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Bacevich, Frank Debate Foreign Policy

The following article appears in MAPA’s spring newsletter

Bacevich, Frank Debate Foreign Policy at Annual Meeting

St. Ignatius Parish at Boston College was buzzing February 8 as some 140 people from across the state attended Massachusetts Peace Action’s 2014 Annual Meeting.

Shelagh Foreman, Program Director, presen­ted the 2014 program update. “When the people organize we can move the government to nego­tiate and prevent a war,” she declared. She outlined MAPA’s work and plans for work on Iran, Palestine/Israel, Afghanistan, Budget for All, conversion of the military economy to a peaceful green economy, and Asia/Pacific.  She said that MAPA aims to develop an alternative in which the United States would engage in a peaceful, cooperative, and sustainable world.

Andrew Bacevich, professor of International Relations and History at Boston University, was the first keynote speaker.  As the author of the book The New American Militarism, Bacevich was asked to answer: Why is the United States the world’s policeman and what is the alternative?”

Bacevich offered seven reasons why America polices areas of the world that we consider important:?

  • Aspirations to collective greatness, from the start of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
  • American exceptionalism?
  • Extraordinary favorable geography and resources?
  • Shrewd, ruthless, and opportunistic leaders?
  • Stupid adversaries, such as Japan, Germany, and the USSR, which imploded?
  • Belief that our global leadership is good and necessary?
  • Institutions that sustain and feed on our global dominance: military-industrial and media.

Bacevich proposed an alternative: a condominium of great powers that, to achieve stability, would agree to compete without resorting to violence. Establish such a condominium, if possible, would be difficult, requiring the U.S. to surrender its hegemonic prerogatives.  Old enemies would have to forget grudges, peace groups would have to become more effective, and Americans would somehow have to overcome powerful institutions and stubborn beliefs to understand their need for a more cooperative foreign policy.

Barney Frank served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 to 2013. He was a charismatic speaker who captured the audience with his charm and political humor.

Frank began by agreeing with Bacevich that the factors driving excessive military spending and global interventions are far broader than the military industrial complex:

  • Ideological and philosophical arguments saying that America is the indispensable global policeman
  • Fear of powerful enemies in WWII and the Cold War ?
  • Mocking of Democratic Presidential candidates if not seen as tough ?
  • Excessive fear of terrorists after 9/11 ?
  • A peace movement too focused on feel-good engagement with sympathizers.

Frank ended optimistically: “I think there is now broad public agreement on the goal of ending the interventionism and of reducing the military budget,  and with the right kind of political action, I am now more optimistic about this than I have ever been.”  He recommended that we exploit our majority among Americans, and use our networks of activists to pressure local and federal officials – demonstrations don’t work, he said. Frank pointed out that nuclear submarines don’t help control terrorists, and called for an urgent campaign to end the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

After the guest speakers, people were given the opportunity to choose a workshop that focused on, Israel/Palestine, War in Afghanistan/Pakistan, Peace economy, Asia/Pacific Pivot and the Trans Pacific Partnership, and Iran and the Middle East.