The title of your latest book is Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. What does that mean? What does that suggest?
Well, in essence the argument that I try to make in the book is that in the wake of WWII, there emerged in Washington a fairly well-defined consensus that provides the basis for national security policy. One element of that consensus in a sense you already alluded to, when you cited that remark by Madeleine Albright. In the book I call it the American credo, the absolute conviction that the world must be led and only the United States can provide the necessary leadership, but more substantively, the Washington consensus consists of the sort of principles that have provided the basis for national-security policy, and those principles are three in number. First, an insistence on the United States maintaining dominant military forces; second, the habit of designing those forces for global power projection; and third, the habit of then putting those forces to use in the pattern of interventionism. We've been doing that basically since the immediate wake of World War II. You can make an argument that at one time these three principles may have served US national-security interests. If you look at the record over the last 20 years or so, it's impossible to make that argument. So we need to abandon the American credo, and we need to abandon this sacred trinity of military practices I've described in the book. And we need to devise a new set of principles that are more appropriate for the time in which we live.
Can you suggest what those principles might be?
Let's take an alternative to the sacred trinity. I think one principle ought to be that US forces exist to defend the vital interests of the United States, not to police the world. The second principle ought to be that the principal duty-station of the American soldier ought to be America, and that we should abandon our empire of bases scattered around the world. And the third principle ought to be — and this is very much contrary to Bush doctrine of preventive war — the United States should use forces for defensive purposes and only as a last resort.
How did your experience as an officer in Vietnam and in Iraq 1 shape your thinking?
I'm sure it had some bearing on my thinking. You know, I'm 63 years old and a lot of things have happened to me over time, so to single out a particular episode can lead you to overstating influence. When I served in Vietnam, it was late in the war. Everybody pretty much understood that things were not going to end happily. One of the things that I witnessed was the disintegration of the United States Army in Vietnam as it succumbed to indiscipline, rampant drug abuse, and racial tensions. I experienced firsthand the difficulty of rebuilding the force that had been abused as the army was in Vietnam. I also think — and this became clear only in retrospect — I think I appreciated the extent to which engagement in a long and unsuccessful and unnecessary war introduces poisons into the military that are not necessarily good for our democracy. In balance, I think that my Vietnam experience contributed to a certain wariness about our going to war in the first place.
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, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Afghanistan, More