From the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in the Greater Middle East. Since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere else. What caused this shift? Andrew J. Bacevich, one of the country's most respected voices on foreign affairs, offers an incisive critical history of this ongoing military enterprise - now more than 30 years old and with no end in sight.
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During the Cold War, the United States preferred to husband, rather than expend, its military power. The idea was not to fight but to defend, deter, and contain, a cold peace infinitely preferable to nuclear cataclysm. When US policymakers strayed from this principle, attempting to unify the Korean Peninsula in 1950 or deploying combat troops to Vietnam in the 1960s, the results proved unhappy in the extreme.
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The Limits of Power identifies a profound triple crisis facing America: the economy, in remarkable disarray, can no longer be fixed by relying on expansion abroad; the government, transformed by an imperial presidency, is a democracy in form only; U.S. involvement in endless wars, driven by a deep infatuation with military power, has been a catastrophe for the body politic. If the nation is to solve its predicament, it will need the revival of a distinctly American approach.
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For the last half century, as administrations have come and gone, the fundamental assumptions about America's military policy have remained unchanged: American security requires the United States (and us alone) to maintain a permanent armed presence around the globe, to prepare our forces for military operations in far-flung regions, and to be ready to intervene anywhere at any time. In the Obama era, just as in the Bush years, these beliefs remain unquestioned gospel.
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In Breach of Trust, Andrew Bacevich takes stock of the separation between Americans and their military, tracing its origins to the Vietnam era and exploring its pernicious implications: a nation with an abiding appetite for war waged at enormous expense by a standing army demonstrably unable to achieve victory. Among the collateral casualties are values once considered central to democratic practice, including the principle that responsibility for defending the country should rest with its citizens.
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Will sending a “few thousand” additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan spell the difference between victory and defeat in what has become the longest war in all of U.S. history? Not likely.
"Enough Already for Afghanistan: Opposing View" is from the February 26, 2017 Opinion section of USA Today. It was written by Andrew J. Bacevich and narrated by Mark Ashby.
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Fears that Trump’s embrace of “America first” would lead the United States to turn its back on the world have proved groundless. But there is still space for a future leader to convert the slogan into a concrete program of enlightened action to ensure the safety of the United States without engaging in needless wars.
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