreign policy, even in the Nineteenth century, was low. Failure to accomplish the desired or professed outcome is shown by the fact that within a few years of the American intervention, the condition that had led to the intervention recurred. The rate of failure has dramatically increased in recent years. This is because we are operating in a world that is increasingly politically sensitive. Today even poor, weak, uneducated and corrupt nations become focused by the actions of foreigners. Whereas before, a few members of the native elite made the decisions, today we face “fronts.” parties, tribes and independent opinion leaders. So the “window of opportunity” for foreign intervention, once at least occasionally partly open, is now often shut.

Delta Force of Task Force 20 alongside troops of 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, at Uday Hussain and Qusay Hussein’s hideout (Wikipedia)

I will briefly focus on five aspects of this transformation:

First, nationalism has been and remains the predominant way of political thought of most of the world’s people. Its power has long been strong (even when we called it by other names) but it began to be amplified and focused by Communism in the late Nineteenth century. Today, nationalism in Africa, much of Asia and parts of Europe is increasingly magnified by the rebirth of Islam in the salafiyah movement.

Attempts to crush these nationalist-ideological-religious-cultural movements militarily have generally failed. Even when, or indeed especially when, foreigners arrive on the scene, natives put aside their mutual hostilities to unite against them. We saw this particularly vividly and painfully in Somalia. The Russians saw it in Çeçnaya and the Chinese, among the Uyghur peoples of Xinjiang (former Chinese Turkistan).

Second, outside intervention has usually weakened moderate or conservative forces or tendencies within each movement. Those espousing the most extreme positions are less likely to be suborned or defeated than the moderates. Thus particularly in a protracted hostilities, are more likely to take charge than their rivals. We have seen this tendency in each of the guerrilla wars in which we got involved; for the situation today, look at the insurgent movements in Syria and Iraq. (For my analysis of the philosophy and strategy of the Muslim extremists, see my essay “Sayyid Qutub’s Fundamentalism and Abu Bakr Naji’s Jihadism” on my website.)

What is true of the movements is even more evident in the effects on civic institutions and practices within an embattled society. In times of acute national danger, the “center” does not hold. Centrists get caught between the insurgents and the regimes. Insurgents have to destroy their relationship to society and government if they are to “win.” Thus, in Vietnam for example, doctors and teachers, who interfaced between government and the general population were prime targets for the Vietminh in the 1950s.

And, as the leaders of governments against whom the insurgents are fighting become more desperate, they suppress those of their perceived rivals or critics they can reach. By default, these people are civilians who are active in the political parties, the media and the judiciary . And, as their hold on power erodes and “victory” becomes less likely, regimes also seek to create for themselves safe havens by stealing money and sending it abroad. Thus, the institutions of government are weakened and the range of enemies widens. We have witnessed these two aspects of “corruption” — both political and economic — in a number of countries. Recent examples are Vietnam and Afghanistan.

In Vietnam at least by 1962 the senior members of the regime had essentially given up the fight. Even then they were preparing to bolt the country. And the army commanders were focused on earning money that they sold the bullets and guns we gave them to the Vietminh. In Afghanistan, the regime’s involvement in the drug trade, its draining of the national treasury into foreign private bank accounts (as even Mr. Karzai admitted) and in “pickpocketing” hundreds of millions of dollars from aid projects is well documented.  (See the monthly reports of the American Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.)

Third, our institutional memory of programs, events and trends is shallow. I suggest that it usually is no longer than a decade. Thus, we repeat policies even when the record clearly shows that they did not work when previously tried. And we address each challenge as though it is unprecedented. We forget the American folk saying that when you find yourself in a hole, the best course of action is to stop digging. it isn’t only that our government (and the thousands of “experts,” tacticians and strategists it hires) do not “remember” but also that they have at hand only one convenient tool — the shovel. What did we learn from Vietnam? Get a bigger, sharper shovel.

Fourth, despite or perhaps in part because of our immigrant origins, we are a profoundly insular people. Few of us have much appreciation of non-American cultures and even less fellow feeling for them. Within a generation or so, few immigrants can even speak the language of their grand parents. Many of us are ashamed of our ethnic origins.

Thus, for example, at the end of the Second World War, despite many of us being of German or Italian or Japanese cultural background, we were markedly deficient in people who could help implement our policies in those countries. We literally threw away the language and culture of grandparents. A few years later, when I began to study Arabic, there were said to be only five Americans not of Arab origin who knew the language. Beyond language, grasp of the broader range of culture petered off to near zero. Today, after the expenditure of significant government subsidies to universities (in the National Defense Education Act) to teach “strategic” languages, the situation should be better. But, while we now know much more, I doubt that we understand other peoples much better.

If this is true of language, it is more true of more complex aspects of cultural heritage. Take Somalia as an example. Somalia was not, as the media put it, a “failed state”; it was and is a “non-state.” That is, the Somalis do not base their effective identify as members of a nation state. Like almost everyone in the world did before recent centuries, they thought of themselves as members of clans, tribes, ethnic or religious assemblies or territories. It is we, not they, who have redefined political identity. We forget that the nation-state is a concept that was born in Europe only a few centuries ago and became accepted only late in the Nineteenth century in Germany and Italy. For the Somalis, it is still an alien construct. So, not surprisingly, our attempt to force them or entice them to shape up and act within our definition of statehood has not worked. And Somalia is not alone. And not only in Africa. Former Yugoslavia is a prime example: to be ‘balkanized’ has entered our language. And, if we peek under the flags of Indonesia, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo, Mali, the Sudan and other nation-states we find powerful forces of separate ethnic nationalisms.

The effects of relations among many of the peoples of Asia and Africa and some of the Latin Americans have created new political and social configurations and imbalances within and among them. With European and American help the governments with which we deal have acquired more effective tools of repression. They can usually defeat the challenges of traditional groups. But, not always. Where they do not acquire legitimacy in the eyes of significant groups — “nations” — states risk debilitating, long-term struggles. These struggles are, in part, the result of the long years of imperial rule and colonial settlement. Since Roman times, foreign rulers have sought to cut expenses by governing through local proxies. Thus, the British turned over to the Copts the unpopular task of colleting Egyptian taxes and to the Assyrians the assignment of controlling the Iraqi Sunnis. The echo of these years is what we observe in much of the “Third World” today. Ethnic, religious and economic jealousies abound and the wounds of imperialism and colonialism have rarely completely healed. We may not be sensitive to them, but to natives they may remain painful. Americans may be the “new boys on the block,” but these memories have often been transferred to us.

Finally, fifth, as the preeminent nation-state America has a vast reach. There is practically no area of the world in which we do not have one sort of interest or another. We have over a thousand military bases in more than a hundred countries; we trade, buy and sell, manufacture or give away goods and money all over Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe. We train, equip and subsidize dozens of armies and even more paramilitary or “Special” forces. This diversity is, obviously, a source of strength and richness, but, less obviously, it generates conflicts between what we wish to accomplish in one country and what we think we need to accomplish in another. At the very least, handling or balancing our diverse aims within acceptable means and at a reasonable cost is a challenge.

It is a challenge that we seem less and less able to meet.

Take Iraq as an example. As a corollary of our hostility to Saddam Husain, we essentially turned Iraq over to his enemies, the Iraqi Shia Muslim. (I deal with this in my Understanding Iraq, New York: HarperCollins, 2005, 171 ff.) There was some justification for this policy. The Shia community has long been Iraq’s majority and because they were Saddam’s enemies, some “experts” naively thought they would become our friends. But immediately two negative aspects of our policy became evident: non-specialists: first, the Shiis took vengeance on the Sunni Muslim community and so threw the country into a vicious civil war. What we called pacification amounted to ethnic cleansing. And, second, the Shia Iraqi leaders (the marjiaah) made common cause with coreligionist Iranians with whom we were nearly at war all during the second Bush administration. Had war with Iran eventuated, our troops in Iraq would have been more hostages than occupiers. At several points, we had the opportunity to form a more coherent, moral and safer policy. I don’t see evidence that our government or our occupation civil and military authorities even grasped the problem; certainly they did not find ways to work toward a solution. Whatever else may be said about it, our policy was dysfunctional.

I deserve to be challenged on this statement: I am measuring (with perhaps now somewhat weakened hindsight) recent failures against what we tried to do in the Policy Planning Council in the early 1960s. If our objective is, as we identify it, to make the world at least safe, even if not safe for democracy, we are much worse off today than we were then. We policy planners surely then made many significant mistakes (and were often not heeded), but I would argue that we worked within a more coherent framework than our government does today. Increasingly, it seems to me that we are in a mode of leaping from one crisis to the next without having understood the first or anticipating the second. I see no strategic concept; only tactical jumps and jabs.

So what to do?

At the time of the writing of the American Constitution, one of our Founding Fathers, Gouverneur Morris, remarked that part of the task he and others of the authors put it, was “to save the people from their most dangerous enemy, themselves.” Translated to our times, this is to guard against our being “gun slingers.” All the delegates were frightened by militarism and sought to do the absolute minimum required to protect the country from attack. They refused the government permission to engage in armed actions against foreigners except in defense. I believe they would have been horrified, if they could have conceived it, by the national security state we have become. They certainly did not look to the military to solve problems of policy. They would have agreed, I feel sure, that very few of the problem we face in the world today could be solved by military means So, even when we decide to employ military means, we need to consider not only the immediate but the long-term effects of our actions. We have, at least, the experience and the intellectual tools to do so. So why have we not?

We have been frequently misled by the success of our postwar policies toward both Germany and Japan. We successfully helped those two countries to embark upon a new era. And, during the employment of the Truman Doctrine in Greece, the civil war there ended. There were special reasons for all three being exceptions. Perhaps consequent to those successes, when we decided to destroy the regimes of Saddam Husain and Muammar Qaddafi, we gave little thought of what would follow. We more or less just assumed that things would get better. They did not. The societies imploded. Had we similarly gone into Iran, the results would have been a moral, legal and economic disaster. Now we know — or should know — that unless the risk is justified, as our Constitution demands it be by an imminent armed attack on the United States, we should not make proactive war on foreign nations. We have sworn not to do so in the treaty by which we joined the United Nations. In short, we need to be law abiding, and we should look before we leap.

Our ability to do any of these things will depend on several decisions.

The first is to be realistic: there is no switch we can flip to change our capacities. To look for quick and easy solutions is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The second is a matter of will and the costs and penalties that attach to it. We would be more careful in foreign adventures if we had to pay for them in both blood and treasure as they occurred. That is, “in real time.” We now avoid this by borrowing money abroad and by inducing or bribing vulnerable members of our society and foreigners to fight for us.. All our young men and women should know that they will be obliged to serve if we get into war, and we should not be able to defer to future generations the costs of our ventures. We should agree to pay for them through immediate taxes rather than foreign loans.

The third is to demand accountability. Our government should be legally obligated to tell us the truth. If it does not, the responsible officials should be prosecuted in our courts and, if they violate our treaties or international law, they should have to come before the World Court of Justice. We now let them off scot-free. The only “culprits” are those who carry out their orders.

Fourth, in the longer term, the only answer to the desire for better policy is better public education. For a democracy to function, its citizens must be engaged. They cannot be usefully engaged if they are not informed. Yet few Americans know even our own laws on our role in world affairs. Probably even fewer know the history of our actions abroad — that is, what we have done in the past with what results and at what cost.

And as a people we are woefully ignorant about other peoples and countries. Polls indicate that few Americans even know the locations of other nations. The saying that God created war to teach Americans geography is sacrilegious. If this was God’s purpose, He failed. And beyond geography, concerning other people’s politics, cultures and traditions, there is a nearly blank page. Isn’t it time we picked up the attempt made by such men as Sumner Wells (with his An Intelligent American’s Guide to the Peace and his American Foreign Policy Library), Robert Hutchins, James Conant and others (with the General Education programs in colleges and universities) and various other failed efforts to make us a part of humanity?

On the surface, at least, resurrecting these programs is just a matter of (a small amount of) money. But results won’t come overnight. Our education system is stogy, our teachers are poorly trained and poorly paid, and we, the consumers, are distracted by quicker, easier gratifications than learning about world affairs. I had hoped that we would learn from the “real schools” of Vietnam and other failures, but we did not. The snippets of information which pass over our heads each day do not and cannot make a coherent pattern. Absent a matrix into which to place “news,” it is meaningless. I have suggested in a previous essay that we are in a situation like a computer without a program. We get the noise, but without a means to “read” it, it is just gibberish.

Our biggest challenge therefore comes down to us: unless or until we find a better system of teaching, of becoming aware that we need to learn and a desire to acquire the tools of citizenship, we cannot hope to move toward a safer, more enriching future.

This is a long-term task.

We had better get started.

William R. Polk was a professor of history at the University of Chicago. During the Kennedy and part of the Johnson administrations, he was the member of the Policy Planning Council responsible for North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Among his books are “Understanding Iraq, Violent Politics and Understanding Iran.” He is vice chairman of the W.P. Carey Foundation

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Naming Our Nameless War 

How Many Years Will It Be?
By Andrew J. Bacevich

For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name?

It did at the outset.  After 9/11, George W. Bush’s administration wasted no time in announcing that the U.S. was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT.  With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age. In neoconservative circles, it was known as World War IV.

Upon succeeding to the presidency in 2009, however, Barack Obama without fanfare junked Bush’s formulation (as he did again in a speech at the National Defense University last week).  Yet if the appellation went away, the conflict itself, shorn of identifying marks, continued.

Does it matter that ours has become and remains a nameless war? Very much so.

Names bestow meaning.  When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about.  To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others. Let me provide a few illustrations.

With rare exceptions, Americans today characterize the horrendous fraternal bloodletting of 1861-1865 as the Civil War.  Yet not many decades ago, diehard supporters of the Lost Cause insisted on referring to that conflict as the War Between the States or the War for Southern Independence (or even the War of Northern Aggression).  The South may have gone down in defeat, but the purposes for which Southerners had fought — preserving a distinctive way of life and the principle of states’ rights — had been worthy, even noble.  So at least they professed to believe, with their preferred names for the war reflecting that belief.

Schoolbooks tell us that the Spanish-American War began in April 1898 and ended in August of that same year.  The name and dates fit nicely with a widespread inclination from President William McKinley’s day to our own to frame U.S. intervention in Cuba as an altruistic effort to liberate that island from Spanish oppression.

Yet the Cubans were not exactly bystanders in that drama.  By 1898, they had been fighting for years to oust their colonial overlords.  And although hostilities in Cuba itself ended on August 12th, they dragged on in the Philippines, another Spanish colony that the United States had seized for reasons only remotely related to liberating Cubans.  Notably, U.S. troops occupying the Philippines waged a brutal war not against Spaniards but against Filipino nationalists no more inclined to accept colonial rule by Washington than by Madrid.  So widen the aperture to include this Cuban prelude and the Filipino postlude and you end up with something like this:  The Spanish-American-Cuban-Philippines War of 1895-1902.  Too clunky?  How about the War for the American Empire?  This much is for sure: rather than illuminating, the commonplace textbook descriptor serves chiefly to conceal.

Strange as it may seem, Europeans once referred to the calamitous events of 1914-1918 as the Great War.  When Woodrow Wilson decided in 1917 to send an army of doughboys to fight alongside the Allies, he went beyond Great.  According to the president, the Great War was going to be the War To End All Wars.  Alas, things did not pan out as he expected.  Perhaps anticipating the demise of his vision of permanent peace, War Department General Order 115, issued on October 7, 1919, formally declared that, at least as far as the United States was concerned, the recently concluded hostilities would be known simply as the World War.

In September 1939 — presto chango! — the World Warsuddenly became the First World War, the Nazi invasion of Poland having inaugurated a Second World War, also known asWorld War II or more cryptically WWII.  To be sure, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin preferred the Great Patriotic War. Although this found instant — almost unanimous — favor among Soviet citizens, it did not catch on elsewhere.

Does World War II accurately capture the events it purports to encompass?  With the crusade against the Axis now ranking alongside the crusade against slavery as a myth-enshrouded chapter in U.S. history to which all must pay homage, Americans are no more inclined to consider that question than to consider why a playoff to determine the professional baseball championship of North America constitutes a “World Series.”

In fact, however convenient and familiar, World War II is misleading and not especially useful.  The period in question saw at least two wars, each only tenuously connected to the other, each having distinctive origins, each yielding a different outcome.  To separate them is to transform the historical landscape.

On the one hand, there was the Pacific War, pitting the United States against Japan.  Formally initiated by the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, it had in fact begun a decade earlier when Japan embarked upon a policy of armed conquest in Manchuria.  At stake was the question of who would dominate East Asia.  Japan’s crushing defeat at the hands of the United States, sealed by two atomic bombs in 1945, answered that question (at least for a time).

Then there was the European War, pitting Nazi Germany first against Great Britain and France, but ultimately against a grand alliance led by the United States, the Soviet Union, and a fast fading British Empire.  At stake was the question of who would dominate Europe.  Germany’s defeat resolved that issue (at least for a time): no one would.  To prevent any single power from controlling Europe, two outside powers divided it.

This division served as the basis for the ensuing Cold War,which wasn’t actually cold, but also (thankfully) wasn’t World War III, the retrospective insistence of bellicose neoconservatives notwithstanding.  But when did the Cold Warbegin?  Was it in early 1947, when President Harry Truman decided that Stalin’s Russia posed a looming threat and committed the United States to a strategy of containment?  Or was it in 1919, when Vladimir Lenin decided that Winston Churchill’s vow to “strangle Bolshevism in its cradle” posed a looming threat to the Russian Revolution, with an ongoing Anglo-American military intervention evincing a determination to make good on that vow?

Separating the war against Nazi Germany from the war against Imperial Japan opens up another interpretive possibility.  If you incorporate the European conflict of 1914-1918 and the European conflict of 1939-1945 into a single narrative, you get a Second Thirty Years War (the first having occurred from 1618-1648) — not so much a contest of good against evil, as a mindless exercise in self-destruction that represented the ultimate expression of European folly.

So, yes, it matters what we choose to call the military enterprise we’ve been waging not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in any number of other countries scattered hither and yon across the Islamic world.  Although the Obama administration appears no more interested than the Bush administration in saying when that enterprise will actually end, the date we choose as its starting point also matters.

Although Washington seems in no hurry to name its nameless war — and will no doubt settle on something self-serving or anodyne if it ever finally addresses the issue — perhaps we should jump-start the process.  Let’s consider some possible options, names that might actually explain what’s going on.

The Long War: Coined not long after 9/11 by senior officers in the Pentagon, this formulation never gained traction with either civilian officials or the general public.  Yet the Long War deserves consideration, even though — or perhaps because — it has lost its luster with the passage of time.

At the outset, it connoted grand ambitions buoyed by extreme confidence in the efficacy of American military might.  This was going to be one for the ages, a multi-generational conflict yielding sweeping results.

The Long War did begin on a hopeful note.  The initial entry into Afghanistan and then into Iraq seemed to herald “home by Christmas” triumphal parades.  Yet this soon proved an illusion as victory slipped from Washington’s grasp.  By 2005 at the latest, events in the field had dashed the neo-Wilsonian expectations nurtured back home.

With the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan dragging on, “long” lost its original connotation.  Instead of “really important,” it became a synonym for “interminable.”  Today, the Long Wardoes succinctly capture the experience of American soldiers who have endured multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Long War combatants, the object of the exercise has become to persist.  As for winning, it’s not in the cards. TheLong War just might conclude by the end of 2014 if President Obama keeps his pledge to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan and if he avoids getting sucked into Syria’s civil war.  So the troops may hope.

The War Against Al-Qaeda: It began in August 1996 when Osama bin Laden issued a “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” i.e., Saudi Arabia.  In February 1998, a second bin Laden manifesto announced that killing Americans, military and civilian alike, had become “an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”

Although President Bill Clinton took notice, the U.S. response to bin Laden’s provocations was limited and ineffectual.  Only after 9/11 did Washington take this threat seriously.  Since then, apart from a pointless excursion into Iraq (where, in Saddam Hussein’s day, al-Qaeda did not exist), U.S. attention has been focused on Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have waged the longest war in American history, and on Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, where a CIA drone campaign is ongoing.  By the end of President Obama’s first term, U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting that a combined CIA/military campaign had largely destroyed bin Laden’s organization.  Bin Laden himself, of course, was dead.

Could the United States have declared victory in its unnamed war at this point?  Perhaps, but it gave little thought to doing so.  Instead, the national security apparatus had already trained its sights on various al-Qaeda “franchises” and wannabes, militant groups claiming the bin Laden brand and waging their own version of jihad.  These offshoots emerged in the Maghreb, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, and — wouldn’t you know it — post-Saddam Iraq, among other places.  The question as to whether they actually posed a danger to the United States got, at best, passing attention — the label “al-Qaeda” eliciting the same sort of Pavlovian response that the word “communist” once did.

Americans should not expect this war to end anytime soon.  Indeed, the Pentagon’s impresario of special operations recently speculated — by no means unhappily — that it would continue globally for “at least 10 to 20 years.”   Freely translated, his statement undoubtedly means: “No one really knows, but we’re planning to keep at it for one helluva long time.”

The War For/Against/About Israel: It began in 1948.  For many Jews, the founding of the state of Israel signified an ancient hope fulfilled.  For many Christians, conscious of the sin of anti-Semitism that had culminated in the Holocaust, it offered a way to ease guilty consciences, albeit mostly at others’ expense.  For many Muslims, especially Arabs, and most acutely Arabs who had been living in Palestine, the founding of the Jewish state represented a grave injustice.  It was yet another unwelcome intrusion engineered by the West — colonialism by another name.

Recounting the ensuing struggle without appearing to take sides is almost impossible.  Yet one thing seems clear: in terms of military involvement, the United States attempted in the late 1940s and 1950s to keep its distance.  Over the course of the 1960s, this changed.  The U.S. became Israel’s principal patron, committed to maintaining (and indeed increasing) its military superiority over its neighbors.

In the decades that followed, the two countries forged a multifaceted “strategic relationship.”  A compliant Congress provided Israel with weapons and other assistance worth many billions of dollars, testifying to what has become an unambiguous and irrevocable U.S. commitment to the safety and well-being of the Jewish state.  The two countries share technology and intelligence.  Meanwhile, just as Israel had disregarded U.S. concerns when it came to developing nuclear weapons, it ignored persistent U.S. requests that it refrain from colonizing territory that it has conquered.

When it comes to identifying the minimal essential requirements of Israeli security and the terms that will define any Palestinian-Israeli peace deal, the United States defers to Israel.  That may qualify as an overstatement, but only slightly.  Given the Israeli perspective on those requirements and those terms — permanent military supremacy and a permanently demilitarized Palestine allowed limited sovereignty — the War For/Against/About Israel is unlikely to end anytime soon either.  Whether the United States benefits from the perpetuation of this war is difficult to say, but we are in it for the long haul.

The War for the Greater Middle East: I confess that this is the name I would choose for Washington’s unnamed war and is, in fact, the title of a course I teach.  (A tempting alternative is the Second Hundred Years War, the “first” having begun in 1337 and ended in 1453.)

This war is about to hit the century mark, its opening chapter coinciding with the onset of World War I.  Not long after the fighting on the Western Front in Europe had settled into a stalemate, the British government, looking for ways to gain the upper hand, set out to dismantle the Ottoman Empire whose rulers had foolishly thrown in their lot with the German Reich against the Allies.

By the time the war ended with Germany and the Turks on the losing side, Great Britain had already begun to draw up new boundaries, invent states, and install rulers to suit its predilections, while also issuing mutually contradictory promises to groups inhabiting these new precincts of its empire.  Toward what end?  Simply put, the British were intent on calling the shots from Egypt to India, whether by governing through intermediaries or ruling directly.  The result was a new Middle East and a total mess.

London presided over this mess, albeit with considerable difficulty, until the end of World War II.  At this point, by abandoning efforts to keep Arabs and Zionists from one another’s throats in Palestine and by accepting the partition of India, they signaled their intention to throw in the towel. Alas, Washington proved more than willing to assume Britain’s role.  The lure of oil was strong.  So too were the fears, however overwrought, of the Soviets extending their influence into the region.

Unfortunately, the Americans enjoyed no more success in promoting long-term, pro-Western stability than had the British.  In some respects, they only made things worse, with the joint CIA-MI6 overthrow of a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953 offering a prime example of a “success” that, to this day, has never stopped breeding disaster.

Only after 1980 did things get really interesting, however.  The Carter Doctrine promulgated that year designated the Persian Gulf a vital national security interest and opened the door to greatly increased U.S. military activity not just in the Gulf, but also throughout the Greater Middle East (GME).  Between 1945 and 1980, considerable numbers of American soldiers lost their lives fighting in Asia and elsewhere.  During that period, virtually none were killed fighting in the GME.  Since 1990, in contrast, virtually none have been killed fighting anywhere except in the GME.

What does the United States hope to achieve in its inherited and unending War for the Greater Middle East?  To pacify the region?  To remake it in our image?  To drain its stocks of petroleum?  Or just keeping the lid on?  However you define the war’s aims, things have not gone well, which once again suggests that, in some form, it will continue for some time to come.  If there’s any good news here, it’s the prospect of having ever more material for my seminar, which may soon expand into a two-semester course.

The War Against Islam: This war began nearly 1,000 years ago and continued for centuries, a storied collision between Christendom and the Muslim ummah.  For a couple of hundred years, periodic eruptions of large-scale violence occurred until the conflict finally petered out with the last crusade sometime in the fourteenth century.

In those days, many people had deemed religion something worth fighting for, a proposition to which the more sophisticated present-day inhabitants of Christendom no longer subscribe.  Yet could that religious war have resumed in our own day?  Professor Samuel Huntington thought so, although he styled the conflict a “clash of civilizations.”  Some militant radical Islamists agree with Professor Huntington, citing as evidence the unwelcome meddling of “infidels,” mostly wearing American uniforms, in various parts of the Muslim world.  Some militant evangelical Christians endorse this proposition, even if they take a more favorable view of U.S. troops occupying and drones targeting Muslim countries.

In explaining the position of the United States government, religious scholars like George W. Bush and Barack (Hussein!) Obama have consistently expressed a contrary view.  Islam is a religion of peace, they declare, part of the great Abrahamic triad.  That the other elements of that triad are likewise committed to peace is a proposition that Bush, Obama, and most Americans take for granted, evidence not required.  There should be no reason why Christians, Jews, and Muslims can’t live together in harmony.

Still, remember back in 2001 when, in an unscripted moment, President Bush described the war barely begun as a “crusade”?  That was just a slip of the tongue, right?  If not, we just might end up calling this one the Eternal War.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University and a TomDispatch regular. His next book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Countrywill appear in September.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook orTumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’sThe Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare.

View this story online at: http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175704/

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En este interesante artículo publicado por la History News Network (HNN) el  historiador norteamericano Keith W. Olson (University of Maryland) examina la presidencia de Dwight D. Eisenhower (Ike). Olson concluye que en estos momentos en que el Partido Republicano –derrotado por Barack Obama en noviembre pasado– busca reiventarse, Eisenhower debería ser el modelo a seguir por los Republicanos. Para ello destaca el caracter moderado del que es, sin lugar dudas, el presidente Republicano más importante de la segunda mitad del siglo XX.

Republicans Should Like Ike | History News Network.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Ike”

As Republican leaders continue to try to redefine their party identity they would do well to review the legacy of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, arguably, the most successful president since World War II. As president he faced crises and challenges both foreign and domestic, different from those of today but equal in magnitude, as well as the need to maintain national leadership.

During the 1950s the containment of the nuclear-armed Soviet Union dominated all other concerns. From the Truman administration, Eisenhower also inherited a limited war in Korea. A year later he faced a French request for military aid to save their colonial empire in Southeast Asia. Also in 1954 — and again in 1958 — he confronted tense relations with the People’s Republic of China over territorial claims and policies in the Formosa Strait.

In October 1956 three of the nation’s closest allies — the United Kingdom, France, and Israel — invaded Egypt without informing Eisenhower. The war soon involved threats from the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, the Soviets invaded Hungary to crush the Hungarian Revolution, which had overthrown the communist government in that country. A year after the Suez crisis the Soviets launched the world’s first human-made satellite, called Sputnik, to orbit the earth. While not a military threat, Sputnik sparked serious public discussion about America’s ability to compete with the Soviets.

To all of these crises Eisenhower sought non-military resolutions.

In Korea he completed a negotiated settlement, a policy the Truman administration had started. Eisenhower likewise successfully negotiated with the People’s Republic of China and aggressively pressured Britain and France into withdrawing from the Suez.

Eisenhower’s political, and economic achievements reflected stability, continuity, and moderation. As president he favored an increase in the minimum wage and extended unemployment benefits to an additional four million workers. In 1956 he broadened Social Security to include new categories of occupations and thereby added 10.5 million wage earners, including public school teachers.

Two initiatives illustrated Eisenhower’s commitment to infrastructure. The first was the St. Lawrence Seaway Act, which provided construction of locks that linked the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1956 Congress enacted his proposed Federal Aid Highway Act, the largest public works project in American history. He wanted the project to finance itself through a federal tax on gas and oil with states contributing ten percent of construction cost in their states. In 1958 the National Defense Education Act provided the first major aid to higher education since 1862. Under Eisenhower the budget of the National Science Foundation more than doubled.

For Eisenhower the economy, especially the federal budget, directly related to military strength and domestic prosperity. He inherited a budget deficit of approximately $10 billion. By 1956 he balanced the first of his balanced budgets. Steadfastly he maintained high federal income tax to uphold economic health. For incomes over $400,000, the federal income tax was 91 percent (albeit with deductions). Eisenhower also systematically reduced the military budget in actual dollars as well as in percentage of the total budget through his New Look policy.

The congressional elections of 1954, 1956, and 1958 returned Democratic majorities to both houses of Congress. His 1956 re-election meant that he faced Democratic control of Congress for the last six years of his presidency.

In his farewell address Eisenhower wanted “to share a few final thoughts with you my countrymen.” After this beginning, he immediately reported that “Our people expect their president and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation.” He referred to this relationship as “mutually interdependent” and continued that “In this final relations, the Congress and the administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the national good rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward.” He concluded that “my official relationship with the Congress end[s] in a feeling, on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.”

The American voters responded enthusiastically to Eisenhower’s leadership. In 1952 he won election by more than 6.5 million votes. Four years later he won reelection by more than 9.5 million votes. Another measure of evaluation was approval rating. Harry Truman left office with a rating of 23 percent, the lowest of any post-World War II president (until George W. Bush, that is). In Eisenhower’s last year 61 percent approved of Americans approved of his performance. His eight-year average approval was 65 percent. The trust American had in their government to do what was right all or most of the time constituted yet another category of evaluation. In 1960 the trust in government reached 70 percent.

The more scholars have researched about Eisenhower and his administration the higher their assessments. Consistently in polls he now merits eighth, ninth, or tenth rank among all presidents. In 1996, for example, The Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. poll of historians placed Eisenhower tenth. The Siena College Institute found that “experts” listed him in the top ten in its 1994, 2002, and 2010 surveys. C-SPAN’s 2009 analysis by “sixty-five historians and professional observers of the presidency” placed Eisenhower eighth.

With hindsight, of course, not all of Eisenhower’s decisions, actions, and policies win applause — but the total record is overwhelmingly favorable. In terms of legislation, international relations, and economics he left solid achievements. Voters overwhelmingly supported his presidency and scholars admire his record. During his presidency Eisenhower’s achievements and his public image contributed to high public trust in government, belief in the role of government, and ability to form bipartisan coalitions to advance the national interest. Eisenhower’s record is one Republican leaders should celebrate, not ignore.

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Comparto con todos ustedes mi participación el pasado 8 de noviembre en el programa HablaPUCP, donde fui entrevistado por el Dr. Eduardo Dargent sobre el resultado de las elecciones estadounidenses.

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En un artículo publicado recientemente en la revista The American Conservative titulado “How we became Israel”, el historiador norteamericano Andrew Bacevich examina la israelificación de la política de seguridad nacional de los Estados Unidos. El término no es mío, sino del propio Bacevich, y hace referencia al alegado creciente uso por Estados Unidos de tácticas y estrategias practicadas por el estado de Israel. Bacevich no es un autor ajeno a este blog, ya  que he reseñado varios de sus escritos porque le considero uno de los analistas más honestos y, por ende, valientes de la política exterior de su país. En el contexto de un posible ataque israelí contra Irán –que arrastraría a los Estados Unidos a una guerra innecesaria y muy peligrosa– me parece necesario reseñar este artículo, ya que analiza elementos muy importantes de las actuales relaciones israelíes-norteamericanas.

Bacevich comienza su artículo  con una reflexión sobre la paz y la violencia. Según éste,  la paz tiene significados que varían de acuerdo con el país o gobierno que los defina. Para unos, la paz es sinónimo de armonía basada en la tolerancia y el respeto. Para otros, no es más que un eufemismo para dominar. Un país comprometido con la paz recurre a la violencia como último recurso y esa había sido, según Bacevich, la actitud histórica de los Estados Unidos. Por el contrario, si un país ve la paz como sinónimo de dominio, hará un uso menos limitado de la violencia Ese es el caso de Israel desde hace mucho tiempo y lo que le preocupa al autor es que, según él,  desde fines de la guerra fría también ha sido la actitud de los Estados Unidos.  De acuerdo con Bacevich:

“As a consequence, U.S. national-security policy increasingly conforms to patterns of behavior pioneered by the Jewish state. This “Israelification” of U.S. policy may prove beneficial for Israel. Based on the available evidence, it’s not likely to be good for the United States.”

Es claro que para Bacevich la llamada israelificación de la política de seguridad nacional de los Estados Unidos no es buen negocio para su nación. El autor le dedica el resto de su artículo a analizar este fenómeno.

Como parte de su análisis, el autor hace una serie de observaciones muy críticas y pertinentes sobre Israel. Comienza  examinando la visión sobre la paz del actual primer ministro israelí, partiendo de unas expresiones hechas por Benjamin Netanyahu en 2009, reclamando la total desmilitarización de la franja de Gaza y de la margen occidental del río Jordán como requisitos para un acuerdo de paz con los palestinos. Para Bacevich, estas exigencias no tienen sentido alguno porque los palestinos pueden ser una molestia para Israel, pero no constituyen una amenaza dada la enorme superioridad militar de los israelíes, cosa que se suele olvidar, añadiría yo, con demasiada facilidad y frecuencia. Bacevich concluye que para los israelíes la paz se deriva de la seguridad absoluta, basada no en la ventaja sino en la supremacía militar.

La insistencia en esa supremacía ha hecho necesario que Israel lleve a cabo lo que el autor denomina como “anticipatory action”, es decir, acciones preventivas contra lo que los israelíes han percibido como amenazas (“perceived threats”). Uno de los ejemplos que hace referencia el autor es el ataque israelí contra las facilidades nucleares iraquíes en 1981.  Sin embargo, con estas acciones los israelíes no se han limitado a defenderse, sino que  convirtieron la percepción de amenaza en oportunidad de expansión territorial. Bacevich da como ejemplos los ataques israelíes contra Egipto en 1956 y 1967 que, según él, no ocurrieron porque los egipcios tuvieran la capacidad de destruir a Israel. Tales ataques se dieron porque abrían la oportunidad de la ganancia territorial por vía de la conquista. Ganancia que en el caso de la guerra de 1967 ha tenido serias consecuencias estratégicas para Israel.

Bacevich examina otro elemento clave de la política de seguridad israelí: los asesinatos selectivos (“targeted assassinations”).  Los israelíes  han convertido la eliminación física de sus adversarios ­­–a través del uso del terrorismo, añadiría yo– en el sello distintivo del arte de la guerra israelí, eclipsando así métodos militares convencionales y dañando la imagen internacional de Israel.

Lo que  Bacevich no entiende y le preocupa, es por qué Estados Unidos han optado por seguir los pasos de Israel. Según éste, desde la administración del primer Bush, su país ha oscilado hacia la búsqueda del dominio militar global, hacia el uso de acciones militares preventivas y hacia a los asesinatos selectivos (en referencia al uso de vehículos aéreos no tripulados ­­–los llamados “drones”-  como arma antiterrorista creciente). Todo ello justificado, como en el caso de Israel,  como medida defensiva y como herramienta de seguridad nacional. Al autor se la hace difícil entender esta israelificación porque contrario a Israel, Estados Unidos es un país grande, con una gran población y sin enemigos  cercanos. En otras palabras, los norteamericanos tienen opciones y ventajas que los israelíes no poseen. A pesar de ello, Estados Unidos ha sucumbido “into an Israeli-like condition of perpetual war, with peace increasingly tied to unrealistic expectations of adversaries and would-be adversaries acquiescing in Washington’s will.”

Para Bacevich, este proceso de israelificación comenzó con la Operación Tormenta del Desierto, un conflicto tan rápido e impactante como la guerra de los siete días. Clinton contribuyó a este proceso con  intervenciones militares frecuentes (Haití, Bosnia, Serbia, Sudán, etc.). El segundo Bush –fiel creyente de la estrategia del “ Full Spectrum Dominance” (Dominación de espectro completo)– se embarcó en la liberación y transformación del mundo islámico. Bajo su liderato, Estados Unidos hizo, como Israel, uso de la guerra preventiva. De acuerdo con el autor, invadir Irak era visto por Bush y su gente como un acción preventiva contra lo que se percibía como una amenaza, pero también como  una oportunidad. Al atacar a Saddam Hussein, Bush no adoptó el concepto  de disuasión (“deterrence”) de la guerra fría, sino la versión israelí. La estrategia de “deterrence” de la guerra fría buscaba disuadir al oponente de llevar a cabo acciones bélicas mientras que la versión israelí está fundamentada en el uso desproporcionado de la fuerza. A los israelíes no les basta con amedrentar y han dejado atrás el bíblico ojo por ojo. Para ellos es necesario castigar desproporcionadamente para enviar una mensaje  de fuerza a sus enemigos. Basta recordar los 1,397 palestinos muertos en Gaza durante las tres semanas que duró la Operación Plomo Fundido a finales de 2008 y principios de 2009. De ellos, 345 eran menores de edad. [Según B’TSELEMThe Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories–, entre setiembre de 2000 y setiembre de 2012, las fuerzas de seguridad israelíes mataron a 6,500 palestinos en los territorios ocupados y a 69 en Israel. Durante ese mismo periodo, los palestinos asesinaron a 754 civiles y 343 miembros de las fuerzas de seguridad israelíes.]

De acuerdo con Bacevich, el objetivo de la administración Bush al invadir Irak era también enviar un mensaje: esto le puede pasar a quienes reten la voluntad de Estados Unidos. Desafortunadamente para Bush, la invasión y ocupación de Irak resultó un fracaso similar a la invasión israelí del Líbano en 1982.

El proceso de israelificación analizado por Bacevich tomó una nuevo giró bajo la presidencia de Obama, quien transformó el uso de los drones para asesinatos selectivos en la pieza clave de la política de seguridad nacional de Estados Unidos.

Bacevich concluye que, a pesar de que no favorece los intereses de Estados Unidos, el proceso de israelificación de la política de seguridad nacional estadounidense ya se ha completado, y que será muy difícil revertirlo dado el clima político reinante en la nación norteamericana.

Lo primero que debo señalar es que el uso del asesinato selectivo por el gobierno estadounidense como arma política no comenzó con los drones. Basta recordar los hallazgos del famoso Comité Church que en la década de 1970 investigó las actividades del aparato de inteligencia norteamericano en el Tercer Mundo. En un informe de catorce volúmenes, este comité legislativo documentó las actividades ilegales llevadas a cabo por la CIA, entre ellas, el asesinato e intento de asesinato de líderes del Tercer Mundo. ¿Cuántas veces ha intentado la CIA matar a Fidel Castro? ¿Cuántos miembros del Vietcong fueron capturados, torturados y asesinados por la CIA y sus asociados a través del Programa Phoenix en los años 1960? Lo que han hecho los drones es transformar la eliminación física de los enemigos  de Estados Unidos en un proceso a control remoto y, por ende, “seguro” para los estadounidenses.

A pesar estas críticas, considero que este ensayo es valioso por varias razones. Primero, porque refleja la creciente preocupación entre sectores académicos, militares y gubernamentales norteamericanos por la enorme influencia que ejerce Israel sobre la política exterior y doméstica de los Estados Unidos. Afortunadamente, no todos los estadounidenses creen que Estados Unidos debe apoyar a Israel incondicionalmente, especialmente, cuando es claro que tal apoyo tiene un gran costo político y económico para Estados Unidos. Segundo, porque desarrollar una discusión pública y abierta de este tema es extremadamente necesario para contrarrestar la influencia del “lobby” pro-israelí en los Estados Unidos (y a nivel mundial). En ese sentido, este ensayo cumple una función muy importante al criticar la política de seguridad de Israel desde una óptica  honesta. Bacevich no teme llamar las cosas por su nombre y no duda en describir la actual política de seguridad israelí como una basada en asesinatos selectivos y el uso desproporcionado de la fuerza, y que, además, no busca la paz, sino el dominio y la expansión territorial.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez, PhD

Lima, Perú, 11 de noviembre de 2012

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Gracias al USHistoryBlog.com, me entero de la existencia de “100 Great Moments in American History You Can Catch on YouTube”, un recurso que podría resultar de gran ayuda para quienes estén interesados o involucrados en la enseñanza de historia norteamericana.  Publicado por OnlineSchool.com, 100 Great Moments in American History You Can Catch on YouTube es una lista de vínculos a  cien vídeos procedentes de YouTube relacionados al desarrollo histórico de los Estados Unidos.

La lista que compone 100 Great Moments in American History está subdividida en ocho categorías. La primera es titulada Inauguraciones presidenciales y recoge vídeos de la inauguración de varios presidentes estadounidenses, entre ellos, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon y Barack Obama. Vínculos mundiales, la segunda categoría, recoge vídeos  de eventos de historia norteamericana de trascendencia mundial como el ataque a Pearl Harbor, el caso Watergate y el 11/9. La tercera categoría –Asesinatos históricos–  está dedicada al tema  de los asesinatos políticos y destacan aquí los vídeos relacionados a la muerte de Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martín Luther King, Robert Kennedy y John Lennon. La cuarta categoría es titulada Discursos históricos y recoge los famosos “fireside chat” de Franklin D. Roosevelt y discursos de Malcom X, Ronald Reagan y George W. Bush, entre otros. La quinta categoría es titulada Momentos fuera de este mundo y agrupa vídeos asociados a la carrera espacial (el lanzamiento del Sputnik, el alunizaje, el desastre del transbordador Challenger, etc.). La sexta categoría  nos lleva al mundo cultural, pues agrupa vídeos relacionados a la historia musical estadounidense como la llegada de los Beatles a los Estados Unidos, Woodstock, las presentaciones de los Jackson 5 y los conciertos de Black Sabbath. La penúltima categoría atiende un elemento muy importante de la cultura norteamericana: los deportes. Aquí encontramos vídeos de la pelea de Cassius Clay y Sonny Liston, la victoria del equipo de hockey norteamericano sobre el soviético en las Olimpiadas de  Invierno de 1980 y la participación de Michael Phelps en las Olimpiadas de 2008. La última categoría –Momentos televisivos– agrupa vídeos relacionados con la historia de la televisión estadounidense: I Love Lucy, Star Trek, Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, MTV,  The O´Reilly Factor, Survivors, etc.

A pesar de que la selección de algunos vídeos podría ser cuestionada, 100 Great Moments in American History You Can Catch on YouTube constituye una herramienta útil para la enseñanza y el estudio de la historia de los Estados Unidos.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez,

Lima, Perú, 29 de noviembre de 2009

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Continúo con la selección de escritos relacionados al debate sobre la naturaleza del imperialismo norteamericano desarrollado en la primera década de siglo  XXI. En esta ocasión recojo una lista mínima de artículos y ensayos sobre el tema publicados en diversas revistas y periódicos. Espero sea de interés y ayuda.

daedalusCARLOS DA FONSECA, “Deus Está do Nosso Lado: Excepcionalismo e Religião nos EUA”. Contexto Internacional, 29:1, Janeiro/junho 2007, 149-185.

NIALL FERGUSON, “The Unsconscious Colussus: Limits of (& Alternatives to) American Empire”. Daedalus, 134, 2005, 18-33.

SUSAN GILLMAN, “The New, Newest Thing: Have American Studies Gone Imperial?”. American Literary History, 17:1, 2005, 196-214.iplomatic History
MARY ANN HEISS, “The Evolution of the Imperial idea and U. S. National Indentity”. Diplomatic History, 26:4, Fall 2002, 511-540.
DAVID C. HENDRICKSON, “The Curious Case of American Hegemony Imperial Aspirations and National Decline.” World Policy Journal, XXII:2 Summer 2005.
NYTJOHAN HÖGLUND, “Taking up the White Man’s Burden? American Empire and the Question of History”. European Journal of American Studies, 2, 2007.

MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, “The American Empire; The Burden”. The New York Times, January 5, 2003.

MARY A. JUNQUEIRA, “Os discursos de George W. Bush e o excepcionalismo norte-americano”. Margem, 17, Junio 2003, 163-171. American Quarterly

AMY KAPLAN, “Violent Belongings and the Question of Empire Today Presidential Address to the American Studies Association, October 17, 2003”, American Quarterly, 56:1, March 2004, 1-18.
harvard_magazineCHARLES S. MAIER,  “An American Empire?”, Harvard Magazine, 105:2, November/December 2002.

SEBASTIAN MALLABY, “The Reluctant Imperialist: Terrorism, Failed States, and the Case for American Empire”. Foreign Affairs, 81: 2, March/April 2002.foreign-affairs-cover1

DONALD PEASE, “Re-thinking “American Studies after US Exceptionalism””. American Literary History, 21:1, 2009, 19-27.

KENNETH POMERANZ, “Empire & ‘Civilizing Missions, Past & Present.” Daedalus, 134, no. 2, 2005.
FAREED ZAKARIA,  “The Future of American Power How America Can Survive the Rise of the Rest”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

Lima, 12 de junio de 2009

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La primera década del siglo XXI ha sido testigo de una producción impresionante de obras analizando la política exterior norteamericana desde una óptica imperialista. Decenas, sino cientos de libros, ensayos y artículos periodísticos  testimonían lo que ha sido un profundo debate intelectual y político.  La siguiente  bibliografía recoge  una muestra mínima, pero a mi parecer muy siginificativa de ese debate. Espero que les sea útil.

VirtousClaes G. Ryn, America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire. New Brunswick, U.S.A.: Transaction Publishers, 2003.

Michael Mann, Incoherent Empire. London & New York: Verso, (2003)

Michael Mann, El imperio incoherente: Estados Unidos y el Nuevo Orden Internacional. España, Ediciones Paidos Ibérica, S.A., Mann2004.

Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and US Interests in the Middle East, 1945-2000. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001.

new_imperialismDavid Harvey, The New Imperialism. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2003

Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: Americas Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2003.

Noam Chomsky, Hegemonía o supervivencia: la estrategia imperialista de Estados Unidos. Colombia: Editorial Norma,Chomsky_hegemonia2004.

Chalmers Johnson, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2000.

Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004.

empireChalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. The American Empire Project. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006.

Andrew J. Bacevich, American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002.

Andrew J. Bacevich, The Imperial Tense: Prospects and Problems of American Empire. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003.

Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. New York: Oxford University Press, Andrew_Bacevich_The_New_American_Militarism_sm2005.

Andrew J. Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008.

William E. Odom  and Robert Dujarric. America’s Inadvertent Empire. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2004.

Wars of peaceMax Boot, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.  New York: Basic Books, 2003.

Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire. New York: Penguin Press, 2004.

Niall Ferguson, Coloso. Auge y decadencia del imperio americano. Barcelona: Debate, 2005.

Charles S. Maier,   Among Empires: American Ascendancy and Its Predecessors. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Among2006.

PoderRobert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order.  New York: Vintage Books, 2004.

Robert Kagan,  Poder y debilidad. Europa y Estados Unidos en el nuevo orden mundial. Madrid: Taurus , 2003

Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008

Fareed Zakaria, El mundo después de USA. Madrid, Espasa Calpe, 2009

Melvyn P. Leffler, and Jeffrey Legro, To Lead the World: American Strategy after the Bush Doctrine. New ZakariaYork: Oxford University Press, 2008.

FukuyamaFrancis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Francis Fukuyama, América en la encrucijada. Barcelona: Ediciones B, S. A., 2007

Norberto Barreto Velázquez, Ph. D.

Lima, Perú, 30 de mayo de 2009

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El unilateralismo abierto y franco, el militarismo agresivo y el fuerte tono ideológico de la  política exterior de la presidencia de George W. Bush, provocaron en los Estados Unidos un intenso e interesantísimo debate académico en torno a la naturaleza imperialista de la nación norteamericana. En los último ocho años, autores como Chalmers Johnson, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Kagan, Max Boot, Francis Fukuyama, Niall Ferguson, Amy Kaplan, Noam Chomsky, Charles S. Maier, Michael Ignatieff, Howard Zinn, James Petras y Patrick K. O’Brien  (entre otros) se embarcaron en una intensa producción académica  (decenas de libros, artículos, ensayos, reportajes noticiosos y documentales) que giró en torno a una pregunta básica: ¿Son o actúan los Estados Unidos como un imperio? Tal interrogante ha estado directamente asociada con temas como el de la hegemonía norteamericana, el unilateralismo, el  neoconservadurismo, la guerra contra el terrorismo, el uso de la tortura, el choque de civilizaciones y otros.

Como he señalado anteriormente, éste no es un debate nuevo y hasta se podría plantear que es un proceso cíclico que responde a periodos o eventos traumáticos en el desarrollo de las relaciones exteriores de los Estados Unidos (por ejemplo, la guerra hispano-cubano-norteamericana o la guerra de Vietnam).  Estos periodos o  eventos traumáticos forzaron en su momento un análisis crítico de la política exterior estadounidense que llevó  a algunos analistas norteamericanos reconocer el carácter imperialista de ésta.  Lo novedoso del debate desarrollado en la primera década del siglo XXI es no sólo la fuerza con que la naturaleza imperialista de las acciones estadounidense ha sido reconocida por historiadores, sociólogos, politólogos y otros analistas estadounidenses, sino también cómo algunos de éstos vieron esas acciones como un proceso necesario. En otras palabras, como  algunos de estos analistas justificaron la “transformación” de los Estados Unidos en un imperio como un paso necesario para el bienestar de la nación norteamericana y la estabilidad y paz mundial.  Es necesario subrayar que un grupo significativo de estudiosos condenó las acciones norteamericanas, especialmente en Irak, y subrayó sus terribles consecuencias a corto y a largo plazo.


Andrew J. Bacevich

Uno de los participantes más importantes de este debate lo es el historiador conservador Andrew J. Bacevich. Bacevich es un exCoronel del Ejército de los Estados Unidos, graduado de la Academia Militar de West Point, veterano de la guerra de Vietnam, que posee un Doctorado de la Universidad de Princeton y que actualmente se desempeña como profesor de Historia en la Universidad de Boston.  Además, Bacevich tiene el triste honor de haber perdido a su hijo, el Teniente Primero Andrew J. Bacevich, en Irak en mayo del 2007. Escritor prolífico, Bacevich  es  autor de los siguientes libros: American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 2002); The Imperial Tense: Prospects and Problems of American Empire (Chicago, Ivan R. Dee, 2003); The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (New York, Oxford University Press, 2005); The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy since World War II (New York, Columbia University Press, 2007); y The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York, Metropolitan Books, 2008).  A través de sus libros, artículos, ensayos y presentaciones públicas, Bacevich ha desarrollado una incisiva y sistemática crítica de las acciones y de las bases ideológicas y culturales de la política exterior estadounidense.  Ello resulta realmente admirable dada su orientación ideológica (pues se le considera un historiador conservador) y, sobre todo, por su transfondo personal y profesional.

En su edición del 28 de abril de 2009, TomDispatch.com incluyó un corto, pero valioso ensayo de Bacevich titulado “Farewell, the American Century Rewriting the Past by Adding In What’s Been Left Out” (publicado en español por Rebelión.org bajo el título “Adiós, siglo estadounidense”). En este trabajo, Bacevich reacciona a una columna de Robert Cohen titulada “Moralism on the Shelf”, que fue publicada en el Washington Post el 10 de marzo pasado. En su columna, Cohen reacciona a comentarios del presidente Barack Obama rechazando la  posibilidad de negociar con los talibanes moderados y propone que el llamado  “American Century”  (“siglo norteamericano”) ha llegado a su fin. Bacevich usa la columna de Cohen como excusa para hacer una reflexión crítica del significado (y limitaciones) de uno de los conceptos más importantes de la segunda mitad del siglo XX y de paso hacer un examen crítico de la política exterior norteamericana de los últimos sesenta años.


Henry Luce

Mi objetivo es reseñar el ensayo de Bacevich, pero antes es necesario hacer un poco de historia. A principios de 1941, la segunda guerra mundial llevaba un poco más de un año de iniciada y Alemania parecía invencible.  Tras aplastar a Polonia y noquear a  Francia, Hitler logró en menos de un año lo que las tropas imperiales alemanas no alcanzaron durante toda la primera guerra mundial, la conquista de Europa occidental continental.  Con Francia fuera de la guerra, Gran Bretaña resistía, casi sola, las embestidas del expansionismo nazi. En los Estados Unidos, el Presidente Franklin D. Roosevelt hacía todo lo que estaba a su alcance para ayudar a los británicos, pero sus esfuerzos se veían seriamente limitados por la apatía y el aislacionismo reinante en el Congreso y en sectores de la opinión pública estadounidense.
En febrero de 1941, el publicista norteamericano Henry Luce publicó en la revista Time un  corto ensayo titulado “The American Century” que se convertiría en uno de los documentos más importantes de la historia de los Estados Unidos en el siglo XX. Henry Luce era hijo de misioneros presbiterianos,  lo que explica que naciera en China en 1898. Graduado de la Universidad de Yale, en 1923 Luce  funda la revista  Time,  que sería la base para la creación de un imperio publicitario que incluiría publicaciones como Fortune y Life. Preocupado por la situación mundial, Luce escribió “The American Century” para llamar la atención de sus compatriotas ante la amenaza nazi.  En su breve escrito, Luce resaltó la responsabilidad de los Estados Unidos ante los eventos mundiales, pues según él, eran “la nación más poderosa y vital del mundo”, y como tal, debían hacer sentir su influencia y poder. Para Luce, era necesario que los norteamericanos entendieran que los Estados Unidos ya estaban involucrados en la guerra mundial y que sólo la nación estadounidense podía “definir de forma efectiva los objetivos de esta guerra.” Hijo de su momento histórico, “The American Century” buscaba luchar contra el aislacionismo sacudiendo a quienes se negaban a aceptar que los Estados Unidos debían intervenir en la guerra mundial para dar vida al “primer gran siglo norteamericano”. De esta forma, Luce anunció la hegemonía norteamericana de la posguerra.

Bacevich reconoce que aunque el chauvinismo, la religiosidad y la grandilocuencia de los argumentos de Luce no caen bien hoy en día, “The American Century” caló hondo en la mentalidad norteamericana, pues promovió la idea de los Estados Unidos  como “la fuente de salvación” del mundo, como el guía espiritual de la humanidad que sirvió de justificante ideológico-cultural de las políticas norteamericanas de la segunda mitad del siglo XX.  En otras palabras, Luce capturó en un frase la esencia de un momento histórico y aportó así un nuevo elemento a lo que el crítico cultural estadounidense  John Carlos Rowe denomina el “repertorio de métodos de dominación” del imaginario imperialista de los Estados Unidos.

Para Bacevich, la idea –él le llama mito– del siglo norteamericano tiene dos problemas básicos: primero, exagera el papel de los Estados Unidos y, segundo, “ignora y trivializa  asuntos en conflicto con el relato  triunfal” en el que ésta está basada. Con ello se perpetúa lo que Bacevich llama una “serie de ilusiones” que no permiten a los norteamericanos tomar conciencia de sí mismos, y que obstaculizan “nuestros esfuerzos para navegar por las aguas traidoras en las que se encuentra actualmente el país”.  La idea  de un supuesto siglo norteamericano perpetúa, por ende, una versión mítica del pasado estadounidense que no le permite a los norteamericanos entender los retos y problemas actuales.

Bacevich no tienes dudas de que el siglo XXI no es el siglo norteamericano, pero está conciente de que el pueblo y, en especial el liderato estadounidense aún permanecen bajo la “esclavitud” de esta idea. Por ello le combate demostrando su falsedad. Lo primero que hace Bacevich es reconocer que los Estados Unidos no derrotaron a la Wehrmacht, sino lo soviéticos. Segundo, Bacevich niega que los norteamericanos ganasen la guerra fría, pues según él, el imperio soviético fue víctima de la ineptitud de su liderato, no de las acciones de los norteamericanos. Tercero, Bacevich examina varios “errores cometidos por los Estados Unidos” que, según él, permiten ver la verdadera naturaleza del llamado siglo norteamericano: Cuba en 1898, la bomba atómica de 1945, Irán en 1953 y Afganistán desde la década de 1980.  Veamos cada uno de estos errores:

•    Cuba: En 1898, los Estados Unidos pelearon una guerra con España para, supuestamente, liberar a Cuba, pero la isla terminó convertida en un protectorado norteamericano, preparando así el camino hacia Fidel Castro y la Revolución Cubana, el fiasco de Bahía de Cochinos, la crisis de los misiles y Gitmo.
•    La bomba nuclear: Bacevich enfatiza la responsabilidad de los Estados Unidos en la creación de uno de los principales peligros que amenazan a la Humanidad: la proliferación de armas nucleares. Los Estados Unidos  no sólo crearon y usaron la bomba, sino que también definieron su posesión como “el parámetro de poder en el mundo de la posguerra” mundial, dejando a las demás potencias mundiales en una posición desventajosa. En otras palabras, la ventaja nuclear estadounidense obligó a las demás potencias a desarrollar su propio armamento nuclear, fomentando así la proliferación de las armas nucleares.
•   Irán: Bacevich reconoce que los problemas actuales de los Estados Unidos e Irán no se originan en la Revolución Iraní de 1979, sino en el papel que jugó la CIA en el derrocamiento, en 1953, del primer ministro iraní Mohammed Mossadegh.  En otras palabras,  el pueblo iraní fue condenado a vivir bajo la dictadura del Shah para que los norteamericanos pudieran obetener petróleo. Bacevich llega inclusive a reconocer que el anti-norteamericanismo que llevó a la toma de la embajada estadounidense en noviembre de 1979 no “fue enteramente sin motivo.”
•    Afganistán: Bacevich considera necesario reconocer el rol que jugaron los norteamericanos en la creación de los talibanes. Los gobiernos de Jimmy Carter y Ronald Reagan enviaron armas y dieron ayuda a los fundamentalistas afganos que libraran una guerra santa en contra de los soviéticos. En ese momento se creía que la política norteamericana era muy inteligente, pues les causaba serios problemas a la Unión Soviética. Sin embargo, el tiempo demostró que la política norteamericana en Afganistán  alimentó un  cáncer que terminó costándole muy caro a los Estados Unidos.

Bacevich reconoce que nadie puede asegurar que, por ejemplo, si a principios del siglo XX los Estados Unidos hubiesen enfocado el tema cubano de una forma diferente, Cuba no sería hoy un enemigo de los Estados Unidos. Lo que sí le parece indiscutible es que las acciones norteamericanas en Cuba, Irán y Afganistán lucen hoy en día como acciones y políticas erradas.  Además, demuestran la falsedad del mito del siglo norteamericano y subrayan la necesidad de reconocer los errores de la política exterior estadounidense. Según el autor, “sólo a través de la franqueza lograremos evitar repetir estos errores”.


Pero no basta con reconocer los errores, los Estados Unidos deben pedir disculpas, deben hacer un acto de contrición.  Según Bacevich, los norteamericanos deben pedir perdón a los cubanos, japoneses, iraníes y  afganos (yo añadiría a los guatemaltecos, a los chilenos, a los vietnamitas, a los camboyanos, a los salvadoreños, a los palestinos, a los angoleños y a otros pueblos que sufrieron los efectos del “siglo norteamericano”) sin esperar ni pedir nada a cambio.  Bacevich es muy claro:

“No, les pedimos perdón, pero por nuestro propio bien –para liberarnos de los engreimientos acumulados del siglo norteamericano y para reconocer que Estados Unidos participó plenamente en la barbarie, locura y tragedia que definen nuestra época. Debemos responsabilizarnos por todos esos pecados.”

Bacevich concluyen que para resolver los problemas que enfrentan los Estados Unidos, los norteamericanos tienen que verse a sí mismos tal como son, y para ello es imprescindible dejar a un lado “las ilusiones encarnadas en el siglo norteamericano”.

Debo reconocer que la franqueza y dureza del análisis de Bacevich me dejo muy impresionado.  Su deconstrucción del mito del siglo norteamericano es muy efectiva, aunque no incluye elementos como la guerra filipino-norteamericana, la guerra de Vietnam, el conflicto árabe-israelí y las intervenciones en América Latina (Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc.) Concuerdo plenamente en que es necesario que el gobierno y el pueblo norteamericano hagan un examen crítico y honesto de su política exterior. Para ello necesario dejar atrás varios elementos  ideológicos que han servido de base y justificante moral, cultural y política para las acciones norteamericanas desde el siglo XIX. No se trata sólo de superar el mito del siglo norteamericano,  es también necesario examinar críticamente ideas como el excepcionalismo, el sentido de misión, la doctrina Monroe, el puritanismo social, la doctrina del pecado original, el espíritu de la frontera, etc. En otras palabras, no basta con reconocer el carácter mitológico del llamado siglo norteamericano, pero sería un paso importantísimo.  La mentalidad que ha predominado en la política exterior de los Estados Unidos en los últimos sesenta años (por lo menos) es muy compleja y responde a patrones culturales muy enraizados en la historia de los Estados Unidos.  Superarlos no será fácil, pero yo quiero pensar que es posible.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez, Ph. D.
Lima, 24 de mayo de 2009

Las  traducciones del inglés son mías

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