Book Reviews: America’s War for the Greater Middle East and Tomorrow’s Battlefield

By coincidence, I read, back-to-back, two closely connected books: America’s War for the Greater Middle East, by Andrew Bacevich, and Tomorrow’s Battlefield, by Nick Turse. I’ll discuss them in the order in which I should have read them.

America’s War for the Greater Middle East is masterful. Bacevich walks through the last 36 years of constant U.S. military intervention in the Middle East, starting with the failed effort in 1980 to rescue the American hostages in Iran. He ties together the common threads, each step along the way explaining the flawed reasoning, the flawed premises, and the hubris underlying America’s military efforts. Both the analysis and the presentation are superb. For those seeking an understanding of why we’ve stumbled from one ill-conceived military adventure to the next, regardless of which party or which President is in power, America’s War for the Greater Middle East is a must read.

It’d be impossible to convey Bacevich’s brilliance with one excerpt. Nonetheless, here’s one passage, abbreviated a bit, which I found particularly compelling:

In reality, the Bush administration invaded Iraq in order to validate three precedent-setting and mutually reinforcing propositions. First, the United States was intent on establishing the efficacy of preventive war. Second, it was going to assert the prerogative, permitted to no other country, of removing regimes that Washington deemed odious. And finally, it was seeking to reverse the practice of exempting the Islamic world from neoliberal standards, demonstrating that what Condoleezza Rice called ”the paradigm of progress” – democracy, limited government, market economics, and respect for human (and especially women’s) rights – was as applicable to the Greater Middle East as to the rest of the world. Here in concrete and specific terms was a strategy to “change the way we live.”

As a venue to begin implementing this strategy, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, situated in the very core of the Greater Middle East, appeared uniquely attractive.

So whether or not Saddam actually had anything to do with 9/11 was beside the point. After all, the ultimate objective of administration strategy, a.k.a. the Freedom Agenda, was not merely to defend against the prospect of another 9/11 but to remove the root causes of anti-American terrorism in the Greater Middle East. This meant rendering the region itself congruent with American interests and American values. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq offered the optimum locale for launching this lofty undertaking.

Try this thought experiment. Imagine that President Bush’s famous “Mission Accomplished” speech of May 1, 2003, declaring that “major combat operations in Iraq had ended” had proven accurate; that Vice President Cheney’s prediction of U.S. forces being “greeted as liberators” had held, along with Rumsfeld’s projections of total war costs coming in at “something under $50 billion”; that Wolfowitz’s estimate of Iraq being able to “finance its own costs of reconstructions” had panned out; and the Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith’s promise of military action putting “Iraq on a path to become a prosperous and free country” had come to fruition. Imagine, in other words, that Operation Iraqi Freedom had played out at the Bush administration had expected.

How would such an outcome have affected America’s standing in the Greater Middle East? In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes wrote, “What quality soever maketh a man beloved, or feared of many; or the reputation of such quality is power; because it is a means to have the assistance and service of many.” … Put simply, by demonstrating the will and the capacity to deal with Iraq, the United States itself would emerge as Leviathan. 

But there’s much more to this book than a critique of the Bush administration.

In the end, Bacevich makes a powerful case for ending the War for the Greater Middle East. If only the case Bacevich makes, and the analysis with which he supports it, were always in the back of our minds when we digest information regarding U.S. military policy and the statements of our political leaders, we’d experience far different, and better, outcomes in the future. If only.

Tomorrow’s Battlefield is worthwhile, but is not the masterstroke that America’s War for the Greater Middle East is. Turse is capable of writing on that level, as he showed in Kill Everything That Moves. But Tomorrow’s Battlefield was intended to be more of a compilation of information that we’re not getting from the media than a comprehensive presentation. It is a collection of shorter works by Turse, all on the same subject: the rapidly metastasizing U.S. military presence in Africa. For that, it’s worthwhile, especially when placed in the context of Bacevich’s analysis. Bacevich actually devotes a chapter to the U.S. military presence in Africa. The massive information Turse presents, viewed through the lens Bacevich provides, is a gigantic warning sign that virtually no Americans have looked hard enough to see and that very few politicians care to point out.

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