Andrew J. Bacevich writes: What Jimmy Carter began, Barack Obama is ending. Washington is bringing down the curtain on its 30-plus-year military effort to pull the Islamic world into conformity with American interests and expectations. It’s about time.
Back in 1980, when his promulgation of the Carter Doctrine launched that effort, Carter acted with only a vague understanding of what might follow. Yet circumstance — the overthrow of the shah in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan — compelled him to act. Or more accurately, the domestic political uproar triggered by those events compelled the president, facing a tough reelection campaign, to make a show of doing something. What ensued was the long-term militarization of U.S. policy throughout the region.
Now, without fanfare, President Obama is effectively revoking Carter’s doctrine. The U.S. military presence in the region is receding. When Obama posited in his second inaugural address that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” he was not only recycling a platitude; he was also acknowledging the folly and futility of the enterprise in which U.S. forces had been engaged. Having consumed vast quantities of blood and treasure while giving Americans little to show in return, that enterprise is now ending.
Like Carter in 1980, Obama finds himself with few alternatives. At home, widespread anger, angst and mortification obliged Carter to begin girding the nation to fight for the greater Middle East. To his successors, Carter bequeathed a Pentagon preoccupied with ramping up its ability to flex its muscles anywhere from Egypt to Pakistan. The bequest proved a mixed blessing, fostering the illusion that military muscle, dexterously employed, might put things right. Today, widespread disenchantment with the resulting wars and quasi-wars prohibits Obama from starting new ones.
Successive military disappointments, not all of Obama’s making, have curbed his prerogatives as commander in chief. Rather than being the decider, he ratifies decisions effectively made elsewhere. In calling off a threatened U.S. attack on Syria, for example, the president was acknowledging what opinion polls and Congress (not to mention the British Parliament) had already made plain: Support for any further military adventures to liberate or pacify Muslims has evaporated. Americans still profess to love the troops. But they’ve lost their appetite for war. [Continue reading…]