A splendid and courageous new book, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, by Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University (and for many years previously, the U.S. Army), describes with lucidity the degree to which the power of the American presidency over war and peace has been weakened in our day, and, in important respects, superseded.
One might call this a silent coup against the presidency, but a coup implies intention: a responsible actor who sets the coup d’etat into action for a defined purpose. The argument Bacevich makes implies that a coup can be institutional or intellectual, and come from outside as well as inside government. Its characteristic is to create a situation in which a president is no longer free to act as he might wish, because all of the doors except one have been closed.
The name of the bureaucratic game, of course, is to remove all realistic alternatives to the Pentagon’s preferred decision before that decision is made. Pfaff’s discussion is based on Andrew Bacevich’s new book “Washington Rules.” I have not read Bacevich’s book yet, and will not be able to until I return to the states in November, but I have read several reviews and from that perspective can say that the behaviour Pfaff describes comports well with behavior I witnessed in my years in the Pentagon.
The picture is more subtle and far more complicated than that portrayed by Pfaff, however.
One of the probable spinoffs of America’s disastrous “you are with us or against us” unilateralism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iran, etc., is a loss of our moral authority to lead other nations into supporting our adventures. In this regard, the future of Nato is the big question mark. This question can not be separated from the internal stress now endangering the future of EU. The attached op-ed by William Pfaff, a euro-centered, American writer, provides an interesting perspective on these questions. CS
What Next for NATO?
Posted By William Pfaff On May 18, 2010 @ 11:00 pm
The European Union doesn’t know where it stands at this moment. NATO thinks it knows and is gambling.
Who would have thought a year ago that most of the issues of conflict in America’s foreign relations would be made worse during the first year following Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president?
Even those disputes or differences that were appeased or quiet a year ago are now worse. On Iraq, the new president has faithfully followed the policy of George W. Bush, and now Iraq threatens breakdown. . . . . . . .
Put aside, for a moment, the military disaster that is now in the course of manufacture in the “Af-Pak” theater of unwinnable wars.
Look at the president’s other policy problems. The Korean affair continues, as we have just seen. There are tensions foreseeable in his visit to a new Japanese government at the end of this week. The old security conventions and connivances of past Japanese Liberal Democrat governments will be questioned.
Japan’s new government’s geopolitical view of East Asian security is not the passive and compliant one displayed for nearly 60 years by Liberal Democrat politicians who did as Washington suggested. In question today is the legal status under which 47,000 U.S. troops and a series of bases have quasi-permanently occupied the archipelago since 1945. Japanese naval forces were limited in number and mission, despite China’s rising military power.
China is developing a blue-water navy to support territorial claims in the region, while experiencing serious trade tensions with the U.S. On Nov. 5, the U.S. imposed 99 percent anti-dumping taxes on certain Chinese steel exports. Then there is the question of the American trade deficit with China, which suits the U.S. but not China, and the troublesome shadowing of the dollar by the Chinese renminbi.
In Latin America, the Obama people have already made trouble, demanding and getting a sizable new air base agreement in Colombia, whose significance, as the U.S. Air Force itself says, will be strategic. (Presumably to counter the “menace” of Russian ships off Venezuela.) Washington’s ambiguous conduct with respect to the Honduras military coup did not contribute to good pan-American relations.