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The Washington Rules

Dr. Andrew Bacevich is a retired Army Colonel, a veteran of the Vietnam War, a graduate of West Point and Princeton University, and lost a son in combat in Iraq.

Posted Tuesday, February 15, 2011, at 12:46 PM

Some thoughts on "Washington Rules" by Andrew Bacevich

Dr. Andrew Bacevich is a retired Army Colonel, a veteran of the Vietnam War, a graduate of West Point and Princeton University, and lost a son in combat in Iraq. He has, by all measure, earned the right to comment on US foreign policy. His comments in "Washington Rules" echo those of President Eisenhower's speech as he prepared to leave office, in which he warned the citizens of the US:

"Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." citation

Few who read this, and who have read it over the years, disagree with his warning. And yet, in spite of this, we continue to accept as gospel truth a worldview of American exceptionalism that supports and strengthens the very military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about. This is the basic claim of Bacevich in "Washington Rules".

To Bacevich, the Washington Rules are the unquestioned set of assumptions that American exceptionalism makes it unique among the nations of the world, giving it a special right, even duty, to export its particular brand of democracy. Underwriting this worldview are the assumptions that the US must maintain a physical presence around the globe and that the extraordinary money outlays that a military that cannot be second to anyone in any way are justified. This is not a conservative versus liberal polemic...Bacevich indicts both sides of the political aisle as unwilling to question the rules.

In the past, the few voices that have risen above the din to question the Washington Rules, such as those few who continued to object to the Invasion of Iraq and those who continue to question the need for the Patriot Act, have been silenced with claims that they "hate America" or "don't support the Troops". I hope that Bacevich's voice will not be silenced like this.

One important way for the US to reduce our deficit and right our economic ship is to have an honest discussion of what kind of foreign policy the US needs and can afford. The Washington Rules demand one that we don't need and can't afford. It's time for new rules and new voices.

What do you think?