DICK MILLER: I'm Dick Miller. I teach in the Department of Philosophy and director of the Program in Ethics in Public Life. This is the second lecture in a series put on by the Program in Ethics in Public Life called "After the American Century, Fears and Hopes for America's Future." Seems to me that for any decent person, the fear of war, the hope for peace, those are just about the most profound fears and hopes that there are.
At the same time, many people in the United States, fear the decline of American global power, which they take to depend on American military might. So the assessment of fears and hopes for America's wars is going to require deep knowledge, explanatory insight, and moral reflectiveness, derived from the past and looking to the future. That's why I'm so very glad that our second speaker in the series will be Marilyn Young from the Department of History at NYU.
Before this talk, I looked again at the preface to Marilyn Young's powerful book, The Vietnam Wars, which she finished in 1990. And she reflected in her preface in something that forced her to look from the past to the future, as she will in 2013, a few minutes from now. As I was finishing this history of the Vietnam American War, she wrote, the Cold War was astonishingly ended. There's no way to know what this will mean for the next era of world history.
But events in the summer of 1990 suggest that peace with the Soviet Union as not necessarily lessened the American propensity to wage war elsewhere. The Iraq crisis is the post-Cold War era's first approach to war. We have been at war since the end of World War II.
One way the Vietnam War might at last end and the post-Cold War peace begin, would be for an American president to acknowledge, as the Soviet foreign ministry did with respect to Afghanistan, that the United States invaded Vietnam against our stated values and ideals. And that it did so secretly and deceptively, fighting a war of immense violence in order to impose its will on another sovereign nation. Otherwise, only the name of the country changes, and Americans will continue to hear, why are we in Vietnam?
Marilyn Young has continued to ask these questions with the name changing from time to time and she'll offer us the current stage of that inquiry in her talk about necessary wars of choice, the past, present, and future of American War. To introduce Marilyn Young, tell you more about it, about her, Fred Logevall of History Department will have some more to say about her powerful and influential work.
FRED LOGEVALL: Well, good afternoon. Delighted to see all of you here. Most of you, I see on the left side of the room for whatever that means. I'm very pleased to be here with you and to have a chance to just say a few words about Marilyn Young, who is a professor of history and also a collegiate professor at NYU.
And for me, it means something personal for me to be standing here before you saying a few words. And I'll say just a few things about that in a moment. But to just give you a little bit of Marilyn's background, she has been the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for Humanities, and the ACLS. She was a senior Fulbright professor in Bologna, Italy and has received two teaching awards from NYU.
She is the author of many books and I'm going to mention here just two, The Vietnam War, as Dick has talked about that really masterful work, also The Rhetoric Of Empire, Transforming Russia and China. And she is the co-editor of, I think, probably close to a dozen books and has been also involved in producing anthologies, countless articles, and two edited volumes worth mentioning here.
One is Bombing Civilians, A 20th Century History, and Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars. She has served as President of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and also been on the Council of the American Historical Association. She worked under Ernest Mae and John Fairbank at Harvard, where she got her PhD.
She teaches a range of courses at NYU on the Cold War, on the Vietnam War, Vietnam Wars, I should say, on US East Asia relations, US wars in Asia, women and social change, and US foreign policy from the 19th century to the present. I want to say just a word about the book that Dick already mentioned, which is the Vietnam War, the Vietnam Wars
I don't think I've said this to Marilyn, actually. But that book, which appeared, I believe in 1991, 1990 or '91, came out just as I was beginning my own doctoral work. And what the book did, it had a very important effect on my own life, not so much in terms of the particular research that went into the book or a particular chapter in the book. Marilyn's book covers really the whole period of the whole struggle for Indochina from 1945 to the end.
And my dissertation was focused really on the period of heavy US escalation in the war in the early and middle 1960s. But what Marilyn's book did was to give me the really the courage to push a line of argument that I didn't think really had been adequately pushed that articulated in the scholarship. And like many graduate students, I think I was a little reticent about what I could actually do.
This book-- and I really urge you to read it if you haven't --really pushes against conventional views on the Indochina struggle on a whole range of issues, it showed me that an argument that I think had taken hold in the scholarship which suggested that that however we might view the Vietnam War now, in the context of its own time in the early and mid 1960s, any president would have done what Kennedy and Johnson did.
Any set of policymakers would have taken those actions to Americanize them, with all that that implies. Marilyn's book showed me that I didn't have to make that kind of an argument. The evidence was leading me in a different direction anyway. And so I think the book for me was of great importance.
I think I would go so far as to say that my book was possible in substantial measure because of The Vietnam Wars, this book that we most currently describe. So for that reason I'm especially grateful to have this opportunity to introduce Marilyn. I want to give you one other quote before I sit down. This is from her Schaeffer's Presidential Address. It's also, I can tell you, part of her Wikipedia entry.
MARILYN YOUNG: I have a Wikipedia entry?
FRED LOGEVALL: You have a Wikipedia entry. I could tell you, it was not me. But if you miss any part of what I'm about to read and you're interested, go to the Wikipedia entry. Or better yet go to the presidential address. It's printed in a journal called Diplomatic History which is Schaeffer's own journal, and it's a marvelous presidential address. But here's what she writes.
I find, and maybe this will resonate with what you're going to tell us today.
MARILYN YOUNG: I'm sure. It's what I think about all the time.
FRED LOGEVALL: "I find that I have spent most of my life as a teacher and scholar thinking and writing about war. I moved from war to war from the War of 1898 and US participation in the Boxer Expedition and the Chinese Civil War, to the Vietnam War, back to the Korean War, then further back to World War II, and forward to the Wars of the 20th and early 21st century.
Initially I wrote about all of these as if war and peace were discrete, pre-war, war, peace, or post. Over time this progression of wars has looked to me less like a progression than a continuation. As if, between one war and the next, the country was on hold." We're privileged, ladies and gentlemen, to have Marilyn Young with us this afternoon as part of the ethics in public life series.
She is without question one of our leading historians of US foreign relations anywhere. She is a mentor and a friend. And I'm delighted she is here. Please join me in welcoming Professor Marilyn Young.
MARILYN YOUNG: That was great. I think my mics are about to go on. Is the sound OK? I want to thank Dick Miller for inviting me and both Dick and Fred for introducing me. If my book made Choosing War, Fred's first great book possible, that is just terrific. I'm very pleased to learn that.
Here's a pathetic thing about the preface that Dick read to you from. When I finished that book, I really thought that the United States just couldn't make war anymore. I mean, I had just shown how terrible, useless, wrong it was. And the next thing I know, there is Desert Storm. And I felt personally insulted. And I have felt personally insulted ever since.
I want to begin with three quotations. The first gives you a taste of war, a little taste. It's from Benjamin Bush's memoir of his year in Iraq. And it goes-- this was 2005. "We collected these people in their kitchen and guarded them from us, as we used their house to fight back against their neighborhood. My days were not condemned by the things I had expected. It was the pointlessness and the faces of the people who were left to live in the violence we had brought with us or had drawn to us.
Our bullets had gone out into other people's lives. We gathered our wreckage and our dead, and someone who lived there filled in the holes in the road made by the bombs left for us." The second is the former head of the CIA, Leon Panetta. He said this very recently. "When the president drew a red line, dammit, you've got to do it. And the it means war."
And finally from Jon Stewart, who has been the best commentator on the current situation. In his broadcast on September 4, he said, and it seems to me to reflect directly on Panetta, "even though we're a superpower, we haven't figured out yet that we don't actually have superpowers. We keep jumping out of the building, thinking we're going to fly."
The consequences of the wars the United States launched at the start of the 21st century continue to play themselves out. Afghanistan is still a war zone in which American soldiers die, even as their numbers dwindle. And there were in fact, two today announced, dead American soldiers. Iraq has reverted to the sectarian bloodletting the United States troop surge was supposed to have resolved years ago.
And Libya, while free of its longtime single dictator, is now subject to the rule of numerous paramilitaries. According to a recent report by Patrick Cogburn, quote, "government authority, in Libya this is, is disintegrating in all parts of the country, putting in doubt claims by American, British, and French politicians that NATO's military action in Libya was an outstanding example of a successful foreign military intervention which should be repeated in Syria." End quote.
This summer, we have all watched the slow motion approach of the Obama Administration to just such a repetition. In the background, a basso continuo, there were the ongoing invisible acts of war, an accelerating American use of cyber war, 231 offensive attacks in 2011 alone, and the ongoing drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan. Until late August, I would have made a straightforward argument that the United States, has over the decades, slowly and steadily moved itself to the fulfillment of one of the long term policy objectives of defense intellectuals such as Robert Osgood and Henry Kissinger in the 1950s, the capacity to fight limited wars for limited goals without unduly upsetting the electorate, a state of permanent, if unrecognized war.
So now in Syria, President Obama's suggestion that there was a red line Bashar Assad must not cross had hardened into a conviction that the quote credibility of the country and of course his own was on the line. We've been here before, repeatedly. American credibility has been on the line in every administration since 1945. And in every administration was maintained by a readiness to use military force.
Yet Obama's acknowledgment that the country was, quote, "weary of war," and his shifting of the burden of decision to Congress, before being rescued by Putin, which we'll talk about, indicated the possibility that rather than an ongoing process of militarization as I had thought, something new might be underway. I stress might. In the event of course, Putin's timely intervention saved Obama and the Congress, from having to act.
But it is-- and probably I should knock wood here, but it is useful to reflect on Obama's earlier explanation of why the United States must act. His explanation began with a but, quote, "but, we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforce the rules that gave it meaning. And we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibility of nations.
We aren't perfect. But this nation, more than any other, has been willing to meet those responsibilities." end quote. It is unclear to me the extent to which any substantial portion of the American public still accept this qualified expression of the United States, as what Madeleine Albright once called, the indispensable nation. Poll data on the possibility of intervention in Syria was unequivocal.
The overwhelming majority of Americans were opposed to any form of intervention in Syria, including supplying the opposition with arms. Some 70% polled against such an effort to supply the rebels. However, remaining the indispensable nation is still the goal of the heirs of cold warriors like Osgood and Kissinger. Eliot Cohen, Elliott Abrams, Fouad Ajami, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Max Boot, among others, have signed a strong letter to the president urging quote, "direct military strikes against the pillars of the Assad regime."
The goal would be, quote "not only to ensure that Assad's chemical weapons no longer threaten America." Think about that sentence for a minute. "Our allies in the region are the Syrian people but also to deter or destroy the Assad regime's air power and other conventional means of committing atrocities against civilian noncombatants." end quote.
In addition, the US should increase its efforts to train and arm the quote, "moderate elements" in the armed opposition. With the goal, quote, "of empowering them to prevail against both the Assad regime and the growing presence of al-Qaeda affiliates and other extremist rebel factions in the country." end quote. These experts, so they were designated by the Weekly Standard, which published their letter, urged the United States into a three way civil war against Assad, and against the most effective fighters attempting to overthrow him.
And they were outraged when they were robbed of war. Quote, "this is not a serious alternative to military action, Max Boot complained. It is a distraction from the real issue." He means negotiations. It is a distraction from the real, issue, which is not Assad's chemical weapons, but the continuing existence of the Assad regime itself. end quote.
As I wrote this and as I speak it now, I don't know what the outcome will be. I think it's still in play. But for the first time since the end of the Vietnam War, I feel the country is at a point of choice, whether to insist on maintaining and exercising its one claim to superiority, military power. Or find some other approach to international relations, one that involves negotiation, international cooperation, a way out of war.
Perhaps the allergy to war that followed the end of the Vietnam War, the war in Vietnam perhaps that allergy has recurred, an Iraq syndrome, which might like the Vietnam syndrome earlier, once again makes the use of force abroad more difficult than presidents and policymakers would like. I'll return to this question in my conclusion.
But my talk this afternoon is about how we got here. And I think, well, maybe just because I'm an historian, I think how we got here matters. I think the past matters. How the present state was characterized about a decade ago by Lawrence Derrida, special assistant to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Quote, "we've always thought of post hostilities as a phase distinct from combat. The future of war, he went on, is that these things are going to be more of a continuum. This is the future for the world we're in at the moment. We'll get better at it, as we do it more often."
And he was right about everything except the last phrase. My title, Necessary Wars of Choice is drawn from an essay by a commentator with whom I am usually at odds, Robert Kagan. Shortly after Obama declared that he would withdraw the United States from Bush's chosen war in Iraq, but continue to fight the war of necessity in Afghanistan, Kagan observed quote, "the of necessity wipes out the moral ambiguities inherent in the exercise of power." end quote.
The same claim of necessity answers the question, why are we in whatever particular country or countries the United States happens to be in at the moment? The claim of the necessity is rarely questioned. This has been possible for several reasons, among them the immunity of Americans from war at home.
Americans inability to imagine being bombed rather than bombing has enabled the repeated use of force by their government. And I should note that all of America's limited wars involve massive amounts of bombing. More significant perhaps as a shield against the reality of bombing was the way the Cold War functions so that wars of choice could be fought and military force could serve as an ordinary instrument of policy.
Let me explain. I hope I haven't offended. In the United States the economic, social, and cultural mobilization for the Cold War required that Americans be weaned from the common sense view which Fred mentioned, that wartime and peacetime were distinct periods of time. A country fought a war, that's how it used to be.
In the case of the United States, won it, and then there was peace. War time required conscription, the death and maiming of American servicemen, civilian economic sacrifices, and patriotic movies. Peacetime meant, in a phrase that only some of you will recall, the lights going on all over again all over the world, marriages, babies, cars, washing machines, and patriotic movies about the good war.
Peace was normative and war and unhappiness, the sometimes necessary aberration. However the Cold War was a liminal condition, neither peace nor war, an indefinite pre-war. For this to be accepted as an ongoing state of affairs, Americans had to correct what the leading theorist of limited war, Robert Osgood called, their quote, 'faulty habit of mind, that regards war as a thing in itself, rather than a continuation of political intercourse." end quote.
Instead, Americans thought of war and Osgood really hated this, either as a crusade or as something to abolish. Osgood wanted the country to understand the use of force in Clausewitzian terms, an instrument for obtaining concrete, limited, political objectives. The United States must be held in a state of permanent readiness.
Occasional hot wars would be limited in terms of weapons, duration, and objective, since the alternative might unleash an annihilating nuclear war. And the public was asked to attend to this state of things along a very narrow band of concern. Too great public attention might lead to demands for a quick and final victory in any given conflict. Too little, a reluctance to pay the mounting cost of eternal vigilance.
The balance was difficult to maintain, often politically unworkable. A military composed of citizen soldiers was bound to think of war as a thing in itself and demand a quick successful conclusion. The history of the Cold War in the United States is thus the history of how, while never abandoning World War II as the platonic idea of war, post-war administrations strove to use military force in a limited, instrumental way.
To this end, they had to create a public tolerance for the use of military force abroad as normal rather than aberrational. So normal, that after a while only those who were actively engaged in fighting it and their families, noticed it was being fought at all. One problem for those like Osgood or Kissinger who wanted to accustom Americans to the use of force as a standard instrument of policy, was the absence of an accepted tradition of colonial wars.
Since the United States was not, in the eyes of its citizens, an empire its long history of colonial warfare had been effectively excised from collective memory. To be sure, the United States had expanded, first across the Continent, then across the Pacific to Hawaii in the Philippines, but that was a one off. The numerous military interventions in Central America rarely made it into the standard texts from which most Americans learned their own history. Nor did the movements which resisted the growth of empire.
And in this, the United States differed from European countries, whose imperial wars and the opposition to them, were acknowledged and integral to their national histories. In the United States, public support required that all new wars be justified, as World War II had been, by the invocation for example of the enduring memory of Munich, and the dangers of appeasement, of the insatiable appetite of totalitarian regimes, of the importance of repelling aggression.
And you know, I mean Kerry has said a lot of things recently, but the most outrageous really was his invocation of Munich in the current Syrian crisis. This is just such a deliberate grab for something that will justify war. Having found a good war, politicians invoked it at every occasion, despite the multiplying contradictions of sustaining the country in a state that was neither all out war nor genuine peace.
The Korean War was the first test of the American public's capacity to embrace limited wars and the public came close to failing. While most people had supported Truman's initial intervention, as casualties mounted and peace talks at Panmunjom seemed permanently stalled, a majority of the pollsters, public toll pollsters, it believed the war had been a mistake. Throughout the war, the Truman Administration had labored against the reluctance of the country to go to war in the first place or, once in, to limit its scope.
And that's when you get that classic American sentence, which you had in Vietnam as well and probably come up again, in or out? And it always sounds very aggressive. In or out? But I think you have to pay attention to the or out, and credit that that might really have meaning. In, meaning, go all the way, eliminate them. Or out, just get out.
So Truman had trouble throughout with the reluctance of the country to either limited scope or to stay in. But throughout the war, it could count on a kind of tacit public acceptance of its policies, a sullen acquiescence, until they were repudiated in that general election of 1952, with a decisive defeat of the Democratic Party. There were no massive demonstrations as there would be against the Vietnam War, no military mutinies, on one burned their draft card.
And in the aftermath, no investigation of how the war had been fought, but only of the behavior of American prisoners of war. Succeeding administrations remembered the political price paid by the Democratic Party and they worked to avoid it. But Korea seemed to hold few general lessons for the future.
Perhaps for that reason, the country slipped easily into another limited war in Asia, one which none of the presidents who fought it were ever able to sell for very long, but which together they prolong for 15 years. The particular lesson the government had learned in Korea was not to provoke China's entry into the war. And this lesson that it applied successfully in Vietnam.
Initially, the Vietnam War resembled the early days of the Korean War. There was nothing as dramatic as the North Korean attack across the 30th parallel. But the Kennedy Administration was able to make a rather belabored case to an inattentive public that the fighting in Vietnam was the result of North Vietnamese aggression against a struggling new nation, which gave the United States' involvement a patina of modest necessity.
Still, as Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara observed, quote, "the greatest contribution Vietnam is making, right or wrong, is beside the 'point-- a classic McNamara "--the greatest contribution Vietnam is making right or wrong is beside the point is that it is developing in the United States and ability to fight a limited war to go to war without the necessity of arousing the public ire." end quote.
McNamara fully expected this would be the shape of future wars. The early counter-insurgency period under Kennedy, as intended, barely registered on the public. Actually I am researching this now. And I mustn't really digress because there is not much time. But in 1963, what finally got the public's attention was a letter to the editor by Bertrand Russell. It got peace groups' attention.
And Russell wrote a letter to The Times in which he said, you know, I don't know how many of you Americans were aware, but you are fighting a war of annihilation in Vietnam and using methods that are atrocities. The New York Times was very offended and called Russell, you know, essentially a communist dupe, really not mincing words. And the exchanges between The Times and Russell went on for a long time, but not in public.
Meanwhile, it began to attract the attention of peace people, who had been reluctant to mix Vietnam with their general effort for disarmament. But from that point on, which was about March, April '63 they did. I have to stop. I have to go back to this. I'm very interested in this new piece of research, a very small paper I'm doing.
Anyhow, the counterinsurgency period didn't register very much. But by the end of '63, the failure of counterinsurgency raised the question of increasing troop levels and in ever increasing draft calls. This time, a [? public-schooled ?] protest by the civil rights movement was less inclined to accept government policy.
As explanations of the war shifted-- to repel North Vietnamese aggression, to contain China, to maintain US credibility, as the tactics used to fight it came full circle-- counterinsurgency, war of attrition, counterinsurgency with saturation bombing, and the number of American casualties mounted, the opposition grew. Acceptance of the war vanished. The draft was abandoned, and in due course, so was the war.
In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the American attitude toward war seemed to change. Congress passed the War Powers Act in an attempt to constrain the war-making propensity and power of the executive. Briefly, it seemed that no administration could or would commit the country to war, except for reasons of self-defense, and even then only after a Congressional declaration of war.
The general repudiation of the use of armed force abroad was so fierce, it was given a name, the Vietnam Syndrome. It was as if the country had become allergic to war in all its forms. The effort to overcome the anti-war legacy of Vietnam and transform it into its opposite, a tolerance for war, so long as it could be conducted quietly, without fuss or conscription, has occupied every administration since the defeat of Jimmy Carter.
One approach to the cure of the allergy toward featured small homeopathic doses of war, notable for their outsized names, and the near total absence of American casualties. I don't know how many of you remember, Operation Urgent Fury. The name is very evocative. Urgent Fury was the rescue of students who couldn't get into American medical schools from unknown dangers in Grenada.
And then there was Operation Just Cause. Remember Just Cause? Some of you do. Just Cause was a successful assault on the drug lord Manuel Noriega in Panama. No one commented on the semantic oddity of launching specific military operations in the absence of an ongoing war. Because usually, you know, you have Operation Rolling Thunder but that's inside a war. These were operations outside of any particular war.
Meanwhile, the military, recovering from the demoralization of the Vietnam War, set about building an all volunteer professional army and devising a new doctrine for its use. The Weinberger Powell Doctrine was like an insurance policy against all that had complicated the Vietnam War. There would have to be strong public support before any war began. Force would be used massively, rather than incrementally. Goals would be limited, the exit clearly marked, and a declaration of victory thus assured.
And in 1990, just when I was writing that preface, George HW Bush field tested the doctrine. One might think that with the Cold War over, ending in what most Americans understood as an American victory, it was time to enjoy the peace dividend, the profit owed Americans from their investment in hot and cold wars of the preceding decades. Surely the president would be hard pressed to find a suitable enemy.
But as one war hawk told a fellow conservative, Saddam Hussein came along and saved the country from the peace dividend. Once again, the casus belli was aggression. Go For One was described by the president and the mainstream media as a mini World War II. Saddam Hussein was Hitler. . Kuwait stood for occupied Europe appeasement was unacceptable.
In accordance with the Weinberger Powell Doctrine, months were spent gathering public support. This was the Desert Shield part of the operation. Press control was strict. And in this and every other particular, and they really thought it through, this was not Vietnam.
Once more, albeit on a smaller stage, the United States had beaten another Hitler and liberated a country. This was war as it was meant to be. And at its conclusion, President Bush declared that the country had quote, "kicked the Vietnam syndrome." John Hay dubbed the War of 1898, a splendid little war. And just a little short of its centennial celebration, George HW Bush seemed to echo Hay.
His splendid little war was an antidote to Vietnam, a ringing message of American intent to diversify and dominate in the Middle East, a flexing of military muscle. American casualties were light, 148 dead in combat as compared to 100,000 Iraqi combat deaths. And no one counted the Iraqi civilians.
In this radical disparity of dead and wounded, Desert Storm recapitulated all of America's small wars, from the 19th to the 21st centuries. It was a mix of limited war and total war, satisfying the public desire for decisive victory with the administration's more modest goals, and fulfilling, in part, Robert Osborne's hope that the United States finally would learn to use force for quote "concrete, limited political objectives." end quote.
Bush had demonstrated that the United States could emerge victorious in a chosen, limited war. His son was far more ambitious. The new policy was set in the 2002 National Security Strategy, whose language and attitudes sound archaic today. And I'll just remind you of them a little bit. I mean, they've been really outstripped by events.
The 2002 Security Strategy opened with the assertion that the 20th century ended in a decisive victory for the forces of freedom and a single sustainable model for national success, freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. That's a quote. Those all three go together.
America would use its economic power abroad to encourage pro-growth, legal, and regulatory policies, lower marginal tax rates, sound business policies, and free trade. And free trade was defined as a moral principle. The national security strategy was a blend of neoconservative American domestic order, American prescriptions for the world, and American military supremacy.
American military force must be strong enough, quote, "to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing or equaling the power of the United States. September 11 enabled the Bush Administration to pursue, with less opposition and greater violence, the policy implication of the national strategy's vision. Bush would use America's immense military might to establish effective US global domination in the name of liberal capitalism, Western values, civilization itself.
Under the mantle of a large and necessary war, the global war against terror, Bush could launch small wars against Afghanistan and Iraq as well as threaten Iran and North Korea. Yet despite Grenada, Panama, Gulf War I, and 9/11, Bush's Administration was as haunted by the limited war gone bad, Vietnam, as its predecessors. As early as October 21, 2001, RW Apple, an old Vietnam hand, considered the war in Afghanistan under the headline, quote "a military quagmire remembered, Afghanistan as Vietnam." end quote.
The war in Afghanistan began with massive bombing raids. I don't know how many of you remember that, but they were, followed by the dispatch of a relatively small number of combat troops, which seven years later had to be increased. Yet because the increase never involved general conscription, dramatic tax increases, or significant economic sacrifice by the public at large, after the failure of the massive protests in February of 2003, the public remained, as it had been during the Korean War, perhaps unhappy, disenchanted, but quiescent, which is all the government needs.
The Bush Administration deflected questions about the launching of the war in Iraq to predictions about what would happen after the United States withdrew. Sort of the classic statement of this position was but made by David Kilcullen, General Petraeus' close advisor, who said, quote, "I was very critical of the war in Iraq in 2002, saying we shouldn't be doing this. Once they decided to go ahead and do it, I felt it as my duty as a military guy, to help do it in the best possible way, minimize the damage as it were."
The new hope for America's limited war in Iraq lane is redefinition is counterinsurgency warfare. Article after article wondered why the counterinsurgency lessons of Vietnam had been forgotten. In some renderings, the claim was that counterinsurgency had actually won the war in Vietnam before losing it again through the irresponsibility of the press or of Congress or the anti-war movement or all three. In other accounts, the claim was only that counterinsurgency would have won in Vietnam had it been practiced early enough, hard enough, long enough.
Familiar names from old colonial wars reappeared in new revised editions. And a new field manual on counterinsurgency was drawn up. The manual was hailed as a great step forward. And when Petraeus seemed to have succeeded in Iraq, in putting its principles into practice in Iraq, fears of another Vietnam vanished.
And if you look at the press, this Vietnam syndrome, is this another Vietnam? Is this another quagmire? They really go away, with Petraeus' troop surge and the apparent success there. With counterinsurgency back in the curriculum and at the center of US tactical thinking in the Middle East, there was a brief sense of optimism about the future of American military adventures.
The war in Iraq had been a success. Although Iraq itself was in a wretched state, as devastated today as it was in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion. And this is a subject for a longer conversation. But I think it's important to note that no one refers to Iraq as a victory. That's not the word that's been used at all.
In the current idiom of war, the opposite of defeat is success, where success means only the possibility of withdrawing American troops. Surely the argument went on, the lessons of Iraq could be applied in Afghanistan. The focus of the discussion in Obama's first year in the presidency was on tactics, counter-terrorism or counterinsurgency.
Should the US reduce its forces, concentrate on using drones and special forces to hound al-Qaeda anywhere in the world? Or should it increase its forces so as to counter, not al-Qaeda in Pakistan or Yemen or Afghanistan, but the Taliban in Afghanistan, working to establish the institutions necessary to transform Afghanistan from a fragmented narco state into a modern and stable nation? Both approaches look to the Afghanization of the war, which has meant a radical increase in the size and power of the Afghan army and police, trained, equipped, and paid for by the United States.
Just as an aside, the results have been mixed, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq. An article in The Times on September 3, reported that the security forces the United States had trained at immense expense, were not only ineffective, but were themselves quote "a growing source of abuse." unquote. And there are signs that the same thing is happening in Afghanistan.
Until a year ago, the Afghan story was about the success of counterinsurgency. But buried in the stories of how well counterinsurgency was working, were regular reports of the way it was not working. Reporters, following in the wake of US patrols, reported the response of the local population. Quote, "there was peace here before you came" an AP reporter records a farmer telling a marine patrol "today, there is only fighting."
Faith in counter-insurgency has faded. Although population-centric efforts continue, the main thrust has been a radical increase in the use of night raids by special forces units, which were intended to root out mid-level Taliban insurgents, and then drone strikes, targeted to assassinate the leadership of Al-Qaida and/or the Taliban.
Let me talk about each of these just for a little bit, and relate them to what I see as the intended shape of American imperial policing in the future. First, the special forces. The number of hunter killer teams operating in Afghanistan has increased exponentially along with drone attacks. Worldwide, special operations forces operate in 75 countries, a deployment the Obama administration justifies on the basis of a 2001 Congressional mandate that authorized the war in Afghanistan, right after 9/11.
That's the authorization of use of military force that we still operate under. The Joint Special Operations Command or JSOC, if you would like to use acronyms, is a secret army, which has been described by William Arkin and Dana Priest in their book, Top Secret America , this army has increased to 25,000 people since it was founded in 1980, and it operates in maximum secrecy with its own drones, its own intelligence gathering units, satellites, cyberwar specialists, and kill teams.
We are the dark matter, one Navy SEAL told Arkin and Priest. The seals operate on the JSOC. "We the dark matter. We are the force that orders the universe, but can't be seen." End quote. If you've seen Zero Dark 30, which fully captures this ideology, you'll see what he means by the dark matter.
The other new element are drones, currently launched from 60 secret bases on two continents and operated by both the CIA and the military. Although the new director of the CIA has expressed a desire to return the CIA to its original focus on intelligence and analysis, one wonders if he'll be able to reverse the tide of the militarization of the CIA. Today the CIA has become in the words of one of its operatives, quote, "one hell of a killing machine." end quote.
Who it kills is not subject to public review. For the US drones are the ultimate weapon. No Americans are ever at risk except now and then by accident, as is also the case with Afghan and Pakistani civilians. The Bush Administration used drones in Pakistan on 44 occasions over five years, killing an announced 400 people.
Under Obama, there have been over 300 strikes, and the body count is four times Bush's record. More powerful and sophisticated drones are on their way. For example, these numbers are hard to absorb, but they're so stupendous, I'm going to read them anyhow.
The Falcon hypersonic cruise vehicle, that can fly 13,000 miles in an hour, 20 miles high in the sky, dropped 12,000 pounds of explosives, 9,000 miles from the United States in less than two hours, destroying a target, quote, "anywhere in the world on 30 minutes notice, with no need of a nearby air base." end quote. To this should be added the extraordinary surveillance regimen that has grown up since 9/11.
Even before Snowden's revelations exposed the extent of NSA spying on all and sundry, Arkin and Priest counted 3,000 private and public intelligence agencies, in 33 secret building complexes in the Washington, DC area, all of which generated 50,000 intelligence reports each year, though it's unclear how many of them ever get read. The black budget, so-called for US intelligence agencies. Came to $52.6 billion in 2013, with over 100,000 employees.
In early January, a news report described Obama, quote, "surrounded by a tableau of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in dress uniforms, with chests full of medals, as he announced his new military strategy. Given the country's economic woes, there would be a downsizing of the Army and the Marine Corps, although the actual defense budget would increase. Anticipating, Republican charges that he was endangering US security, the President declared quote, "I firmly believe and I think the American people understand, that we can keep our military strong and our nation secure with a defense budget that continues to be larger than the next 10 countries combined.
Our military will be leaner." This is still a quote. "But the world must know the United States is going to maintain military superiority." End quote. However in the future, the United States would not undertake costly counterinsurgency efforts, but instead focus on quote, "tailored capabilities appropriate for counterterrorism and irregular warfare." End quote.
Should anyone think tailoring meant a reduction in America's [? "they're ?] not going to make the [? pan ?] shorter in America's global military [? effort," ?] the strategy paper declared that, quote, "for the foreseeable future, the United States will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring the activities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establish control over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary." That's an extraordinary claim, if you think about it.
Ungoverned territories? What's that? Dangerous groups and individuals when necessary? Most reporters focused on the reduction in force levels. But Walter Pincus, The Washington Post military analyst, pointed out that Obama had extended and deepened George W. Bush's commitment to preemptive war.
What does it mean, he asked, that the United States will strike the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary? Who decides who they are, and by what criteria? All of this Pincus concluded, has a policeman of the world quality. At the start of his presidency, Obama declared Afghanistan a necessary war.
I have noted Robert Kagan's observation about the claim of necessity wiping away the moral ambiguities in the exercise of power. The ability of American presidents to exercise power in this manner rests in part on the increasing separation of most of the country from the wars its military fights. The United States now has a permanent professional army, supplemented by contract military personnel, whose numbers are never very clear, to me anyhow, armed with weapons that reduce casualties to a minimum, available for such political slash military tasks, as any given administration might decide to pursue.
The general public, safe from the experience of war, can and by and large does, ignore its existence. Stephanie Gaskell, who has covered defense policy closely for a number of newspapers, observed quote, "the preferred standing operating procedure now is to keep world order through limited engagements, using naval and air assets, cyber and drone technology, small elite counterterror units, anything but US boots on the ground, to maintain US security interests across the globe.
Which she pointed out was how it all began in Afghanistan after 9/11. But I'm less certain than I have been in the past that keeping American boots in the closet will enable another military intervention. For the past two years, the president refused to be pressured into a full scale intervention in Syria. He had hoped either to avoid military action altogether or unwilling to seem impotent in the face of the ongoing disaster in Syria, he challenged Assad to cross an arbitrary line of atrocity, confident he could devise quote, "a tailored response with international support."
Instead, the world, including the American public, seems to have learned several things from the war in Iraq. First, to distrust the uses to which intelligence is put. Second, to fear and expect escalation. And finally, to conclude that the war is the United States has fought in the 21st century thus far have all been futile.
Without either conscription or an ongoing anti-war mobilization, without even close media coverage of these wars, the country has nevertheless become, in Obama's words, weary of war. To be sure, the Administration resisted using the word war in connection with any action it might take in Syria. We are not asking America to go to war, Secretary of State John Kerry explained to Congress.
His evidence, quote "I don't believe we're going to war. I just don't believe that. That's just not what we're doing there." end quote. It's a limited and focused operation, General Martin Dempsey, head of the JCS, explained.
I spoke at the start-- this is just an aside. Truman had the same problem in Korea. One of the first press conferences after the Korean War started, reporters said, so is this a war? And there was silence from Truman. And finally a reporter says, it's a police action, right?
Truman says, yes. That's what it is. And then there's a great Korean War movie in which, one soldier says to the other, if this is a police action, where the cops? I spoke at the start of an Iraq syndrome. In the case of Vietnam, getting around the syndrome entailed countering that syndrome, a determined effort by policymakers and defense intellectuals to find a cure.
It was a direct effort to find a cure, so the force could be used again at the discretion of the executive and with minimal interference from the public. This was achieved, as I indicated, through a variety of means, not least the work of pundits, who reinterpreted the Vietnam War as wrongly fought, rather than wrong in and of itself, a tactical, not a strategic error.
It is likely that a similar effort will be made with the Iraq syndrome. If, as a new intervention is broached, someone points to the failure of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to achieve peace in those countries, the likely response will be, well, the United States pulled out too soon. Already, one Brookings Institute analyst, William Galston, has written in alarm about just such an Iraq syndrome. Quote, "the question is, whether this new sentiment-- he wrote in an early Washington Wall Street Journal-- I was about to say Washington Square News, that's my campus newspaper, Wall Street Journal column, the question is whether this new sentiment will dominate policy, whether acting for the wrong reasons in Iraq, will prevent acting for the right reasons in Syria."
The United States Galston argued, is the guarantor of the global order, which we took the lead in creating, and from which the United States benefits. Quote. "the task of US leaders is to remind the people that we have a lot to lose if others come to believe we're no longer willing to bear the burdens of leadership." end quote. Galston doesn't specify what those losses might be. For him, the ability of the United States to act with force on such problems as it deems necessary must be preserved.
A reluctant public is a drag on that ability, though not absolutely incapacitating. More problematic has been Putin's last minute intervention and his apparent bid for equal status with the United States. Even more galling was his calling out of American exceptionalism. Quote, "it is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation" he wrote or Lavrov wrote in his name. "there are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions, and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ too." end quote.
And then recalling Obama's own peroration, in which he called on God to bless the United States of America, Putin concluded, quote, "we are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal." end quote. The man has a terrific sense of humor.
Everything about Syria is still in play. And I do not know what the outcome of the current situation will be. In the interim between Obama's calling on Congress to vote on the issue and Putin's intervention, there was the beginning of a real debate, in town hall meetings, in letters to the editor, in national and local newspapers, and then a sudden surge of anti-war petitions, demonstrations, and appeals.
Opposition is apparently strong within the military, as well as the general public. Before the current wave of opposition to intervention, I would have concluded this talk by quoting General Petraeus's remarks to Bob Woodward about the war in Afghanistan. Quote, "I don't think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. This is the kind of war we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives." End quote.
And that remark prompted Andrew Vucevic to ask whether we have all now become prisoners of war. And that's where I would have ended, full stop. Prisoners of war, all of us. But the aftermath of Obama's brief move towards a new war in Syria, in that aftermath, is the glimmer of the possibility of a prison break. And that's where I'll conclude now. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? But that's where we are now. Thank you. Thank you.
Do you have-- is there time for questions?
DICK MILLER: Would you like to call on people?
MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, no, I'll call on people. I don't know how much time we have. That's the question.
DICK MILLER: Until 6 o'clock.
MARILYN YOUNG: Oh, fine.
DICK MILLER: So now we have time for [? searching, ?] and I'd just like to make one--
MARILYN YOUNG: But people should feel free to leave. There's always that moment of imprisonment when a talk ends. Anybody who needs to go should not feel bad. You have to leave. I won't-- I will take it personally, but it's all right.
DICK MILLER: If you have a question or a comment, please stand up and speak loudly. The reason is it's actually rather hard for people in the audience to hear other people in the audience in this auditorium. OK.
MARILYN YOUNG: Questions, comments. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, I have one quick. I do have to leave. I appreciated your talk. My question is since the US controls about 70% of the world's arms trade and the pressure from those arms dealers are to keep war going, the prison break seems to me to be less possible.
MARILYN YOUNG: Well, of course, prison breaks occur even when the entire community is earning big bucks off having the prison in their community, right? But let's drop the metaphor. The only way to deal with that kind of thing is with public pressure. I mean, there's no other way.
You have to have public pressure brought to bear to say, we don't need this. There are other things that can be done. In 1945, there was this terror of peace conversion, to be sure averted by the creation of the national security state. My point is, we don't have to go back there.
There are things to be done with money that now goes to defense contractors. Suppose you cut the defense budget, as David Stockman suggested, in half. Just cut it in half, from $600 billion to $300 billion. And then use that money productively. Why not? Or just gave everybody a tax break? Whatever.
The point is, this inflated defense budget, and it's defense in quotes. It's a war budget. It doesn't seem to me impossible, through organization, to begin to think how to overcome it. It's what peace groups have been about all along. I mean, granted not with great success, but you got to keep working. What else?
AUDIENCE: You're more hopeful about that than I am.
MARILYN YOUNG: Well, only today. Tomorrow--
AUDIENCE: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE] was awfully strong in public pressure recently given the constraints of the two party system [INAUDIBLE].
MARILYN YOUNG: Well, you could certainly-- you could be right. I mean, for most of the time, you have been right. I still-- what do I think? I hope, I have this hope. I think the fact that we didn't go to war. That Obama was stopped by a combination of the democratic system in the UK working to everyone's astonishment.
You brought in before the representatives of people, and they said, no. No, you may not go to war. I think that was stunning. And that Obama then felt he had to bring it to Congress. And then there was this explosion.
I mean John McCain goes home and people are yelling at him. The Georgia Peach Parade or whatever there is, people on the sidelines, who have big signs, No War in Syria. m it seems to me at least conceivable that some of that can be translated into a longer term, of, not just avoidance of war, but doing something else with the economy.
They keep saying it on the radio. And it's astonishing to me that there isn't somehow more of a response. 45 million Americans living in poverty, poverty defined as $23.500 for a family of four. I mean, what kind of country is this? It should be possible to say that.
There was a brief moment when Howard Dean was sort of saying that stuff, before the rest of the Democratic Party jumped on him and just robbed him blind. I mean, that was the end of that. But there was that moment. And Dean was talking about that kind of thing. Lately, I haven't been in agreement with him and that's OK.
When he was running in the primaries, he was articulating this. And there was a real response. I think it's possible to get a response from many different perspectives, including, up to limits, the Libertarians, who are against all of this as well. Why not? You're just a pessimist.
No, you're a realist. I understand that.
AUDIENCE: I would point out one thing. Occupy Wall Street was very hopeful. And it seems to have dissipated. And that was a movement that really ever, at a crucial movement, and in economy's crisis, came to being, and where is it now? So I mean an organized left, I don't see.
MARILYN YOUNG: No. I mean, that's-- no, certainly not [INAUDIBLE]. I don't see an organized left. I don't see it here. I don't see it in most countries. Actually, the really surprise to me is its disappearance in many European countries of a really strong organized left. But the thing, Occupy is really interesting to look at closely and to analyze. And they made a choice about not having-- about being unprogrammatic. The response to Occupy, the fact that so many people came out and everyone was saying, oh, wow, this is great, but then they had nothing to offer. And the dissipation was, therefore, I think, in the cards.
On the other hand, some piece of Occupy continued, and they've had this project of buying up medical debt and forgiving it. So poor people, who are in deep medical debt, can appeal to this fund and have their medical debt forgiven.
I don't know what the status of that is now. I know it was a campaign for a while, and it seemed to have collected a rather substantial amount of money. This is small, but it's in what has been a desert. It's something. So Occupy divides into separate interest groups, which may or may not be able to do more.
But the initial response, I think, has to be remembered, the way it was gladly greeted. And then their particular take on how you operate was something else.
AUDIENCE: Well, thanks.
MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah?
AUDIENCE: So you mentioned-- right at the outset, you spoke about credible rule.
MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: And we're both historians of US foreign policy in the Cold War, and I'm always struck by the power of the credibility of America, as you've been talking about it at the beginning. So could do speculate a little bit about why it resonates so much, why it is that administrations since 1945 up to John Kerry now speak about this, and they say, if we don't stand firm here, our adversaries will no longer fear us, our allies will no longer be able to depend on us. Couldn't one argue that being a superpower means you don't have to worry about that? Precisely that you can change your mind--
MARILYN YOUNG: You have answered your own question. Yes. Yes, my answer is yes.
AUDIENCE: What I haven't answered is why it has the salience of power that it does.
MARILYN YOUNG: Because they're not as smart as you and I.
MARILYN YOUNG: You and me, as us. No, it's a really good question. Some, I think-- I don't know. I don't want to psychologize it, but sometimes it's difficult not to. There's a kind of seventh grade element to it. That's what Jon Stewart-- I said I'd beat you up after school. And damn it, even though I kind of like you now, I'm going to beat you up anyhow, because I said I would.
This notion of credibility is-- what's really puzzling is that during the Vietnam War, it was absolutely clear that America sacrificed its credibility by staying in. So that's very odd. I mean, here you are saying, we must be credible, we must be credible, and the longer the United States demonstrated that it could not prevail over this two bit country, what does that do for allies and enemies?
Well, actually, they look at the devastation and they say, yeah, thank you. Enough for me. But you can do it that way. "We can beat you up so bad, you won't want to go to war with us." I mean, I think that the temptation to argue on the grounds of credibility is a habit of thought that's not examined and never explained to the public at large.
So the real fear is-- you know, no, let me turn the question back. If credibility and what I promise is so important, how come no president fulfills any campaign promise? I mean, promises are broken all the time. Nobody doubts the power of the presidency. No?
I mean, I don't know how to explain it, except as, I think what's necessary is, every time the word is used, one has to protest and say, no, credibility is not involved. That is a really dumb concept, and we can get rid of it. It has gotten us into terrible trouble. It has made us look absurd to any thinking individual.
We're not going to use it anymore. We know our strength. We know our interests. We'll act on our interests. My problem is that it's a question of, who's our? I mean, the interests of some people in the United States are not my interests. And they will pursue them.
So that's why that's where my pathetic little appeal for mobilization and struggle and fighting back comes in. I don't see many sources of it, but I don't know how else to think about it, other than to say one protests in any way one can.
And this has been an opportunity. There's this little break in the wall of war, a wall of war that's enabled because none of you will go to war unless you want to. If you want to, you can. But otherwise, you don't have to.
And when I talk to audiences like you, during the Vietnam War, especially in the period when there was a lottery, every male in that audience was scared. And with good reason. Their choices were, run away, resist bravely and go to prison and maybe get raped, or acquiesce and go to a war that you didn't believe in for a second.
That necessity has been removed, and that has given the executive power for war immense leeway. I had thought permanent leeway. And that's why I keep coming back to what just happened. It's not permanent. People do get tired of just, these are futile wars and people realize that, and they don't want them anymore.
That seems to me an amazing shift. I say that, and then I have to back up and say, maybe. Maybe it is. I hope it is. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: So we're in the middle of Iraq, do you think they were still susceptible, the same way that the Vietnam syndrome was to attack the Gulf War situation?
MARILYN YOUNG: Sure.
AUDIENCE: I think if the leaderships just finds a good war that [INAUDIBLE]? Do you think there's anything different now as opposed to back then that would make these movements [INAUDIBLE]?
MARILYN YOUNG: I really don't know. I think that faced with a [? veracity, ?] there will be a mobilization to overcome it. Syria may have been the wrong place. There'll be another opportunity. I'm really not worried about opportunities for the use of American military power.
So I think that the Iraq syndrome will be then something to be overcome. The Iraq War itself will be reinterpreted, so that it can be used for current needs. I think that's very likely to happen.
There's a possibility. This is a real break. It's only a real break if something more happens. And so far, I don't know. I don't know what the outcome is going to be with the negotiations that are currently ongoing. Assad agrees to sign on to the convention against chemical weapons. What is going to be asked of him? Will he be able to do it?
How do you negotiate a situation in which you've already said that you want one party to the negotiations out, before you ever start negotiating? I mean, there are so many-- such hard stuff ahead. But the pause in the drive to using military power matters, and it can possibly be used. That's what I think.
It's a really limited thing I'm saying, and I defer to the gentleman who doubted my optimism. He probably is right. But you know, still, you hope. Why not? Yeah? [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: Yes, Marilyn, thank you so much for this stimulating speech and also [INAUDIBLE]. I share with you the sentiment of the sense and interest in all the previous wars, you find that-- you are bound to find ambiguity that we are having now in describing the effort we're going to make as the [? just one, ?] either [INAUDIBLE] Iraq or Afghanistan to [? terrorists. ?] And Vietnam and Korea, it's communist evil.
MARILYN YOUNG: Mm-hmm.
AUDIENCE: But in Syria, they're all bad guys.
MARILYN YOUNG: Well, that's still the other big change, is that there is really no one to support.
AUDIENCE: That's an indication larger than the situation we are in.
MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah, I think that's true.
AUDIENCE: Isn't Russia our enemy? Is China? What is this again? The Pacific Asia pivot? How are we going to deal with the suppliers of all those cheap commodities our students will even go to Walmart to buy? [INAUDIBLE] Neither Russia nor China now has overseas bases. They don't have. They don't have a military bloc. and so we are really facing a kind of an ambiguity.
MARILYN YOUNG: Children, I hate to tell you this, but China is the once and future enemy that's going to serve for all of our lifetimes. It's always there big, big. It's big.
AUDIENCE: I disagree on that part. And you know why I disagree, because we've already talked at length about so much.
MARILYN YOUNG; I just think it's there to be used.
MARILYN YOUNG: Think Hillary Clinton. She'll find the way.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. My question is, is this kind of ambiguity the first time in recent history in US capacity and ability to define international [INAUDIBLE] to the real challenge we are facing, which is--
MARILYN YOUNG: Well, one other thing-- yeah, but think about the use to which human rights, humanitarian intervention, responsibility to protect, all of that have been put and may be put again in the future.
I mean, Obama appoints Samantha Power to the UN, where she now has to carry out negotiations with the Russians. It's such a punishment for her. If I didn't dislike-- I would feel sorry for her.
But anyhow, but she uses-- and was very serious about it-- humanitarian intervention militarily expressed as a responsibility of the United States. OK, we pass it up this time. There's going to be something horrible will happen. And one has to really think, do you let all horrors go by?
I mean, are there no times when you intervene? That's a discussion one can have. So far, we haven't been able to have it, because the interventions that have occurred have been under such false flags.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE], this is also for the humanitarian and human rights. That's normative. It's justified. And it also will be the international [INAUDIBLE]. And this is a serious situation.
One thing that is interesting, because like Russia, this [INAUDIBLE] does not argue for a [? normative ?] [INAUDIBLE] save the type of punishment for use of chemical weapon.
MARILYN YOUNG: Right.
AUDIENCE: Just saying [INAUDIBLE]. So that's a very important change.
MARILYN YOUNG: No, I think you're right. It is an important change. I think these are all things to watch. And what I mainly feel is that when asked to keep reading very carefully everything and thinking about it all the way through, because this is a moment, I think, of possible change, just possible. Yeah, good.
AUDIENCE: Well, this is an effort to find out how radical you are. Pretty radical, I think. Do you think that there's a proactive role for the threat power of the United States to play in containing dangerous great power, in containing a dangerous regional power, a dangerous tyrant?
There have been bad regimes out there. Or is it that if you're open to the use of American threat power in any case, it's bound to be a license to be abused? In fact, isn't the idea that sometimes uses of American threat power are positive, it might be an achievement--
MARILYN YOUNG: But who gets to decide?
AUDIENCE: --Breaking the chemical weapons taboo. Oh, politicians decide under what pressure people can give.
MARILYN YOUNG: Think about all of the-- think about all of the evil regimes that you have known, and how utterly ineffective America's threat power is against them because the United States has never chosen to, in any way, threaten them.
So who gets to choose whom we threaten and who we don't? I mean, take Bahrain. Bahrain, you have had peaceful demonstrations and demonstrators being beaten up over the head, jailed, tortured, you name it. And from this administration, utter silence.
From Samantha Power, absolute silence. You want to talk about the great liberal democracy in Saudi Arabia? I mean, you know there are terrible places. The United States chooses to ignore some type of places, not others.
Well, I want to have a real discussion of why this terrible place and not that terrible place. And then I want to talk about, isn't there another way to do this? Hans Blix, who's my complete hero for the role he played in the efforts to prevent the misuse of intelligence that the Bush people used to get the United States into Iraq, Blix had a very, very thoughtful piece about Syria.
And he said, let's say Syria, not only that Assad not only, has-- because we know he has-- but that he used them. And maybe he even threatens to use them again. What should we do? Send in troops? Why?
Did you ever hear about talking? Did you ever hear about negotiations? Did ever hear of a meeting? Did you ever hear about calling all the surrounding powers to talk about it, in which you include Iran, and you include everybody in the region that's affected. Why the military first?
You know, the United States, it's supposed to be war as a last resort. Nonsense. War hasn't been a last resort for the United States since '41. When is war a last resort? I just simply don't see any of them interve--
And Libya is the perfect example. Libya, Obama's very-- Samantha Power, it says in The New York Times was very, very influential in pushing Obama into Libya. And he led from behind. It was wonderful. We're leading, but we're from behind. We're not being--
OK, so you get rid of Gaddafi. What does Gaddafi-- first, he gets rid of his chemical. He hid some, it's true. He's not stupid. But he got rid of a lot of his stockpile, and he gave up the effort to get a nuclear weapon, and the next thing you know is, he's out of power.
Fine. He was a terrible, terrible, terrible ruler. Fine. He's out of power. What's left in Libya? You read the papers about Libya, and you just want to weep. So great. The United States led from behind. Humanitarian intervention. Benghazi was going to be God knows what. What's Benghazi now?
I mean, it's Benghazi. It's the same place. So this use of military force, it just seems to me as an automatic thing. There isn't a world in which there can be a policeman made up of three Western powers.
No, we can't. That's not the world anymore. It's not a great world. It's a world full of danger. I mean, I have grandchildren, and sometimes I have nightmares about the world they're going to grow up in.
And I used to have this little-- I don't really believe in anything, but I still know and then do little superstitious things and a whispered prayer. My prayer is that the world be safe through my grandchildren's lifetime. That's all I want. Then I don't care what.
But I mean, every way I look at it, I worry about them. So I would like to see the United States contribute to making it better. I do not think the exercise of military power by the United States makes the world better. I think it makes it worse.
And I think the hypocrisy of talking about-- I just want to say one more thing. Every time you read that figure 1,400, no one uses that figure. The UN figure is three, almost 380, something like that. It's obscene to argue about numbers, but that 1,400 number is sheer propaganda.
It's used over and over again. Nobody knows where the Americans came up with it. And then they say 1,400 and 400 children. There were many children who died in that gas attack. And many grown-ups. And the total number was something under 400. It makes a difference if you say 400 and you say 1,400, over and over again.
That's the lie told over and over again, till you believe it yourself. But that was a digression, and now I can't remember where I was going with this particular screed.
I mean, I am so glad this march to war has been stopped. I want to just sit in it and enjoy it for five minutes before I have to give it up and say, oh, well, things really are as terrible as in my heart of hearts, me and that guy [INAUDIBLE].
AUDIENCE: Is there anything to be said about the fact that someone's earning lots of money on this?
MARILYN YOUNG: What? I'm sorry.
AUDIENCE: That there's corporate interests making lots of money on world war. It's very lucrative, and there's no specific $300 million being spent on the poor. I mean, there's no money to be made.
And when you said, whose interests are being served here, I think it's obvious. I mean, I'm all for [INAUDIBLE] so I really wonder if the story is partly because it's very lucrative to have wars.
MARILYN YOUNG: It is very lucrative.
AUDIENCE: There's no other place now, give the ways in which industrial capitalists actually move, to find as lucrative a source [? in accumulation going. ?] So it's about America, but it's also about the interests that get served here.
MARILYN YOUNG: Well, this question has been raised, and efforts have been made to answer by economists, which is not me, at all. But Robert Reich in his new movie, and also there was a book by someone named Abrams-- Abrahamsky, Abramsky, that was reviewed in Sunday's Times.
And that one, the book, the title of which I've forgotten, which deals with the current state of the economy and exactly what you're talking about, suggests ways out, ways in which you can get out from under the military industrial complex. It's not so industrial anymore, is it? It's the military complex. The military complex. And begin to think about how you can have redistributive justice.
It's not-- at least in this book, it doesn't sound-- in the review, it doesn't sound impossible. So one thing is to have good guy economists. And there are many. And they do talk about exactly this.
It's not-- I mean, it's a pity that Obama appointed Larry Summers. But if you read Joe Stiglitz, if you read Krugman, there are economists who think about exactly these questions, and think of ways out of it, or suggest ways out of it, in which there would still be profit. People would still be accumulating. Perhaps not at the same levels they do now.
And that's the question. Did you see the thing on corporate salaries the other day in The Times? Someone earns what? $40 million a year? A year?
So there are resume can think about that. But I don't think it's impossible. I think very difficult, yes.
On the Syria thing, there's another element that I didn't talk about and that does have to be-- I least have to acknowledge, and that is there are a couple of political economists who have talked about the way in which there is pipeline interests involved.
So Saudi Arabia would like to have a pipeline that runs through, that runs through a Syria controlled by the opposition, not by Assad. And I've forgotten the exact route, but it's a natural gas. And, oh, it draws on Qatar's natural gas field. Qatar has a natural gas field, which it shares with Iran.
Iran wants a pipeline that goes Iran-Iraq-Assad's Syria and out to Europe. Saudi Arabia wants one that goes from Qatar through. How much of a role does this play? I honestly don't know. It certainly plays a role in Saudi policy, for sure. Does it play a role in American policy? I don't know. It's a question.
MARILYN YOUNG: Right, the pipeline issue has come up in Afghanistan. It comes up in Syria. It's certainly present. Is it causative? How determinative is it? I have no idea.
I think it's as well to keep it in mind, because when you know there's a specific economic interest, you can also begin to speak out against it. Which you can't do if it's invisible to you, which most of the time it is.
FRED LOGEVALL: We can go with one more question.
MARILYN YOUNG: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: I haven't heard you certainly mention about Congress. Since the Vietnam War, Congress, in theory, is the only group that has the power to declare war. Since the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the president has been able to go to war whenever he wants.
And the only reason that Syria was stopped by going to Congress, it was US Congress decided whether or not to go to war, but the president went to Congress. I don't know why, but he did. And even while he was going there, all of the talking heads said, why is he going to Congress? He doesn't have to go to Congress.
Well, doesn't that have something to do with the Bushes?
MARILYN YOUNG: Sure. Well, there was this moment, the War Powers Act did make a stab at controlling executive use of force abroad. You were supposed to-- the executive was given 90 days, I think. I can't remember. They could do what they wanted for 90 days, but then they had to come and talk to Congress.
I mean, it wasn't very strong, but it was a bit of an effort to reverse the trend that has pertained since the last-- the only time in my lifetime that Congress has actually declared war, which was 1941.
So there's some efforts have been made to reverse the trend. Obama's going to Congress this time is very interesting. The fullness of why he went, I don't know. I think it had something to do with the British. I think he was worried about the use of force in Syria and wanted a resolution that would cover the case.
And I think he was, as everyone was, surprised by the reaction. I mean, these Congress people went home and they couldn't, at least as I see it, they couldn't believe what they were hearing from their constituents, who all said, and not all the constituents were peace-loving, left-leaning people. They were people who said, do not allow that socialist illegitimate president to take us to war.
So the voices of the people, they're very mixed. They're very mixed. And one can worry about some of them. Will this set a precedent? And what kind of a precedent?
After all, there have been congressional resolutions before. Tonkin, as you say. Gulf War I, there was a congressional resolution, which a lot of people voted against. Gulf War II, not many people voted against. But there was a congressional resolution, which really was to approve a decision already taken.
Obama left this more open. Who knows if this could be precedent building? I don't know. It depends on the president and the situation. I can imagine a president who would say, gee, remember 20 years ago, when Obama didn't go to war and took it to Congress? Why don't we do this, because I don't think this is a good war, despite the pressure.
One can imagine it being used as a precedent in the future. It's a possibility. It's awfully nice, as an idea, to go to Congress. Although this Congress, who knows? I mean--
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The Cornell Program on Ethics and Public Life (EPL) is hosting "After the American Century: Fears and Hopes for America's Future," a semester-long series with visiting scholars that addresses widely prevalent worries that the new normal condition of the United States stifles important aspirations that were viable in the past.
The second lecture of the series, focusing on the exercise of American power abroad and the future of the American way of war, is provided by Marilyn Young, professor of history at NYU.