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Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War is an outstanding review of the American foreign policy and international activity for the last 60 years. The author is very passionately and thoroughly goes through the American history and reviews the image of America as the world’s policeman and peacekeeper. He gives an evaluation on Washington attitude towards the war that occurred in 1941 as well as the critical assessment of historical and contemporary defense policies.
Bacevich’s book appropriately titled to reflect the content and main theme makes a thought as a provoking, very informative, well researched, and logically argued reading. The author reviews the political and military structure of the U.S. government centered in Washington and argues about its relevancy.
Bacevich is a former military officer, and he is writing about his first-hand experience of “getting his real education” and realizing many aspects of the state foreign policy, unquestionable to him before his retirement from the army. Only after leaving the carrier where the following direct orders were “the rules of the game”, he started to look at the world and politics differently. Suddenly the dogmas of his former life were not that; they were turning out to be only theories. At the time, he witnessed the fall of Berlin wall, the perspectives on the world, on Russians, on politics, and on the necessity of war to change. Having educated himself, he saw the need for his fellow citizens to get the “real education” also.
His review is very insightful, and his thoughts and ideas are easy to relate to any reader – simple or educated. His writing is very eloquent as well as straightforward and honest. He is questioning the American’s world-wide military presence with no clear goal and specific reason for it. Another debatable topic, according to him, is the national security policies and strategies.
America is described as an ambitious force with Washington being primarily responsible for the creation and adhering to the national security policy with its dogmas and state of perpetual war for the sake of perpetual peace. Through many historical samples of the USA leaders, the author shows how their decisions were more in line with advancing America’s global military presence as opposed to enhancing the country’s defense system and investing into the well-being of its citizens or those peoples, to which the USA inflicted their benevolence, even if unwanted and illusory.
Bacevich analyzes the policies of different presidents of America, starting from Eisenhower and Carter and all the way to Bush and Obama. He shows how even those that are thought of as peacemakers, like President Carter, also were engaged in a kind of war.
He describes the world after the Cold War. He shows how the conditions for the semi war were set and the high level of military spending was needed to sustain it (Bacevich, 2010). He also explained that the positions were set for America to become the world dominating power while at the same time leaving the mainstay of the U.S. Army in a fairly weak position.
He goes on describing and criticizing various programs within a frame of interventionism, established by different presidents, starting with Kennedy. To cover faulty operations and to maintain the global military presence, some other attacks were launched. For example, after the unsuccessful operation in Cuba, the Vietnamese bombing began.
On the contrary, the United States needed to bomb North Vietnam to affirm its claims to global primacy and quash any doubt about the American will. Somehow, in a distant faraway, Southeast Asia, the continued tenability of Washington consensus was at stake (98).
Through discussing various examples of the American militarism, Bacevich raises questions about real reasons behind America’s engagements into various conflicts, such as the conflict in Vietnam and Afghanistan. He points out that the main reason for America’s participation in these and other conflicts are what can be called Washington Rules and the national security consensus, the two main elements of which are the American credo and the sacred trinity. The two elements serve a major purpose in defining the national security policy. The American credo articulates the purpose of the national security policy, which is to liberate and save the world, at large, as various leaders in different times expressed in different words, but with the same understanding. They also pointed out that the Americans are chosen for this mission either by God or simply by providence. The second element is the sacred trinity. According to the sacred trinity, the U.S. is to maintain the global military presence and have a global power projection. As these two elements intertwine, they support the global interventionism. “The trinity lends plausibility to the credo's vast claims, and the credo justifies the trinity's vast requirements and exertions” (15).
Washington Rules defined by the credo and sacred trinity became major policies by governing over the country. However, as the time goes on, those rules are getting outdated and do not work anymore. Keeping them at place led to the so called perpetual war for the sake of safety and security and the American way for the life preservation.
The Washington rules provide a sterling example on the tendency to disregard what actually works and stubbornly cling instead familiar practices that manifestly fail to deliver what they promise; in this case, ensuring the safety and well-being of the United States at a reasonable cost while keeping faith with professed American values (223).
Throughout its history, Washington Rules led America to engage in outside wars with slogans on liberation, but which, however, America cannot win. Regardless, wars continue for many years and involve many generations. The author argues that they continue not because there is no alternatives but because of still existing Washington Rules. However, it is very dangerous and destructive for the country. Washington Rules are the reason for the national debt to grow and for the decline of the citizens’ awareness and morality. Another result of Washington Rules and consequential engagements into various conflicts is a form of avoiding the “serious self-engagement”.
There are more issues brought up. There is an issue of the President’s actions and decisions being greatly conditioned by Washington. Another “side effect” is that people of the country are so conditioned that Washington rules are just the way to be that they do not question for primary purposes for the war engagement and global military presence.
The author offers to redefine the sacred trinity and the way Washington Rules are formed and the way to possible solutions. He offers for the professional American army, and its soldiers to stay primarily in America. He acknowledges there might be the times when going abroad and engage in the combat elsewhere would be justified and even needed; however, there should not be a reason valid enough to keep the American troops out of homeland. That stems from redefining the purpose for the US Army: it should exist primarily to protect its country as opposed to remaking the world. “The purpose of the U.S. military is not to combat evil or remake the world, but to defend the United States and its most vital interests” (239). Another topic the author strongly advocates for is redefining an appropriate use of force, which he claims to be only the last resort (240). That alone, as the author suggests, will dramatically decrease the war-related expenses. The coast of any war is immense, and often it is much higher than it is estimated or anticipated. Therefore keep on waging the war for the sake of keeping Washington’s status quo is not wise. The only party that benefits from the wars is Washington itself, not even the American people. Because of many benefits Washington receives by keeping existing rules, the change might only come from outside, from people (249).
The author calls America to evaluate its purpose and go back to its sole “essence” which “ is simply this: America's purpose is to be America, striving to fulfill the aspirations expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution as reinterpreted with the passage of time and in light of hard-earned experience”(236).
There might be some flaws in the book, but its arguments are well supported and thought provoking. I strongly agree with the author that Washington Rules should be replaced as outdates. The author offers the possible solutions to some problems; however, even if those are not acceptable for some reasons, an alternative to the state of the perpetual war could and should be found. It is the time to pay close attention to the well-being and safety of citizens rather that attempting to save the world.