Tag Archives: State Department

How WikiLeaks Enlightened Us in 2010

From: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-20026591-503543.html

December 31, 2010 7:50 AM

Posted by Joshua Norman

(Credit: Getty Images/Oliver Lang)

WikiLeaks has brought to light a series of disturbing insinuations and startling truths in the last year, some earth-shattering, others simply confirmations of our darkest suspicions about the way the world works. Thanks to founder Julian Assange‘s legal situation in Sweden (and potentially the United States) as well as his media grandstanding, it is easy to forget how important and interesting some of WikiLeaks’ revelations have been.

WikiLeaks revelations from 2010 have included simple gossip about world leaders: Russia’s PM Vladimir Putin is playing Batman to President Dmitri Medvedev’s Robin; Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is crazy and was once slapped by a Revolutionary Guard chief for being so; Libya’s Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has a hankering for his voluptuous blond Ukrainian nurse; and France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy simply can’t take criticism.

CBS News Special Report: WikiLeaks

However, WikiLeaks’ revelations also have many  major implications for world relations. The following is a list of the more impactful WikiLeaks revelations from 2010, grouped by region.

The United States

– The U.S. Army considered WikiLeaks a national security threat as early as 2008, according to documents obtained and posted by WikiLeaks in March, 2010.

Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commanders repeatedly, knowingly lied to the American public about rising sectarian violence in Iraq beginning in 2006, according to the cross-referencing of WikiLeaks’ leaked Iraq war documents and former Washington Post Baghdad Bureau Chief Ellen Knickmeyer’s recollections.

– The Secretary of State’s office encouraged U.S. diplomats at the United Nations to spy on their counterparts, including collecting data about the U.N. secretary general, his team and foreign diplomats, including credit card account numbers, according to documents from WikiLeaks U.S. diplomatic cable release. Later cables reveal the CIA draws up an annual “wish-list” for the State Department, which one year included the instructions to spy on the U.N.

– The Obama administration worked with Republicans during his first few months in office to protect Bush administration officials facing a criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies that some considered torture. A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid obtained by WikiLeaks details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

– WikiLeaks released a secret State Department cable that provided a list of sites around the world vital to U.S. national security, from mines in Africa to labs in Europe.


– A U.S. Army helicopter allegedly gunned down two journalists in Baghdad in 2007. WikiLeaks posted a 40-minute video on its website in April, showing the attack in gruesome detail, along with an audio recording of the pilots during the attack.

– Iran’s military intervened aggressively in support of Shiite combatants in Iraq, offering weapons, training and sanctuary, according to an October, 2010, WikiLeaks release of thousands of secret documents related to the Iraq war.

– According to one tabulation, there have been 100,000 causalities, mostly civilian, in Iraq – greater than the numbers previously made public, many of them killed by American troops but most of them were killed by other Iraqis, according to the WikiLeaks Iraq documents dump.

– U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished, according to the WikiLeaks Iraq documents dump.Afghanistan

– U.S. special-operations forces have targeted militants without trial in secret assassination missions, and many more Afghan civilians have been killed by accident than previously reported, according to the WikiLeaks Afghanistan war document dump.

– Afghan President Hamid Karzai freed suspected drug dealers because of their political connections, according to a secret diplomatic cable. The cable, which supports the multiple allegations of corruption within the Karzai government, said that despite repeated rebukes from U.S. officials in Kabul, the president and his attorney general authorized the release of detainees. Previous cables accused Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, of being a corrupt narcotics trafficker.


– Pakistan’s government has allowed members of its spy network to hold strategy sessions on combating American troops with members of the Taliban, while Pakistan has received more than $1 billion a year in aid from Washington to help combat militants, according to a July, 2010, WikiLeaks release of thousands of files on the Afghanistan war.

– A stash of highly enriched uranium capable of providing enough material for multiple “dirty bombs” has been waiting in Pakistan for removal by an American team for more than three years but has been held up by the country’s government, according to leaked classified State Department documents.

– Despite sustained denials by US officials spanning more than a year, U.S.military Special Operations Forces have been conducting offensive operations inside Pakistan, helping direct U.S. drone strikes and conducting joint operations with Pakistani forces against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in north and south Waziristan and elsewhere in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, according to secret cables released as part of the Wikileaks document dump.

– China was behind the online attack of Google, according to leaked diplomatic cables. The electronic intrusion was “part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government.”

– Secret State Department cables show a South Korean official quoted as saying that North Korea’s collapse is likely to happen “two to three years” after the death of the current dictator, Kim Jong Il. The U.S. is already planning for the day North Korea implodes from its own economic woes. China has “no will” to use its economic leverage to force North Korea to change its policies and the Chinese official who is the lead negotiator with North Korea is “the most incompetent official in China.”

– North Korea is secretly helping the military dictatorship in Myanmar build nuclear and missile sites in its jungles, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Although witnesses told the embassy that construction is at an early stage, officials worry Myanmar could one day possess a nuclear bomb.

– Five years ago, the International Committee of the Red Cross told U.S. diplomats in New Delhi that the Indian government “condones torture” and systematically abused detainees in the disputed region of Kashmir. The Red Cross told the officials that hundreds of detainees were subjected to beatings, electrocutions and acts of sexual humiliation, the Guardian newspaper of London reported Thursday evening.

– The British government has been training a Bangladeshi paramilitary force condemned by human rights organisations as a “government death squad”, leaked US embassy cables have revealed. Members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), which has been held responsible for hundreds of extra-judicial killings in recent years and is said to routinely use torture, have received British training in “investigative interviewing techniques” and “rules of engagement”.

– Secret U.S. diplomatic cables reveal that BP suffered a blowout after a gas leak in the Caucasus country of Azerbaijan in September 2008, a year and a half before another BP blowout killed 11 workers and started a leak that gushed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Middle East

– Saudi Arabia’s rulers have deep distrust for some fellow Muslim countries, especially Pakistan and Iran, despite public appearances, according to documents from the late November, 2010, WikiLeaks U.S. diplomatic cable dump. King Abdullah called Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari “the greatest obstacle” to the country’s progress and he also repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program to stop Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.

– Iranian Red Crescent ambulances were used to smuggle weapons to Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group during its 2006 war with Israel, according to the leaked U.S. diplomatic memos.

– In a leaked diplomatic memo, dated two weeks after elections that landed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in office, a senior American diplomat said that during a meeting a few days before “Netanyahu expressed support for the concept of land swaps, and emphasized that he did not want to govern the West Bank and Gaza but rather to stop attacks from being launched from there.”

– The United States was secretly given permission from Yemen’s president to attack the al Qaeda group in his country that later attempted to blow up planes in American air space. President Ali Abdullah Saleh told John Brennan, President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, in a leaked diplomatic cable from September 2009 that the U.S. had an “open door” on terrorism in Yemen.

– Contrary to public statements, the Obama administration actually helped fuel conflict in Yemen. The U.S. was shipping arms to Saudi Arabia for use in northern Yemen even as it denied any role in the conflict.

– Saudi Arabia is one of the largest origin points for funds supporting international terrorism, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged U.S. diplomats to do more to stop the flow of money to Islamist militant groups from donors in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government, Clinton wrote, was reluctant to cut off money being sent to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Pakistan.

– The U.S. is failing to stop the flow of arms to Middle Eastern militant groups. Hamas and Hezbollah are still receiving weapons from Iran, North Korea, and Syria, secret diplomatic cables allege.

– A storage facility housing Yemen’s radioactive material was unsecured for up to a week after its lone guard was removed and its surveillance camera was broken, a secret U.S. State Department cable released by WikiLeaks revealed Monday. “Very little now stands between the bad guys and Yemen’s nuclear material,” a Yemeni official said on January 9 in the cable.

– Israel destroyed a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, constructed with apparent help from North Korea, fearing it was built to make a bomb. In a leaked diplomatic cable obtained by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, then-US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice wrote the Israelis targeted and destroyed the Syrian nuclear reactor just weeks before it was to be operational.

– Diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks indicate authorities in the United Arab Emirates debated whether to keep quiet about the high-profile killing of a Hamas operative in Dubai in January. The documents also show the UAE sought U.S. help in tracking down details of credit cards Dubai police believe were used by a foreign hit squad involved in the killing. The spy novel-like slaying, complete with faked passports and assassins in disguise, is widely believed to be the work of Israeli secret agents.

– WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Al Jazeera network that some of the unpublished cables show “Top officials in several Arab countries have close links with the CIA, and many officials keep visiting US embassies in their respective countries voluntarily to establish links with this key US intelligence agency. These officials are spies for the U.S. in their countries.”


– Of the 500 or so tactical nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, it is known that about 200 are deployed throughout Europe. Leaked diplomatic cables reveal that dozens of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons are in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.

– NATO had secret plans to defend the Baltic states and Poland from an attack by Russia, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. NATO officials had feared “an unnecessary increase in NATO-Russia tensions,” and wanted no public discussions of their contingency plans to defend Baltic states from Russian attack.

– The Libyan government promised “enormous repercussions” for the U.K. if the release of Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the Lockerbie bomber, was not handled properly, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. The Libyan government threatened “harsh, immediate” consequences if the man jailed for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 died in prison in Scotland.

– Pope Benedict impeded an investigation into alleged child sex abuse within the Catholic Church, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. Not only did Pope Benedict refuse to allow Vatican officials to testify in an investigation by an Irish commission into alleged child sex abuse by priests, he was also reportedly furious when Vatican officials were called upon in Rome.

– Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness carried out negotiations for the Good Friday agreement with Irish then-prime minister Bertie Ahern while the two had explicit knowledge of a bank robbery that the Irish Republican Army was planning to carry out, according to a WikiLeaks cable. Ahern figured Adams and McGuinness knew about the 26.5 million pound Northern Bank robbery of 2004 because they were members of the “IRA military command.”


– Anglo-Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC has infiltrated the highest levels of government in Nigeria. A high-ranking executive for the international Shell oil company once bragged to U.S. diplomats, as reported in a leaked diplomatic cable, that the company’s employees had so well infiltrated the Nigerian government that officials had “forgotten” the level of the company’s access.

– Mozambique is fast on its way to becoming a narco-state because of close ties between drug smugglers and the southeastern African nation’s government, according to U.S. Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables say cocaine, heroin and other drugs come in from South America and Asia, and are then flown to Europe or sent overland to neighboring South Africa for sale.

– Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe-appointed attorney general announced he was investigating Mugabe’s chief opposition leader on treason charges based exclusively on the contents of a WikiLeaks’ leaked cable. The cable claimed Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai encouraged Western sanctions against his own country to induce Mugabe into giving up some political power.


– Mexican President Felipe Calderon told a U.S. official last year that Latin America “needs a visible U.S. presence” to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s growing influence in the region, according to a U.S. State Department cable leaked to WikiLeaks.

– A newly released confidential U.S. diplomatic cable predicts Cuba’s economic situation could become “fatal” within two to three years, and details concerns voiced by diplomats from other countries, including China, that the communist-run country has been slow to adopt reforms.

– The Honduran military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired in 2009 in what constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, according to a leaked diplomatic cable. However, the constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by the President and resolving conflicts between the branches of government.

– Venezuela’s deteriorating oil industry and its growing economic problems are taking a toll on President Hugo Chavez’s popularity. In one confidential leaked diplomatic cable dated Oct. 15, 2009, the U.S. Embassy said “equipment conditions have deteriorated drastically” since the government expropriated some 80 oil service companies earlier that year. It said safety and maintenance at the now state-owned oil facilities were in a “terrible state.”

– China has been reselling Venezuela’s cheap oil at a profit, according to a classified U.S. document released by WikiLeaks. President Hugo Chavez was upset that China apparently profited by selling fuel to other countries, fuel that it had sold China at a discount in order to gain favor. The cable also describes falling crude output in Venezuela caused by a host of problems within the national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA.

– Jamaica’s counter-drug efforts have been so sluggish that exasperated Cuban officials privately griped about their frustrations to a U.S. drug enforcement official, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable. The communique released by WikiLeaks said Cuban officials painted their Caribbean neighbor to the south as chronically uncooperative in stopping drug smugglers who use Cuban waters and airspace to transport narcotics destined for the U.S.


– A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable published Saturday depicts the leader of Mexico’s army “lamenting” its lengthy role in the anti-drug offensive, but expecting it to last between seven and 10 more years. The cable says Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan mistrusts other Mexican law enforcement agencies and prefers to work separately, because corrupt officials had leaked information in the past.

– McDonald’s tried to delay the US government’s implementation of a free-trade agreement in order to put pressure on El Salvador to appoint neutral judges in a $24m lawsuit it was fighting in the country. The revelation of the McDonald’s strategy to ensure a fair hearing for a long-running legal battle against a former franchisee comes from a leaked US embassy cable dated 15 February 2006.

In 2010, WikiLeaks released only about 2,000 of the approximate 250,000 cables it claims to possess, and the pace of those releases dropped dramatically as the holidays approached. If Assange’s promises are to be believed, 2011 will be another important year for learning about the hidden forces that drive our world.


Playing by the Rules

FROM: Mises Daily:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010 by 

Andrew Bacevich’s new book, Washington Rules, illuminates the post–World War II Washington foreign-policy consensus and gives a history of its evolution. This is a key piece of history, and it can also provide larger lessons about the operations of the state. In order to be a player in foreign policy in Washington, one must accept the rules, which consist of a “credo that inspires consensus and the trinity in which it finds expression” (p. 16). The consensus defines the terms of debate and the limits of acceptable opinion, privileging those who agree with it and banishing any other arguments. Players (institutions and their leaders) must play by the rules and stay relevant to the consensus. The consensus also allows change, so long as the change is relevant to supporting the consensus or defending against threats to it. Bacevich shows that the Washington rules may benefit the elite, but they are failing the country in the long term by harming the country’s power and prestige as well as hurting it economically and morally.

What Are the Washington Rules?

The rules are hidden and not consciously discussed, because they are the basic assumptions for foreign-policy discussions: “This postwar tradition combines two components, each one so deeply embedded in the American collective consciousness as to have all but disappeared from view” (p. 12). These two components are the credo and the trinity, which taken together mean that it is up to America to change the world, whether it likes it or not.

The Credo

The credo is global leadership.

The United States and the United States alone must “lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world” (p. 12). Under the Washington rules, in order to be considered for high office you must respectfully allude to “America’s responsibility to lead,” (as well as to God and “the troops.”) There must be “engagement” by the United States. This is what “The American Century” — as Henry R. Luce called it — is all about. Luce called on Americans to “accept wholeheartedly our duty to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit” (p. 12). The United States cannot be “isolated.”

There are four subrules of US “responsibility” for global leadership:

  1. The world must be organized, or “chaos will surely reign” (p. 20).
  2. The United States does the organizing. Only the United States is able to “prescribe and enforce such a global order” (p. 20). No one else can be trusted, and the United States must constantly shoulder new obligations.
  3. The United States defines the principles of the global order. These principles are American and also universal. Evolving American principles on anything, be it nuclear weapons, noncombatant casualties, or women’s rights, are always universal. The world must adopt the latest American attitudes.
  4. World leaders want the United States to lead the global order, and they stay up at night worrying that the United States may abdicate its responsibility to do so.

The Trinity

America chooses the means, not just the ends, of global leadership. There are three fundamental assumptions about the means:

  • global military presence
  • global power projection
  • global interventionism

While much has changed in the US military in the last 60 years, this trinity apparently remains too holy to be questioned (p. 14). In line with this, the term “full spectrum dominance” means that the United States should be globally dominant in all areas: space, nuclear, naval, air, army, covert operations, etc.

Note the emphasis on “global.” The United States must have a forward presence everywhere. It must be set up to project its power globally, whether that means boots on the ground, bombs from the sky, or knives in the dark. Able to intervene anywhere on the globe, the United States must have a policy of doing so.

The corollary of this is that the United States exempts itself from norms that it expects others to comply with. Bacevich gives the example of how outraged Americans and the world would be if China had a defense budget that matched all the great powers’ except the United States’, created garrisons around the world including in Latin America, appointed People’s Liberation Army generals responsible for different parts of the globe (including one for North America and one for Europe), conducted war games globally, and created a global strike force (pp. 23–24). In reality, American policy is far more expansive than the hypothetical Chinese example. Because Americans are the good guys, they are surprised when others are outraged.

Failure to accept the Washington rules means relegation to outside Washington. Even if you’re important on domestic questions, you won’t be taken seriously among the players dominating foreign policy, i.e., the upper echelons of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and the leaders of the State Department, Homeland Security, and Defense Department, not to mention the law-enforcement and intelligence communities. These institutions include think tanks and interest groups, lobbyists, lawyers, retired officers, and former officials in good standing. Beyond the beltway, they include big banks, defense contractors, elite media such as the New York Times, and such institutions as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Kennedy School of Government (p. 15).

The Rules Mean Change

The implications of this are fascinating. America has the ability, right, and duty to change the world however it wants and by whatever means. The use of the term “engagement” is revealing. For example, according to the State Department, a large power grid failure in Brazil on November 10, 2009, created “opportunities for engagement … including DOD, DHS, FCC, TDA.”[1]

Bacevich can discern no particular objective for this duty to change the world or standard by which change can be measured. In fact, he particularly mentions that the rest of the world must fall in line every time the United States changes its mind (p. 21). Presumably, what unites members of the consensus is either a vague neoliberal idea of state capitalism, or, more likely, the idea that American leadership can help bring about whatever fantasy world each member may hold in his heart. As long as everyone who counts agrees to the necessity of the system, it doesn’t matter if what the system actually does is incoherent. Again, Bacevich seems to find no consistent principle for all this intervention, only the belief that chaos would reign without American leadership.

If the core rule is simply that the United States can change the rules, and the corollary of the Washington rules is that the United States exempts itself from norms that it expects others to comply with, other countries will logically see US leadership as the exercise of power. If there is no particular standard at the end of the day that anyone can be expected to comply with, there is no rule of law. Foreigners might understandably be concerned that change is coming for them. Especially as change always seems to involve the use of guns and bombs on their soil.

Obama talked about “change” coming to America. While some things may change, Bacevich shows throughout that the principle of US global leadership or dominance still remains the same in 2010. That doesn’t change. Power remains, and power corrupts everything else and slowly destroys itself from within.

Evolution within the Washington Rules — 1948 to 2010

Bacevich shows how foreign policy and the US military have operated and evolved within the fixed framework of the Washington rules from World War II to the present Obama administration in 2010. Important players try to demonstrate to other players that the public (or private) institution or subinstitution they represent is relevant and therefore deserving of funding and power. Those exercising “soft power” make their claims; and those exercising the various forms of “hard power” make their claims.

Bacevich starts off by showing that when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton took office in 2009 their rhetoric was within the Washington rules of American global leadership (p. 19). Similarly, their policy choices were constrained. As Bacevich has pointed out, the Obama administration was presented with limited choices: to either send more troops to Afghanistan or publicly take responsibility for a US defeat. Not surprisingly, Obama sent more troops. There was no time to first ask questions about why the United States was there, what it hoped to accomplish, what victory would look like, or if it was likely to be achieved (pp. 214–20). The consensus was preserved. The cost was that Obama wasn’t allowed to talk about what the grand strategy was.

Bacevich’s story really begins about 1948, but it seems like there is room for a further book to explain the origin of the Washington rules prior to World War II, and certainly Bacevich is aware of US intervention and power structures prior to the scope of his book. He mentions that Truman was constrained in his choices about the atomic bomb (p. 31). Certainly the “credo” of American global leaderships goes back to at least the Progressive era. President Wilson, never one to let facts get in the way of romantic ideas, once proclaimed that the United States should “serve” and “show mankind the way to liberty,” and with other nations “guarantee peace and justice throughout the world.”

“American principles,” Wilson concluded, “are the principles of mankind and must prevail.”

Chapter 1

In charting the evolution of institutions, Bacevich starts with 1948 to 1960 in chapter 1, which is about the “semiwarriors” who run the military-industrial complex of perpetual semiwar. The two key players are powerful examples of the institutional gains for following Washington rules. In this period, Allen Dulles expanded the CIA’s covert operations, and General Curtis LeMay expanded the Strategic Air Command’s nuclear bomber force. Both institutions came from essentially nothing and symbiotically provided global reach for US power. In return, Congress gave them control of huge budgets and authority. They were at the height of their power and were perceived as the only two players with global capabilities. Although they technically reported to the executive branch, they were very independent and very relevant.

In this period, there was little resistance to the Washington rules. While Eisenhower understood the dangers of the military-industrial complex and gave a fantastic speech on it, he basically permitted its growth under his watch, and he never explained why he waited till the end to protest (p. 33).

Chapter 2

At the end of the Eisenhower administration, the army’s General Maxwell Taylor started a drive to make the army more relevant. The army would fill the part of the spectrum between nuclear war and covert operations, giving the United States a “flexible response.”

Nuclear war was now increasingly perceived to be obviously futile almost by definition. The limited ability of the CIA was increasingly evidenced in the early ’60s in Cuba and Vietnam. In this gap the army was able to claim relevance for conventional forces for “flexible-response” intervention around the world. Somebody new had to step up to the plate if everyone else was striking out.

But the US debacle in Vietnam showed that this flexible response of the army (supported by the Navy’s and Air Force’s airpower) didn’t work very well either, and led to serious degradation of the army as an organization. A similar failure of intervention was eliminating South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem. Taylor believed that in killing Diem, the United States turned out to have eliminated a key player who was probably the only person holding South Vietnam together (p. 94–95).

Taylor establishing the relevance of the army was not unique. Relevance is something all of the bureaucracies wanted. The US Navy over time evolved from carrier battle groups to a strike force. There were no real navies to fight, so the Navy became more floating airbases for ground-attack aircraft. There was a rise in the last few decades of the importance of the field commanders and four-star generals who head the six regional theater commands (pp. 206–7). The Joint Chiefs of Staff became less relevant. Interestingly, special operations in 1987 was given its own four-star special operations command, joining the six other commands at the table (p. 157). This is a good example of the development of a powerful subinstitution. By contrast, the Strategic Air Command no longer exists.

Bacevich devotes a lot of detail to Kennedy, in part because of the many people who speculate as to what would have happened if he’d lived. Bacevich sees Kennedy as a cold warrior who never fundamentally changed, and he gives plenty of evidence of this up to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Bacevich states that after the crisis, Kennedy then suspended the Washington rules, but only temporarily. American involvement in Vietnam still increased under Kennedy’s watch (p. 90). Bacevich points out that Kennedy’s allies McNamara, Bundy, and Taylor all went along with Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War. Certainly the administration as a whole was following the Washington rules. The other implication of all this of course is that if Kennedy really had changed his mind, then he would have been totally outside the Washington rules. His close allies would all have deserted him, and he would have lost relevance.

Chapter 3

The Foreign-Policy Elite React

After Vietnam, there was the brief possibility that the Washington rules might be reevaluated. This was not to be. Some in the American elite reacted like the elite of World War I Germany — employing a “stabbed-in-the-back theory” that blamed treachery at home for failure abroad. Others simply tried to move on. Kissinger, for instance, said there was remarkably little to be learned from Vietnam (p. 137). It was just a unique event. There were no systemic problems or defective principles — no need to ask serious questions.

But some elites seemed to be questioning the consensus, and the people were undermining the authority of institutions. This simply would not do. It might lead to irresponsible behavior defined as “isolationist,” or what others term noninterventionist. Anthony Lake feared that the United States might turn to “a mean-spirited foreign policy” and that the prointervention Munich analogy would be replaced by the anti-intervention Vietnam analogy (p. 132–33).

So in 1976, Lake assembled a CFR publication The Vietnam Legacy, a book of essays by 24 foreign-policy observers evaluating Vietnam. To Bacevich, the writers and their views seem “clubby” and “homogenous.” They could be counted on to avoid rocking the boat. They had a common analytical framework that viewed Vietnam as an anomaly and the problem as one of a loss of “consensus, control, and legitimacy” (p. 131). While there was no evidence US policy had nipped any problems in the bud or kept the peace, Lake was a true believer in the Washington rules (p. 133). The Vietnam Legacy quite intentionally reenforced the shaky consensus of US leadership and intervention.

In general the foreign-policy establishment fully reentrenched itself and imposed the Washington rules as a form of political correctness; in fact “the range of acceptable opinion” is an “order of magnitude larger” in the faculty lounges of “tenured radicals” in academia. One could not discuss the idea that Vietnam was, as Martin Luther King said, “but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit” (pp. 133–34).

Madeline Albright

Madeline Albright is mentioned at the end of chapter 3 as a key figure who encapsulated the consensus in rhetoric without adding anything particularly new. Bacevich gives four key examples, all of which are very interventionist (pp. 140–43):

  1. “My mind-set is Munich. Most of my generation’s is Vietnam.” Translation — Albright sees the dangers of appeasement where others see the dangers of intervention. Certainly, Bacevich claims that the foreign-policy establishment’s mindset in Albright’s generation was Munich.
  2. “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further … into the future.” This is how the elite really see themselves.
  3. “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” Said to Colin Powell, this question summed up the foreign-policy elite’s problem with how the army was rebuilt.
  4. When asked about the death of 500,000 Iraqi children, Albright replied, “I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.” She did not dispute the question.

Chapters 4 and 5

The Army Elite React

The army learned from Vietnam that it should rebuild itself according to the Powell Doctrine: it should fight wars it could win, i.e., the first Gulf War. However the problem was that these wars didn’t create substantive change. Gulf War I changed nothing, it kept the status quo. People in the foreign-policy establishment questioned the relevance of an army with the Powell Doctrine. Both sides were correct, and the army ended up being put in a war it couldn’t win.

The RMA and COIN

In a quest to stay relevant and support the Washington rules, the army then changed again — twice in fact in the 2000s.

First was the Revolution in Military Affairs, or RMA. Rumsfeld did want radical change. Speed, visibility, and precision targeting on the battlefield would allow the army to dominate and to inflict less civilian damage and casualties. Wars would be over quickly, and the United States could intervene everywhere, liberating the natives. This naturally failed as soon as the natives decided they needed liberating from the US Army, and the army had no idea what the targets were.

The RMA failed, so to keep relevance the army needed a new idea.

As long as one stays within the Washington rules, all kinds of changes are possible. No one had ever really sold the United States on the idea of a long war. Yet now the idea was cropping up that the United States was in just such a war (p. 183). (Similarly the Democrats criticizing Bush objected to, not the Washington rules, but bad execution and the use of “hard power” at the expense of “soft.”)

With the end of the Bush administration and the takeover by the Democrats, there were several developments. One was that the United States was adrift. The second was that military activity seemed purposeless. To mask this, the idea of Counter-Insurgency or COIN was taken off the shelf to replace “Shock and Awe.” Though irrelevant for solving the ostensible problem of anti-Western jihad, COIN created the “appearance of purposefulness,” and it solved a very real problem of relevance (p. 186). The Washington rules survived despite the aimlessness of the long war.

Ironically, counterinsurgency previously had been seen as exactly the type of ill-fated liberal Democratic social engineering idea that conservative Republican’s didn’t believe in. The officer corps as well had no interest, being busy with creating a finely tuned force to fight other armies. They wanted to fight short wars they could win. As the army was bogged down fighting nonarmies this wasn’t a very relevant viewpoint anymore.

Petraeus spearheaded the counterinsurgency idea as a replacement. Petraeus wrote his Princeton PhD dissertation on Vietnam. He agreed with the officer consensus that counterinsurgency was a bad idea, because public perception of long involvement was negative. But he also got from Vietnam the corollary idea that one could and should manage public perceptions (pp. 193–94). Changing perception meant changing reality.[2]

Bacevich sees COIN as a repackaging of the failed Vietnam idea of “flexible response.” The perception problem was that “Victory had essentially become indefinable and the benefits accruing to Americans were at best obscure” (p. 189). While the 2003 Iraq invasion was part of a strategy, however misguided, there was no real strategy after that. To solve the problem, Petraeus’s key achievement was managing the public’s perceptions so that they didn’t view the long involvement, the long war, as failure. COIN and later GCOIN or Global COIN became how the United States shows leadership and helps other countries. This involved demolishing the idea of the army as something that fought and won wars. “Petraeus’s purpose in revising U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine was not to evaluate COIN but to sell it” (p. 197). Petraeus seemed to have achieved perpetual public support and perpetual funding for perpetual war (p. 209).


The Washington rules still seem clearly in place. Evolution has taken place within a fixed boundary, leading to the rise and fall of different institutions and subinstitutions that meet the system’s needs. The system appears to have temporarily achieved perpetual lavish funding.

Bacevich and others can see clear problems ahead. The United States, like other Western states, is running out of money and cannot meet all its future obligations. Even the Council on Foreign Relations admits that US spending is unsustainable.[3] Eventually the public support and funding will break down. Prolonged combat occupation slowly degrades armies. But since World War II, the leaders’ failure and recklessness so far haven’t really cost them anything, in the way failure cost Germany for example, so there isn’t yet any real incentive to change a system that they believe benefits them.

Bacevich suggests that we tend our garden before it is too late. His vision is an America that leads by example. A republic that solves its own problems will once again be an inspiration to the rest of the world. Troops should be immediately withdrawn from abroad, especially where the cost is high and the potential gain is invisible, i.e., in the Muslim world. Bacevich says that unfortunately it is easy to simply blame our leaders, but it is also the American people who let them get away with it, because too many Americans believe in the credo and trinity of Washington rules.

Anders Mikkelsen is a cost-management consultant in New York City. Send him mail. See Anders Mikkelsen’s article archives.


[1] This quotation was found not by research but by reading a random cable in Wikileaks. Little globally is outside the purview of the United States — or even of US domestic agencies.

[2] In this vein, Petraeus did well in Iraq partly by appeasement, buying off insurgents, and subtly proclaiming victory.

[3] “It is fiscal, economic, and political failures at home that are threatening the ability of the United States to exert the global influence that it could and should. In other words, it is not reckless American activity in the world that jeopardizes American solvency but American profligacy at home that threatens American power and security.” Roger C. Altman and Richard N. Haas, “American Profligacy and American Power,” Foreign Affairs, 2010.


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