Blood For Oil,
excerpted from the book
The New American Militarism
How Americans Are Seduced By War
by Andrew J. Bacevich
Oxford University Press, 2005,
BLOOD FOR OIL
For Cold War-era U.S. policymakers, preoccupied with Europe and
East Asia as the main theaters of action, the Gulf prior to 1980
had figured as something of a sideshow. Jimmy Carter now changed
all that, thrusting the Gulf into the uppermost tier of U.S. geopolitical
... U.S. strategy in the Middle East from
the 1940s through the 1970s adhered to the principle known as
economy of force. Rather than establishing a large presence in
the region, Roosevelt's successors sought to achieve their objectives
in ways that entailed a minimal expenditure of American resources
and especially of U.S. military power. From time to time, when
absolutely necessary, Washington might organize a brief show of
force-for example, in 1946 when Harry Truman ordered the USS Missouri
to the eastern Mediterranean to warn the Soviets to cease meddling
in Turkey, or in 1958 when Dwight D. Eisenhower sent U.S. Marines
into Lebanon for a brief, bloodless occupation-but these modest
gestures proved to be the exception rather than the rule.
The clear preference was for a low profile
and a hidden hand. Although by no means averse to engineering
"regime change" when necessary, preferred covert action
to the direct use of force; the CIA coup that in 1953 overthrew
Mohammed Mossadegh in Tehran offers the best-known example. To
police the region, Washington looked to surrogates-through the
1960s British imperial forces and, once Britain withdrew from
"East of Suez," the shah of Iran.' To build up indigenous
self-defense (or regime defense) capabilities of select nations,
it arranged for private contractors to provide weapons, training,
and advice-an indirect way of employing U.S. military expertise.
The Vinnell Corporation's ongoing "modernization" of
the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), a project now well over
a quarter century old, remains a prime example.
By the end of 1979, however, two events
had left this approach in a shambles. The first was the Iranian
Revolution, which sent the shah into exile and installed in Tehran
an Islamist regime adamantly hostile to the United States. The
second was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which put the Red
Army in a position where it appeared to pose a direct threat to
the entire Persian Gulf and hence to the West's oil supply.
Faced with these twin crises, Jimmy Carter
concluded that treating the Middle East as a secondary theater,
ancillary to the Cold War, no longer made sense. A great contest
for control of that region had been joined, one that Iran's Ayatollah
Khomeini had made unmistakably clear was not simply an offshoot
of the already existing East-West competition. This was something
Rejecting out of hand any possibility
that the United States might come to terms with or accommodate
itself to the changes afoot in the Persian Gulf, Carter claimed
for the United States a central role in determining exactly what
those changes would be. In January 1980, to forestall any further
deterioration of the U.S. position in the Gulf, he threw the weight
of American military power into the balance.
In his State of the Union Address of that
year, the president enunciated what became known as the Carter
Doctrine. "An attempt by any outside force to gain control
of the Persian Gulf region," he declared, "will be regarded
as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America,
and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including
From Carter's time down to the present
day, the doctrine bearing his name has remained sacrosanct. As
a consequence, each of President Carter's successors has expanded
the level of U.S. military involvement and operations in the region.
Even today, American political leaders cling to their belief that
the skillful application of military power will enable the United
States to decide the fate not simply of the Persian Gulf proper
but-to use the more expansive terminology of the present day-of
the entire Greater Middle East. This gigantic project is the true
World War IV, begun in 1980 an now well into its third decade.
What was true of the three other presidents who had committed
the United States to world wars-Wilson, FDR, and Truman-remained
true in the case of President Carter and World War IV as well.
The overarching motive for action was the preservation of the
American way of life.
By the beginning of 1980-facing the prospect
of a very tough fight for reelection later that year-a chastened
jimmy Carter had learned a hard lesson: it was not the prospect
of making do with less that sustained American-style liberal democracy
but the promise of more. By the time that he enunciated the Carter
Doctrine, the president had come to realize that the themes of
his "Crisis of Confidence" speech six months before-sacrifice,
conservation, lowered expectations, personal inconvenience endured
on behalf of the common good-were political nonstarters. What
Americans wanted for themselves and demanded from their government
was freedom, defined as more choice, more opportunity, and above
all greater abundance, measured in material terms. That meant
that they (along with other developed nations whose own prosperity
helped sustain that of the United States) needed assured access
to cheap oil and lots of it.
In promulgating the Carter Doctrine, the
president was effectively renouncing his vision of a less materialistic,
more self-reliant democracy. His about-face did not achieve its
intended political purpose of enabling him to preserve his hold
on the White House-Ronald Reagan had already tagged Carter as
a pessimist whose temperament was at odds with the rest of the
country-but it did put in motion a huge shift in U.S. military
policy, the implications of which gradually appeared over the
course of the next two decades.
Critics might cavil that the resulting
militarization of U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf amounted to
a devil's bargain, trading blood for oil. Carter saw things differently.
The contract had a third element. On the surface the exchange
might entail blood-for-oil, but beneath the surface the aim was
to guarantee the ever-increasing affluence that underwrites the
modern American conception of liberty. Without exception, every
one of President Carter's successors has tacitly endorsed this
formula. It is in this sense that World War IV and the new American
militarism manifest the American will to be free.
"Even if there were no Soviet Union," wrote the authors
of NSC-68 in the spring of 1950, "we would face the great
problem of the free society, accentuated many fold in this industrial
age, of reconciling order, security, the need for participation,
with the requirement of freedom. We would face the fact that in
a shrinking world the absence of order among nations is becoming
less and less tolerable."
Drafted during some of the most challenging
days of the Cold War, NSC-68 remained the definitive statement
of U.S. grand strategy during World War III. Some three decades
later, with the Soviet Union headed toward oblivion, the great
problem of the free society to which NSC-68 alluded had become
if anything more acute. As far as the United States was concerned,
the world had continued to shrink, and the absence of order had
become less tolerable still, especially if disorder erupted in
a region critical to America's own economic well-being.
The combination of interests and disorder
that gave rise to World War IV did not soon yield a statement
of U.S. grand strategy comparable to NSC-68. Conceiving the principles
to guide U.S. policy in World War IV turned out to be a more daunting
proposition than it had been during any of the three previous
world wars. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. policymakers
grappled with this challenge, reacting to crises as they occurred
and then insisting after the fact that their actions conformed
to some larger design. In fact, only after 9/11 did a fully articulated
grand strategy emerge, with George W. Bush seeing the antidote
to intolerable disorder as the transformation of the Greater Middle
East through the sustained use of military power.
Further complicating this challenge of
devising a strategy for World War IV was the fundamental incompatibility
of two competing U.S. interests in the region. During the last
quarter of the twentieth century, the importance that the United
States attached to each of these interests grew. At the same time,
so too did the difficulty of reconciling one with the other.
On the one hand was a dependence on oil
from the Middle East that steadily increased over time. Dependence
meant vulnerability, as the crippling oil shocks of the 1970s,
administered by the Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC),
amply demonstrated. During the latter half of the twentieth century,
that vulnerability inexorably grew as the United States depleted
its once fabulous domestic sources of petroleum. As late as World
War II, the United States itself had been the world's Saudi Arabia,
producing enough oil to meet its own needs and that of its friends
and allies." By the end of the twentieth century, with Americans
consuming one out of every four barrels of oil produced worldwide,
remaining U.S. reserves accounted for less than 2 percent of the
world's total. The United Arab Emirates and tiny Kuwait alone
each had reserves four times larger than the United States', Iraq
almost six times greater, and Saudi Arabia twelve times greater.
Projections showed the leverage of Persian Gulf producers mushrooming
in the years to come, with oil exports from the region expected
to account for between 54 percent and 67 percent of world totals
Juxtaposed against Arab oil was Israel.
America's commitment to the security and well-being of the Jewish
state complicated U.S. efforts to maintain cordial relations with
oil-exporting states in the Gulf. Prior to the Six Day War, the
United States had tried to manage this problem by maintaining
a certain equidistance in matters relating to the Arab-Israeli
dispute, supporting Israel's right to exist but resisting Israeli
entreaties to forge a strategic partnership. After 1967, that
changed dramatically. The United States became Israel's preeminent
international supporter and a generous supplier of economic and
Donald Kagan, September 2002
"We we'll probably need a major concentration of forces in
the Middle East over a long period of time... "If we have
a force in Iraq, there will be no disruption in oil supplies."
The progressive militarization of U.S. policy since Vietnam-especially
U.S. policy as it related to the Middle East-had acquired a momentum
to which the events of September 11 only added. Furthermore,
the aura that by 2001 had come to suffuse American attitudes toward
war, soldiers, and military institutions had dulled the capacity
of the American people to think critically about the actual limits
of military power.
Nowhere had those attitudes gained a deeper
lodgment than in the upper echelons of the younger Bush's administration.
The experiences of the previous thirty years had thoroughly militarized
the self-described Vulcans to whom the president turned in shaping
his global war on terror both in formulating grand statements
like his National Security Strategy and in planning campaigns
like the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Theirs was a vision,
writes James Mann, of "a United States whose military power
was so awesome that it no longer needed to make compromises or
accommodations (unless it chose to do so) with any other nation
or groups of countries." Their confidence in the competence
and bravery of the American soldier and in the effectiveness of
American arms was without limit. So too was their confidence in
their own ability to make war do their bidding. They had drunk
deeply of the waters that sustained the new American militarism.
As the epigraph to his book on Vietnam, Norman Podhoretz chose
a quotation from Bismarck. "Woe to the statesman whose reasons
for entering a war do not appear so plausible at its end as at
its beginning."" For the architects of the global war
on terror-not only President Bush himself, but also Dick Cheney,
Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Paul Wolfowitz-it's too
late to heed the Iron Chancellor's warning. Their reputations
have suffered near irreparable damage. But the outsized conflict
that is their principal handiwork continues.
As this is written, the outcome of World
War IV hangs very much in the balance. American shortsightedness
played a large role in creating this war. American hubris has
complicated it unnecessarily, emboldening the enemy, alienating
old allies, and bringing U.S. forces close to exhaustion. Yet
like it or not, Americans are now stuck with their misbegotten
God forbid that the United States should
fail, allowing the likes of Osama bin Laden and his henchmen to
decide the future of the Islamic world.
Still, even if the United States ultimately
prevails-thereby reinvigorating the several conceits informing
the new American militarism-the prospects for the future will
be hardly less discouraging. On the far side of World War IV,
a time which we are not presently given to see, there await others
who will not readily concede to the United States the prerogatives
and the dominion that Americans have come to expect as their due.
The ensuing collision between American requirements and a noncompliant
world will provide the impetus for more crusades. Each in turn
will be justified in terms of ideals rather than interests, but
together they may well doom the United States to fight perpetual
wars in a vain effort to satisfy our craving for freedom without
limit and without end.
... the Preamble of the Constitution expressly situates military
power at the center of the brief litany of purpose enumerating
the collective aspirations of "we the people." It was
"to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure
domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote
the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves
and our posterity" that they acted in promulgating what remains
the fundamental law of the land.
Whether considering George H. W. Bush's
1992 incursion into Somalia, Bill Clinton's 1999 war for Kosovo,
or George W. Bush's 2003 crusade to overthrow Saddam Hussein,
the growing U.S. predilection for military intervention in recent
years has so mangled the concept of common defense as to make
it all but unrecognizable.
The beginning of wisdom-and a major first
step in repealing the new American militarism-lies in making the
foundational statement of intent contained in the Preamble once
again the basis of actual policy. Only if citizens remind themselves
and remind those exercising political authority why this nation
exists will it be possible to restore the proper relationship
between military power and that purpose, which centers not on
global dominance but on enabling Americans to enjoy the blessings
In practice, presidents in consultation with a small circle of
advisers decide on the use of force; the legislative branch then
either meekly bows to the wishes of the executive or provides
the sort of broad authorization (such as the Tonkin Gulf Resolution
of 1964) that amounts in effect to an abrogation of direct responsibility.
The result, especially in evidence since the end of World War
II, has been to eviscerate Article I, Section 8, Clause II of
the Constitution, which in the plainest of language confers on
the Congress the power "To declare War."
The problem is not that the presidency
has become too strong. Rather, the problem is that the Congress
has failed-indeed, failed egregiously-to fulfill its constitutional
responsibility for deciding when and if the United States should
undertake military interventions abroad. Hiding behind an ostensible
obligation to "support our commander-in-chief" or to
"support the troops," the Congress has time and again
shirked its duty.
An essential step toward curbing the new
American militarism is to redress this imbalance in war powers
and to call upon the Congress to reclaim its constitutionally
mandated prerogatives. Indeed, legislators should insist upon
a strict constructionist definition of war such that any use of
force other than in direct and immediate defense of the United
States should require prior congressional approval.
An imperial America will have need for military officers with
just the right touch when it comes to meting out fear, violence,
and money to pacify those classified in former days as wogs. But
those citizens who prefer an American republic to an American
empire ought to view the changes under way in the U.S. armed forces
One way that a republic safeguards itself
against militarism is to ensure that the army has deep roots among
the people. "Standing armies threaten government by the people,"
the soldier-historian John McAuley Palmer observed between the
world wars, "not because they consciously seek to pervert
liberty, but because they relieve the people themselves of the
duty of self-defense." A people placing responsibility for
national defense in the hands of "a special class" render
themselves "unfit for liberty." Therefore, concluded
General Palmer, "an enduring government by the people must
include an army of the people among its vital institutions."
Indeed, the ideal relationship between the armed forces and democratic
society is a symbiotic one, in which each draws nourishment from
the other. Symbiosis implies intimacy. In a civil-military context,
it entails a continuous process of rotation in which the ongoing
incorporation of citizens into the ranks renews the army, while
the return to civilian life of discharged veterans, understanding
at first hand the meaning of service, renews civic life.
Whatever its other merits, the present-day
professionalized force is not conducive to this civil-military
intimacy. Indeed, to the extent that the members of the AVF see
themselves as professionals-members of a warrior caste adhering
to their own distinctive code-they have little interest in nurturing
a close relationship with civilian society. In an off-the-cuff
remark just prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the citizen-soldiers of the
pre-AVF era as "adding no value, no advantage, really, to
the United States armed services." The "churning that
took place," he said, "took [an] enormous amount of
effort in terms of training, and then they were gone." According
to Rumsfeld, rotating large numbers of citizens through the military
had been more trouble than it was worth. Present-day military
leaders, imbued with a narrowly utilitarian view of recruitment
and retention, tend to share that conviction. As a consequence,
they are untroubled by the extent to which the armed services
have become anything but representative of that society. It is
not something on which they place any particular value.
But the rest of us ought to: the issue
is an important one. In terms of race, region, religion, and ethnicity,
but above all in terms of class, America's armed services should-as
they once did, at least in a rough way-mirror society. This does
not mean that all must serve, but it does mean that the burdens
(and benefits) of service to the commonweal should fall evenly
across all sectors of society.
What does this mean in practical terms?
It does not mean a return to conscription, for which little or
no discernible political support exists. It does mean creating
mechanisms that will reawaken in privileged America a willingness
to serve as those who are less privileged already do. Other writers
have outlined in detail what some of those mechanisms might be.
They include shorter enlistments, more generous signing bonuses,
greater flexibility in retirement options, the forgiveness of
college loans upon completion of a term of service, and passage
of a new GI Bill that on principle ties federal education grants
to citizen service. Put bluntly, citizens who defend the country
should get a free college education; those who choose not to do
so ought to pay their own way.
How will having a military that reflects
society affect prevailing attitudes regarding war and the use
of force? Persuading at least some among the sons and daughters
of the elite to serve will elevate the risk of domestic blowback
if interventions go awry, inducing presidents to exercise greater
caution in making decisions that put Americans at risk in the
first place. Moreover, as military veterans who are members of
that elite eventually take their places in Congress, as editors
of newspapers and journals of opinion, and at the head of major
national institutions, their voices will help to counter unrealistic
expectations about what wars can accomplish and what they cost.
The final principle, disregarded for far too long, is to reconcile
the American military profession to American society. If the army
of a republic ought to be rooted in society, so too should the
officer corps. In the United States, however, this is not the
... As the U.S. military profession reached
full maturity during the course of the twentieth century, the
officer corps remained aloof from the rest of America. Officers
lived and played in special communities called "forts"
that served no military purpose as such-Fort Bliss, Texas, does
not defend El Paso, nor does Fort Lewis, Washington, defend Tacoma-apart
from clearly delineating a largely self-contained existence.
All of these efforts to carefully distinguish
between "us" and "them" soldiers vs. civilians,
warriors vs. politicians-once made a certain amount of sense.
But much like the nineteenth-century uniforms in which twentyfirst-century
West Point cadets continue to parade about, they no longer do.
In the contemporary marketplace, lawyers
and doctors have discovered that the traditional model of a self-governing
and autonomous profession is no longer viable. The same applies
to the officer corps in relation to the contemporary international
The idea that war and politics constitute
two distinct and separate spheres has always been a fiction. In
the present day, with interstate conventional armed conflict becoming
increasingly rare even as the use of violence wielded by nonstate
actors employing unconventional methods is seemingly on the rise,
that fiction has become altogether pernicious.
The dangers facing the United States as
it attempts to navigate through that world are formidable. So
too are the challenges confronting the American military profession.
As Washington's appetite for armed intervention has grown, the
burdens imposed on the members of that profession have increased,
becoming heavier with each passing year. The military's institutional
memory, manifesting itself in an abiding suspicion of civilians
and a preoccupation with obsolete prerogatives, makes those burdens
heavier still. The danger that they may become unbearable-as in
Vietnam they did, leading to both defeat and disgrace-is real.
In short, soldiers must recognize that
to save their profession they must change it, either taking the
initiative to do so on their own or submitting to change imposed
from without." Specifically, soldiers must embrace without
reservation two fundamental truths to which the officer corps
has heretofore paid the barest lip service. The first truth is
that war is the handmaiden of politics, not its co-equal and certainly
not its arbiter. The second is that harmonizing war with politics,
whether American politics or international politics, requires
efforts to bind the military profession to the "outside world"
rather than vainly struggling to keep that world at bay. The times
call not for isolation but for integration, not for propping up
old barriers but for tearing them down or at least making them
permeable. Relevant to the purpose of this account, binding the
officer corps more closely to society will have the ancillary
benefit of reducing the likelihood of the armed services running
amok or engaging in politically irresponsible behavior.
In a valedictory marking his withdrawal from public life, George
Washington pointly advised his fellow citizens to be wary of "those
overgrown military establishments which, under any form of government,
are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly
hostile to republican liberty.
Himself a soldier of surpassing greatness,
Washington was hardly a naïf in matters related to war and
peace. He did not see military power as inherently evil. He considered
the maintenance of a respectable army to be essential to a nation's
well-being. Those citizens who rallied to their country's defense
in its time of need he held in highest esteem.
But of this Washington was certain: to
cultivate military power for its own sake and to indulge in the
ambitions to which large armies gave rise was alien to the entire
conception of the New World. To seek safety in an overgrown military
establishment was to replicate the errors of the Old World, home
to kings and sepulchres and empires but not to freedom and republican
In 1796, Washington's warning verged on
being superfluous; antipathy toward war and a skepticism of armies
were at that juncture hardwired into the American self-identity.
Two hundred years later, with Europe and the United States having
in so many respects reversed roles, his warning has acquired considerable
The twentieth century was a shipwreck.
For the Old World, horrendous slaughter once and for all washed
away any lingering misapprehensions about war. Not so for the
rising power of the New World, which chose to see "the American
Century" as a story of triumph, not tragedy, and which drew
from the military record of that century radically different conclusions.
Misremembering both bad wars and good, Americans fostered a fresh
set of illusions. These illusions-not only or even in particular
our outsized martial pretensions-constitute the heart of the problem
that is present-day American militarism. For from these illusions
come expectations that George Washington for one would find astonishing:
that through the determined exercise of its unquestioned military
dominance the United States can perpetuate American global primacy
and impress its values on the world at large.
If it persists in these expectations,
then America will surely share the fate of all those who in ages
past have looked to war and military power to fulfill their destiny.
We will rob future generations of their rightful inheritance.
We will wreak havoc abroad. We will endanger our security at home.
We will risk the forfeiture of all that we prize.
The new American militarism materialized
as a reaction to profound disorientation and collective distress.
In the wake of a humiliating defeat and a closely related cultural
upheaval, restoring the sinews of U.S. military might, celebrating
soldierly virtue, and contriving ways to restore the utility of
force seemed in some quarters to offer an antidote. The ailments
were real, but the remedy turned out to be toxic. Over the course
of three decades, increasingly frequent recurrence to that remedy
has produced an addiction at least as harmful as the condition
it was intended to cure.
There can be no recovery without first
acknowledging the disease. As with any addiction, denial merely
postpones the inevitable day of reckoning.
New American Militarism