Retired U.S. army colonel and Boston University history professor Andrew Bacevich had sharp words Monday night about America’s military involvement in the Middle East.
Bacevich spoke in Luce Hall about the subject of his new book, “America’s Endless War in the Greater Middle East.” The Yale Politic and Yale College Democrats co-hosted Bacevich’s visit.
In his argument, Bacevich said that people are asking the wrong questions about American military involvement in the Middle East. The American public, Bacevich argued, are too concerned with the threat of the Islamic State and do not think broadly about the region and the United States’ presence there.
“What do you suggest we do about ISIS? That is precisely the wrong question,” Bacevich said. “What to do about ISIS is a nontrivial question, but it is of lesser importance than other questions. We should think, does this enterprise make sense? If not, why do we pursue it?”
Bacevich asserted that the United States’ current military involvement in the Middle East is not a recent phenomenon. While the U.S. had clear policies regarding the Middle East since the 1950s, the most recent state of affairs dates back over three decades to the 1980s and former President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, which Bacevich said “touched off of militarizing U.S. policy” and launched the country into a state of “open-ended war.”
Bacevich said the U.S. sought to shape the greater Middle East to suit its own political ideologies. The stated mission of American military involvement did not match with the nation’s actual goal, Bacevich said.
While the U.S. said the primary goal for intervening in the region was to “liberate, defend and deter,” Bacevich asserted that the real goal was to demonstrate American exceptionalism by asserting American military dominance. This dominance was first threatened by the 1979-81 Iran Hostage Crisis and again by Sept. 11 attacks. But, Bacevich said, the United States has fallen short in its stated goals.
In his opposition to American militarism in the Middle East, Bacevich contradicts common expectations about veterans, said Eli Whitney Scholar Logan Keith ’17, who previously served in the military.
“Professor Bacevich, as a former military officer, has a fairly dovish policy, not a hawkish policy as many military members [have],” Keith said. “His book is more in line with my own views about how the United States should use its military power.”
Bacevich blamed the persistence of American militarism in the Middle East on two factors. First, there is widespread bipartisan support for the war, and politicians often avoid criticizing the war, Bacevich said. Second, the war has gone on for so long that it has become a “fixture in American life,” he added.
Bacevich said the persistence of conflict in the region can also be attributed to America’s “military-industrial complex,” which profits from continuous war.
“[Bracevich] is someone whose work I followed,” said history professor Ben Kiernan, who specializes in Vietnamese and Southeast Asian history. “I knew he served and his son served in the second Iraq war. He opposed it, but his son decided to go and was killed in action. So he speaks with a lot of experience.”
However, Adrian Hale ’17, who served in the armed forces and supports U.S. interventionist foreign policy, said he disagrees with Bacevich on some issues.
“He’s brilliant, you can tell he’s well-researched in the topics,” Hale said. “But I think he underestimates the role that economic interests play. He underestimates the external economic factors that affect and influence behaviors and interactions with military and the decision making.”
The Eli Whitney Scholars Program was established in 1982 to attract students with nontraditional backgrounds to Yale College.