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Andrew Bacevich Asks Congress If We Can Afford the “Long War”
Posted by ZP Heller on April 25th, 2009

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This past week I covered the bold testimony of Ret. Cpl. Rick Reyes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, drawing the comparison between Reyes’s anti-war testimony and a young John Kerry alerting the nation to the horrors of the Vietnam War 38 years ago. I certainly wasn’t the only one to connect the dots between Vietnam and the current quagmire in Afghanistan, as you can see from this video with excerpts of Andrew Bacevich’s testimony.

Bacevich, a retired Colonel who served in Vietnam and is now professor of International Relations and History at Boston University, has become one of the most vocal critics of the “Long War,” as Defense Secretary Robert Gates dubbed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Paraphrasing General Bruce Palmer’s account of the Vietnam War, Bacevich said that our country is once again “mired in a protracted war of an indeterminate nature, with no forseeable end to the US commitment.”

The Long War, as Bacevich exclaimed, has become the second most expensive war in US history (second only to WWII). Now that we our facing trillions in debt, Bacevich urged Congress to question the reasons for escalation in Afghanistan. “We just urgently need to ask ourselves whether or not the purposes of the long war are achievable, necessary, and affordable,” Bacevich claimed, “and Afghanistan is a subset of that longer set of questions.” Congress needs to address questions of cost before they vote on President Obama’s $83 billion war funding bill in the coming weeks. And the most direct way to follow Bacevich’s lead and confront Congress is by calling your Representatives as soon as possible, urging them not to vote until we have more oversight hearings like these, and more questions answered.

To me, putting Afghanistan in the context of the “Long War” is perfect, because it reclaims the frame first used by the Bush administration, lumping in the appallingly high economic and human costs of the deeply unpopular war in Iraq with the growing costs of operations in Afghanistan. It’s a far better frame for progressives to use than “war on terror,” as Derrick Crowe pointed out in his scathing critique of why Center for American Progress’s Lawrence Korb is wrong on Afghanistan.

Ironically, when I interviewed Bacevich a couple months ago, he was skeptical of seeing any oversight hearings because thus far there hadn’t been any institutionalized effort to rein in the Long War. That made it all the more gratifying to see Bacevich lead the charge this week before Congress.

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to “Andrew Bacevich Asks Congress If We Can Afford the “Long War””

  1. asfdasd says:

    The Long War will probably end up being a pretty small percentage of the huge budget deficits that we'll see over the next 5-10 years, so I'm not sure this is a good talking point for you if you're committed to the rest of Obama's agenda.

  2. snesich says:

    The “Long War”—combined with overall Pentagon spending—will actually account for more federal spending than any other budget items.

    The main reason we're going to have huge budget deficits over the next 5 – 10 years is the amount of money our country spends policing the world, with active occupations, unnecessary weapon systems and military bases everywhere on the planet.

    Good police work is what will work with terrorist organizations, not occupying countries some of them might reside in.

  3. danielet says:

    Kilcullen and Bacevich have very little in common and I sympathize with Bacevich, though reading Kilcullen over the years it had been hard to disagree with him in principle. Yet, for some reason, his current book comes across as a sales job, as if he were desperately trying to sell keeping going on a war that most see as lost. I was very much in that position during the Vietnam war. But back then the US Army was up against one of the best trained forces in the world, in a terrain very favorable to it and the US was fighting PAVN forces with safe rear bases close to points of combat. And yet, confronting PAVN in almost depopulated areas, Westy did manage, per Hanoi command, to make PAVN's cost greater than the ability to replenish. This brought on the Tet Offensive and the miracle “Better War” that some of us came to know from both the points of view of our side and the other side. There was much to learn in all that and Kilcullen seems to have learned little of it. Basically, whether big bang regulars or SpecOps people, the gung-ho on Iraq and Afghan Wars, will not face up to how we got in such a bad mess fighting “towel heads” in robes with an AK-47, a few grenades, and a bunch of IEDs. Our forces were heavily mobile and armored with a lot of gadgets and high-tech info equipment. Were our officers too “lost” to use them effectively? How these wars went is mostly a condemnation of Bush&Co. But how so much at such expense in men and wealth did so little is a condemnation of the cast of characters constituting the West Point Class of 1974-6– post Vietnam all, at a time when the brass suffered from PTSD talking about it. COIN was developed as an idea late in the recent game, despite long experience elsewhere with every principle learned the hard way killing Muslims blindly in order to lower our losses. I read Kilcullen's book and marked it up terribly. I photocopied my copy to used the back of every page for notes. My chance to confront Kilcullen at a conference (friendly and respectful, of course, because we are after all on the same side) was marred by a severe pneumonia. So, I did the only thing I could do: I RE-READ THE ACCIDENTAL GUERRILLA. Franky, it made me angry on the second go around because it was like a long info-mercial; no doubt that's what forced Bacevich to be so derisive, given that he payed the highest price a father could pay in Iraq. To my mind, Kilcullen gave some gimmick solution to the problems as he structured them and seemed to little consider the corollaries of his concepts. A guy named Cook wrote a great book on his Vietnam experience– “Adviser”– and he showed how interpersonal ties between the American and the villagers developed during the magical era of the CAP and MAT Teams in I and IV Corps respectively. There it was shown that a foreigner cannot do for them– even on two tours– but must use his time to show them how to adapt techniques for their own use. Kilcullen does not seem to consider the cultural memory of Afghans from the long war with the USSR. Therefore, he doesn't discuss how to adapt what THEY KNOW to what they face and how the small WHAT WE KNOW can be adapted. Like McChrystal, Kilcullen and Exum seem to me to want to HIDE the idiocy of the last eight years and to force Obama into a “Nixon's War” scenario: put in more troops and more logistic lines until we swamp 'em. In fact, every item we inject is a cultural and social stress to that society– one that has been stressed to a steel hide by the war against the Soviets, one that, it seems, we cannot imagine. Neither Kilcullen nor Exum know the Afghans, really, because that's not what soldiers do. So neither could fully appreciate what a local police can do that our invasion force cannot. Perhaps that's why both keep thinking militarily. Admittedly, Iraqis are easier to know, but a look at how Afghans adapt to all the stresses they face makes one see that there is no nation there for us to stitch into one flag. Nowhere do either consider what the members of the SHANGHAI COOPERATIVE ACCORD are doing at our detriment and at Afghanistan's. In contrast to Vietnam, I note so many proudly enunciating tactics as if these were strategies– even COIN is passed off as policy! I see no discussion of America's limits and cost-benefit ratios. It all reads to me like a con game: if you get Obama to put in one foot, it'll be easy to get him to put in the other…and then, pretty soon, he'll realize that he has no choice but to inset his ass in there completely. This was McChrystal's dirty trick: get Obama to commit 20,000 and then, just as they are engaged, demand another 12,000 in the name of those of the first 20,000 that lost their lives. Pentagon star whores have exploited all through the Bush years that Americans don't give a damn because “ain't my kid going to Iraq (Afghanistan)” while at the same time unwilling to accept defeat. But now we're having to choose between funding taking “clunkers” off the road and putting HUMVEES on the roads we built in Afghanistan. The punditry of the “I was there so I'm an expert” types only aroused the question: So what the hell did you guys do all these last eight years? Exum's explanation on the Charlie Rose Show was self-evidently inadequate. Had McChrystal and Kilcullen been as honest about where we are and how we got there as Exum, their sales job might not be so enraging. But it was a lot of used car salesman talk– and Aussies are the most enraging at that of all the Anglo-Saxons.

  4. danielet says:

    Kilcullen and Bacevich have very little in common and I sympathize with Bacevich, though reading Kilcullen over the years it had been hard to disagree with him in principle. Yet, for some reason, his current book comes across as a sales job, as if he were desperately trying to sell keeping going on a war that most see as lost. I was very much in that position during the Vietnam war. But back then the US Army was up against one of the best trained forces in the world, in a terrain very favorable to it and the US was fighting PAVN forces with safe rear bases close to points of combat. And yet, confronting PAVN in almost depopulated areas, Westy did manage, per Hanoi command, to make PAVN's cost greater than the ability to replenish. This brought on the Tet Offensive and the miracle “Better War” that some of us came to know from both the points of view of our side and the other side. There was much to learn in all that and Kilcullen seems to have learned little of it. Basically, whether big bang regulars or SpecOps people, the gung-ho on Iraq and Afghan Wars, will not face up to how we got in such a bad mess fighting “towel heads” in robes with an AK-47, a few grenades, and a bunch of IEDs. Our forces were heavily mobile and armored with a lot of gadgets and high-tech info equipment. Were our officers too “lost” to use them effectively? How these wars went is mostly a condemnation of Bush&Co. But how so much at such expense in men and wealth did so little is a condemnation of the cast of characters constituting the West Point Class of 1974-6– post Vietnam all, at a time when the brass suffered from PTSD talking about it. COIN was developed as an idea late in the recent game, despite long experience elsewhere with every principle learned the hard way killing Muslims blindly in order to lower our losses. I read Kilcullen's book and marked it up terribly. I photocopied my copy to used the back of every page for notes. My chance to confront Kilcullen at a conference (friendly and respectful, of course, because we are after all on the same side) was marred by a severe pneumonia. So, I did the only thing I could do: I RE-READ THE ACCIDENTAL GUERRILLA. Franky, it made me angry on the second go around because it was like a long info-mercial; no doubt that's what forced Bacevich to be so derisive, given that he payed the highest price a father could pay in Iraq. To my mind, Kilcullen gave some gimmick solution to the problems as he structured them and seemed to little consider the corollaries of his concepts. A guy named Cook wrote a great book on his Vietnam experience– “Adviser”– and he showed how interpersonal ties between the American and the villagers developed during the magical era of the CAP and MAT Teams in I and IV Corps respectively. There it was shown that a foreigner cannot do for them– even on two tours– but must use his time to show them how to adapt techniques for their own use. Kilcullen does not seem to consider the cultural memory of Afghans from the long war with the USSR. Therefore, he doesn't discuss how to adapt what THEY KNOW to what they face and how the small WHAT WE KNOW can be adapted. Like McChrystal, Kilcullen and Exum seem to me to want to HIDE the idiocy of the last eight years and to force Obama into a “Nixon's War” scenario: put in more troops and more logistic lines until we swamp 'em. In fact, every item we inject is a cultural and social stress to that society– one that has been stressed to a steel hide by the war against the Soviets, one that, it seems, we cannot imagine. Neither Kilcullen nor Exum know the Afghans, really, because that's not what soldiers do. So neither could fully appreciate what a local police can do that our invasion force cannot. Perhaps that's why both keep thinking militarily. Admittedly, Iraqis are easier to know, but a look at how Afghans adapt to all the stresses they face makes one see that there is no nation there for us to stitch into one flag. Nowhere do either consider what the members of the SHANGHAI COOPERATIVE ACCORD are doing at our detriment and at Afghanistan's. In contrast to Vietnam, I note so many proudly enunciating tactics as if these were strategies– even COIN is passed off as policy! I see no discussion of America's limits and cost-benefit ratios. It all reads to me like a con game: if you get Obama to put in one foot, it'll be easy to get him to put in the other…and then, pretty soon, he'll realize that he has no choice but to inset his ass in there completely. This was McChrystal's dirty trick: get Obama to commit 20,000 and then, just as they are engaged, demand another 12,000 in the name of those of the first 20,000 that lost their lives. Pentagon star whores have exploited all through the Bush years that Americans don't give a damn because “ain't my kid going to Iraq (Afghanistan)” while at the same time unwilling to accept defeat. But now we're having to choose between funding taking “clunkers” off the road and putting HUMVEES on the roads we built in Afghanistan. The punditry of the “I was there so I'm an expert” types only aroused the question: So what the hell did you guys do all these last eight years? Exum's explanation on the Charlie Rose Show was self-evidently inadequate. Had McChrystal and Kilcullen been as honest about where we are and how we got there as Exum, their sales job might not be so enraging. But it was a lot of used car salesman talk– and Aussies are the most enraging at that of all the Anglo-Saxons.

  5. [...] week’s before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which featured experts like retired Cnl. Andrew Bacevich and retired Cpl. Rick Reyes voicing their concerns. We don’t want to see the next 100 days in [...]

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