Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules. An appreciation

Boston University Professor of History and International Relations Andrew Bacevich’s latest book about re-setting the course of U.S. foreign policy is a beacon of light to those who have eyes to see and an open mind to reason. To find out why, read on…


Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules. An appreciation



Very few works by leading U.S. scholars in International Relations offer a strategic critique of the whole of American foreign policy since WWII and of the establishment which monopolizes discussion of the mess we are in. Still fewer leading U.S. scholars are able and/or willing to sketch a path out of the present cul-de-sac.


In his book Washington Rules, released in early September 2010, Boston University’s Professor of History and International Relations Andrew Bacevich has shown himself to be the rare exception. His work is profoundly honest, lucid and well-reasoned. It is not merely
educational but also unflinchingly directional. I particularly appreciate the rigor he has shown focusing attention at the end on the two potential levers for breaking the establishment’s intellectual monopoly and opening up foreign policy to discussion of fundamentals.

Re-educating the public about the history of its security establishment over the past sixty years is an admirable if Sisyphus-like mission. It will not turn around the over-militarized and now failing policies we have pursued since the end of the Cold War unless and until it takes a political-organizational form.  Reinstating the draft and reinstating the balanced budget, which is what Andrew Bacevich is talking about at the end of this book, are cutting-edge issues which can ultimately overturn the Washington rules without waiting for the Revolution (heaven help us!) or the Economic Collapse (ditto) inherent in the national security policies now being pursued. 

In my view both issues have a better chance of finding resonance in the nominally Conservative camp of American politics, divided as it is between realists and idealists, than in the nominally Liberal camp, with its wholehearted devotion to the Wilsonian idealist tradition underpinning the Washington rules.


A proof by analogy that this is so has been provided in the past several weeks by Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, who has, under pressure from severe budgetary constraints, signaled that he may yet move away from the Trident submarine missile program. If carried out, this would mark a fundamental rethinking of Britain’s overall strategy of projecting power abroad and of its civilian versus military priorities in belt-tightening such as his counterpart in the White House has till now evaded.


I heartily recommend Washington Rules to everyone with an open mind, ready to be challenged by someone who, having completed a successful career as a U.S. military officer before becoming an historian and scholar, can explain with greater authority than most not just what is wrongheaded about America’s hegemonic foreign policy and global military presence, but specifically why our presently idolized General David Petraeus and his policy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan is just revisiting Robert McNamara’s failed policies from the Vietnam war days.

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2010

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G. Doctorow is a 2010-2011 Visiting Scholar of the Harriman (Russian) Institute of Columbia University and author of the newly published Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers on International Relations. ISBN-13 9781453764473. Now available from in paperback and downloadable e-book edition, as well as via Amazon sites in Europe and Japan. At Barnes & Noble and select book stores.