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Bacevich: “Osama is not Hitler,” use police not military

Bill Moyers has a very interesting interview with Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University and a former US Army colonel (watch video here).

Here is Bacevich's perspective on Osama bin-Laden and the war on terror:

BILL MOYERS: In this context, then, what do we do about what is a real threat, from people who want to kill us, the Jihadists. What do we do about that?

ANDREW BACEVICH: First of all, we need to assess the threat realistically. Osama bin Laden is not Adolf Hitler. Al-Qaeda is not Nazi Germany. Al-Qaeda poses a threat. It does not pose an existential threat. We should view Al-Qaeda as the equivalent of an international criminal conspiracy. Sort of a mafia that in some way or another draws its energy or legitimacy from a distorted understanding of a particular religious tradition.

And as with any other international criminal conspiracy, the proper response is a police effort. I mean, a ruthless, sustained, international police effort to identify the thugs, root out the networks and destroy it. Something that would take a long period of time and would no more succeed fully in eliminating the threat than the NYPD is able to fully eliminate criminality in New York City.

Bacevich also makes a fascinating point about how the military, via its action in Aghanistan, is unwittingly undermining its claim to a unique role and authority:

BILL MOYERS: Given what's happening in the killing of these innocent people, is the very term, "military victory in Afghanistan," an oxymoron?

ANDREW BACEVICH: Oh, this is—yes. And I think one of the most interesting and indeed perplexing things that's happened in the past three, four years is that in many respects, the officer corps itself has given up on the idea of military victory. We could find any number of quotations from General Petraeus, the central command commander, and General McChrystal, the immediate commander in Afghanistan, in which they say that there is no military solution in Afghanistan, that we will not win a military victory, that the only solution to be gained, if there is one, is through bringing to success this project of armed nation-building.

And the reason that's interesting, at least to a military historian of my generation, of the Vietnam generation, is that after Vietnam, this humiliation that we had experienced, the collective purpose of the officer corps, in a sense, was to demonstrate that war worked. To demonstrate that war could be purposeful.

That out of that collision, on the battlefield, would come decision, would come victory. And that soldiers could claim purposefulness for their profession by saying to both the political leadership and to the American people, "This is what we can do. We can, in certain situations, solve very difficult problems by giving you military victory."

Well, here in the year 2010, nobody in the officer corps believes in military victory. And in that sense, the officer corps has, I think, unwittingly really forfeited its claim to providing a unique and important service to American society. I mean, why, if indeed the purpose of the exercise in Afghanistan is to, I mean, to put it crudely, drag this country into the modern world, why put a four-star general in charge of that? Why not—why not put a successful mayor of a big city? Why not put a legion of social reformers? Because the war in Afghanistan is not a war as the American military traditionally conceives of war.

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