Q: In Breach of Trust you describe how the isolation of the military from the larger American public invites neglect–and guarantees failure and irresponsibility (on the part of that public). What would you like to hear a candidate in the 2016 presidential race say about repairing this untenable situation?
I’d like to hear our would-be leaders acknowledge the shortcomings of our military performance since 9/11. I understand that this is a politically difficult thing to do. It can be easily misinterpreted as faulting our soldiers. Our soldiers are great. But our military policies have have been defective. We’ve engaged in unnecessary and misguided wars — Iraq the best example. We’ve engaged in wars that we’ve not been able to bring to a decisive and successful conclusion — with both Iraq and Afghanistan offering examples. Why is that?
There are several possible answers to that question. My own answer is this one: We’ve embraced a military system that is inappropriate for a democracy such as ours. As a response to the debacle of Vietnam, we opted for a professional military — what the Founders would have called a “standing army.” We abandoned the tradition of the citizen-soldier that had served the Republic well going back to the days of the Revolution. It’s time for us to take a second look at the tradition and to consider its revival. Otherwise the experience of the recent past — too many wars, too few soldiers, too many lives and too much treasure squandered for little return — is likely to perpetuate itself.
–Andrew Bacevich is the author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country. His previous books include Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project) The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, he received his PhD in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University. He was a Colonel in the US Army and is a Professor of International Relations at Boston University.