"We have presidential elections as a substitute for serious democratic politics" – that’s what Andrew Bacevich says. He’s been writing and teaching history and international relations at Boston University, after spending 23 years in the army and retiring as a colonel.
What would serious democratic politics look like? First of all, Bacevich says, we need a real debate about the idea of a global war on terror. Then we need a debate on what he calls our "empire of consumption."
"Obama and McCain agree on the global war on terror," he points out: McCain wants to fight it in Iraq, Obama in Afghanistan. "My own preference would be for an election in which we had one candidate making the case for the global war on terror – that would be McCain – but we would have an opponent who would make the case that the concept of global war as the response to violent Islamic radicalism is flawed. We ought not be in the business of invading and occupying other countries. That’s not going to address the threat. It is, on the other hand, going to bankrupt the country and break the military."
How then should we respond to the threat? Bacevich favors a "defensive" strategy of "containment." We need a president who acknowledges that it is not our job to "tutor Muslims in matters related to freedom and the proper relationship between politics and religion." He concludes, "Let Islam be Islam."
But he’s not one of those radicals who argue there is no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. "I call myself an Obama-con, Bacevich says, "a conservative who will vote for Obama – because of the Iraq war. He has vowed that he will end the war and withdraw US combat forces. If he does that, it will render a verdict on the Iraq war: that it was a mistake and a failure. That verdict might open up the possibility for a debate about the fundamentals of US foreign policy. If McCain gets elected, the chances of us having that debate are close to zero."
We shouldn’t blame George Bush for the underlying assumptions of the global war on terror, Bacevich argues. "Really it was Bill Clinton who more than anybody else made armed intervention a routine aspect of American political life. Yes, George Hebert Walker Bush started the ball rolling with the overthrow of Noriega in Panama followed by Desert Storm followed by the intervention in Somalia. But Clinton picked up the baton in Somalia; Clinton went into Haiti; Clinton went into Bosnia, Clinton went into Kosovo, Clinton pummeled Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan with bombs and missiles. So there’s blame to be shared by both parties."