Bacevich Vs. Gates . . . FIGHT!

Andrew Bacevich is glad Europe has gone soft and wobbly. It’s unfortunate that his criticism is limited to NATO ISAF’s sporadic support for American war making in Afghanistan. Bacevich, author of several penetrating works on debilitating American imperial militarism, starts off promisingly enough:

This pacification of Europe is quite likely to prove irreversible. Yet even if reigniting an affinity for war among the people of, say, Germany and France were possible, why would any sane person even try? Why not allow Europeans to busy themselves with their never-ending European unification project? It keeps them out of mischief.

Washington, however, finds it difficult to accept this extraordinary gift — purchased in part through the sacrifices of U.S. soldiers — of a Europe that has laid down its arms. Instead, successive U.S. administrations have pushed, prodded, cajoled, and browbeaten European democracies to shoulder a heavier share of responsibility for maintaining world order and enforcing liberal norms.

Yet Bacevich closes his routine with a shaky dismount. He lacks the courage of his other work. He now cops out and says NATO should simply focus on containing the Russians. It’s a disappointing flop back to the already outdated status quo. Bacevich does urge Europeans take over NATO. But that eviscerates the whole point of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization. We agree that the U.S. should not pursue Madaleine Not-So-Bright and Cheney-Wolfowtiz et. al.’s ill-conceived policies committing the U.S. to go to war for Krakow or the Kura River in Georgia. At least with Ukrainian democratic rejection of ‘orange’, we’re spared holding Cleveland hostage to the fate of Kharkov.

Contra Bacevich, NATO served its purpose and is done. If he is right that Europe (Old and Old-But-Now-New) can afford to defend itself against Russian potential encroachment (we think he is) then the entire Brussels apparat should go. A European-led NATO with subordinate American outsized military resources and entanglements is a contradiction in political, historical and viable organizational terms. Let’s not forget: reckless American policies dragged NATO and thus Europe into the old Soviet ‘Near Abroad’, Georgia, etc. which in turn galvanized reactionary Putinism. It’s time to end NATO as a staging ground for ‘hair brained [American] schemes’ (a nod to Kosygin and Brezhnev) such as dubiously functional and overly provocative telephone poles in the ground BMD interceptors, etc.

Meanwhile, Bob Gates is peeved. NATO is not behaving. Brussels needs the U.S. to [begin SNL Arnold parody] ‘help pump, you, up!’ [/end Carvey’s brief funny window]. Gates’ unusually blunt criticism of NATO comes on eve of the first revision of NATO’s ‘strategic concept’ since 1999. This update, the Bush-Cheney-Obama continuum hopes, will enshrine U.S. desires to transform NATO into a Rumsfeldian ‘expeditionary’ entity. And guess what? Madeleine You-Know-Who is helping shape the draft.

For the intrepid ‘indispensible nation’ expeditionary types, Afghanistan and NATO ISAF are crushing disappointments. As you likely know, McChrystal bashes NATO ISAF only slightly less than the Taliban. Saturday’s collapse of the Dutch government over Afghan troop deployment understandably spooks all of them. They know. Dominos will fall this time. What’s most glaring? How dare NATO fold now on the cusp of Great Things. Brussels hasn’t even seen yet the OSD/CENTCOM Powerpoint slides about Yemen. And then the other cool swamp draining tourist projects. It’s more than inconvenient that NATO lets public opinion and democracy dictate outcomes.

“The demilitarization of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it – has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st,” he [Gates] told an audience filled with uniformed military officers from many of NATO’s 28 member countries.

The danger, he added, is that potential future adversaries may view NATO as a paper tiger.

Note two aspects to that last sentence. First, who are ‘future adversaries’? And second, ‘may view’? To Bob Gates, thank you for being the sane adult during the Bush regime’s twilight. You are also unique and deserve gratitude for your tireless advocacy that diplomacy is more cost effective than kinetic solutions in all but the most extreme cases. You created by decisive persistence policy space for the State Department and argue relentlessly for increased diplomatic resources. And God bless you for love of Texas A&M and your interaction with students.

The Cold War ended in 1991. NATO is a relic of that now ancient conflict. The power dynamic among all the players, including the Russians, has changed. NATO deserves a respectful and decent retirement, if not burial. NATO is not and should not be a re-purposed vehicle for American force projection across the Eurasian land mass. Nor is NATO – per Bacevich – the mechanism for a European-led defense against marginal Russian military encroachment capabilities. Andrea Angela [thanks, Joseph] Merkel in Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy are already on record that a formal European Union military structure be created. That is both the logical and politically inevitable path, not a tricked out NATO. Americans need not and should not be on auto speed dial to die for the Vistula or some Chechnyan tribal dispute – even with a European in command.

The European people already see a post-NATO, post-American-led-war tomorrow. There was a time when Andrew Bacevich might have seen this, too.

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