Bacevich, a historian and retired U.S. Army officer, brings welcome expertise to what he sees as the militarization of U.S. policy in the Middle East, which he dates to President Jimmy Carter’s 1979 decision to defend the Persian Gulf region. Since then, by Bacevich’s reckoning, the United States has been embroiled in four wars in the Middle East (the Iran-Iraq War, the 1990–91 Gulf War, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the current military campaign against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS), plus the military excursions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Somalia, which Bacevich (somewhat implausibly) links to the Middle East. According to him, all these efforts have been hugely misconceived and badly executed. He is right that Washington’s foreign policy and national security establishments have much to be ashamed of, but he detracts significantly from his analysis by adopting a sneering tone—General Tommy Franks, who led the fight against the Afghan Taliban and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, was “a thin-skinned lout”; the use of airpower in Bosnia was “an exercise in military masturbation”—and by appointing himself as judge and jury and finding nearly everyone guilty. His verdicts would be more credible if he specified any alternatives to the policies and decisions he condemns. But for the most part, readers are left to puzzle out for themselves how the alleged miscreants in Washington might have done better.
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