Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
It was a large banner and its message was clear. It read: "Mission Accomplished," and no, I don't mean the classic "mission accomplished" banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln under which, on May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush proudly proclaimed (to the derision of critics ever since) that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." I'm actually referring to a September 1982 banner with those same two words (and an added "farewell" below them) displayed on a landing craft picking up the last Marines sent ashore in Beirut, Lebanon, to be, as President Ronald Reagan put it when they arrived the previous August, "what Marines have been for more than 200 years -- peace-makers." Of course, when Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the Abraham Lincoln and made his now-classic statement, major combat had barely begun in Iraq (and it has yet to end) -- nor was it peace that came to Beirut in September 1982: infamously, the following year 241 Marines would die there in a single day, thanks to a suicide bomber.
"Not for the last time," writes Andrew Bacevich in his monumental new work, America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, "the claim proved to be illusory." Indeed, one of the grim and eerie wonders of his book is the way in which just about every wrongheaded thing Washington did in that region in the 14-plus years since 9/11 had its surprising precursor in the two decades of American war there before the World Trade Center towers came down. U.S. military trainers and advisers, for example, failed (as they later would in Iraq and Afghanistan) to successfully build armies, starting with the Lebanese one; Bush's "preventive war" had its predecessor in a Reagan directive called (ominously enough given what was to come) "combating terrorism"; Washington's obsessive belief of recent years that problems in the region could be solved by what Andrew Cockburn has called the "kingpin strategy" -- the urge to dismantle terror organizations by taking out their leadership via drones or special operations raids -- had its precursor in "decapitation" operations against Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid with similar resulting mayhem. The belief that "an additional increment of combat power might turn around a failing endeavor" -- call it a "surge," if you will -- had its Iraq and Afghan pretrial run in Somalia in 1993. And above all, of course, there was Washington's unquenchable post-1980 urge to intervene, military first, in a decisive way throughout the region, which, as Bacevich writes, only "produced conditions conducive to further violence and further disorder," and if that isn't the repetitive history of America's failed post-2001 wars in a nutshell, what is?
As it happened, the effects of such actions from 1980 on were felt not just in the Greater Middle East and Africa, but in the United States, too. There, as Andrew Bacevich writes in his latest TomDispatch piece, "Writing a Blank Check on War for the President," war became a blank-check activity for a White House no longer either checked (in any sense) or balanced by Congress. Think of it as another sad tale of a surge (or do I mean a decapitation?) that went wrong.