America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History
By Andrew Bacevich.
453 pages. Random House, 2016. $30.
Reviewed by Michael S. Neiberg
READERS FAMILIAR WITH ANDREW BACEVICH’S WORK will know him as a perceptive and sharply critical analyst of U.S. grand strategy in the Middle East. In America’s War for the Greater Middle East he is at his best, examining our strategic missteps in the region. Bacevich’s deconstruction of what has gone wrong for the United States there is devastating, though he is careful to put failed decisions into the proper historical, political, and social contexts. The problems he identifies are therefore failures of the American system as much as they are the results of the poor choices by our nation’s leaders.
Bacevich, a professor of international relations and history at Boston University, identifies four flawed assumptions that have shaped our approach. Most fundamentally, he writes, Americans have assumed that their historical narrative is not only the correct one for the Middle East but also one shared by people in the region. Having defeated fascism and communism, we think that radical Islam or false constructs like “Islamofascism” are merely the next incarnations of evil.
Second, Americans have presumed that technological superiority and military might are appropriate instruments for dealing with political and social problems in the Middle East.
Third, Americans have seen military power as an appropriate way to bring democracy to a region that has never really experienced it, failing to recognize how brute force in such a tinderbox can have deadly unintended consequences.
Finally, by presuming that their own vision will inevitably prevail, Americans have not seen themselves as fighting against laws of history.
Bacevich’s lucid and compelling book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand why American forces have so often ended up in the region—and why it is so difficult for them to leave. MHQ
MICHAEL S. NEIBERG is chair of war studies at the U.S. Army War College.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue (Vol. 29, No. 2) of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Reviews: Causes and Effects.
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