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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

on 3 November 2010
Washington Rules is the book that you'd hope that everyone in power would read, especially in the western democracies, and of course in the USA. But they won't, and if they did, they'd ignore it. Especially in the USA. Andrew Bacevich is in no two minds about this, indeed his book even underlines the fact.

Written by a Boston history professor who in a previous existence was a professional American soldier with the rank of colonel, the book examines clearly and succinctly just what the US is up to as it performs its self-appointed role of global policeman and why it feels it necessary to perform this task at all.

Bacevich experienced an epiphany when, still in the army, he visited East Germany when the Wall came down. So this was the mighty foe he had spent his professional existence combating - a nation of run-down factories, crumbling infrastructure and antiquated cars. It dawned on him that the image he had been given of an all-powerful menace which might leap into aggressive action at any given moment, was something less than the truth. It sparked his own education, a desire to understand what were the mechanics behind US actions.

What he came up with, and what the book examines, was that the US has been acting for the entire post-war period under a credo which states that the US, and the US alone, should lead, save, liberate and ultimately transform the world, for such purposes as it sees fit, and in any way that it sees fit. This problematic credo - problematic for the rest of the globe, which hasn't much asked to be led, saved, liberated or transformed - is enacted through what Bacevich describes as a sacred trinity of global military presence, global power projection, and global interventionism. Suddenly, America's actions since WW2 all start to make sense. Taken together, the credo and the trinity make up what Bacevich terms the Washington Rules, which are so sacrosanct that changes of presidents and alternating parties in power have absolutely no effect on them - or how the US conducts itself abroad.

Bacevich must have been wasted in the army. His prose is clear, highly readable and written stylishly. His thesis is similarly well exposed, and easy to follow. As you accompany him through his synopsis of America's involvement in wars from Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf and Afghanistan, all the elements of the jigsaw fall into place. His straw man imaginings of how we would all feel if China decided to act exactly as the US has done - military bases and personnel all around the globe, more military spending than the rest of the world put together, a stockpile of nuclear weapons that vastly exceeds anything that it could reasonably ever find a use for - are chilling. Could this not be how many of the world's inhabitants feel about US intentions?

The fact that the author has devoted a fair chunk of his adult life to toiling in the service of the Washington Rules only makes his narrative more credible.

So where will it all end? Bacevich implies, in bankruptcy. The level of US debt and the cost of servicing that debt, will mean that the prodigious amounts spent on "defence" are unsustainable over time. But the Washington Rules are so ingrained, and benefit the cabal of the powerful to such a degree, that they are unlikely to be abandoned until American society finally implodes and is sucked into a financial maelstrom. The author makes the point that if the Americans only spent their considerable wealth and resources on themselves and fixing their own society and leaving everyone else alone, they would all be a lot richer and happier. It is ironic that a country so increasingly obsessed with God and religion, who feel themselves to be the chosen ones, should be so impervious to the admonition to "remove the plank from your own eye before you attempt to remove the mote of dust from your neighbour's". But they just can't see it.

Does this book tell us what we didn't already know or at least strongly suspect? Not really, if you have any interest in this sort of thing. But Bacevich's contribution is in the clarity of his exposition. It is so limpid, you wonder just how the western world - with the British establishment foremost among it - can be so duped. As for the population of the US itself, with its Tea Parties, it's fundamentalism and its increasing drift to the right, it increasingly looks as if it is in some propaganda-injected stupor from which it might never awake. Don't expect global peace anytime soon.
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on 22 July 2017
Clean copy, arrived on time.Thank you.
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on 14 September 2014
Well parented and clearly argued analysis using the knowledge gained in a long military career. Not a new critique of us foreign policy but a worthwhile
Addition nonetheless
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 20 December 2010
Five ENGROSSING Stars!! This is Andrew J Bacevich's outstanding, deeply researched, hard-hitting work of scholarship, assessing America's national and foreign policies as well as the personalities and groups that have led us into the business of confrontation, power projection, and war, time and time again. Essentially this book is the outgrowth of Mr. Bacevich's 20 year self-education, which began at the age of 41 as a military officer who began to see the international world in a new light based on an epiphany at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. Looking at well over six decades of wartime policy and actions in the "American Century", Mr Bacevich discloses the "Washington Rules" and the credo wherein the USA has assumed the mantle of attempting to "lead, save, liberate, and transform" the world to assure international order and peace. He takes us from the Truman-era administrations to the Obama administration, detailing how the "sacred trinity" of global military presence, global power projection, global interventionism is used to achieve those ends, using his "Washington Rules" as the template. The Jimmy Carter segment was particularly eye-opening. Mr Bacevich shows that regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats are in power, the US has had an attitude that we are uniquely qualified to take on the worldwide foes of peace and democracy, forgetting, revising, or ignoring the painful lessons of World War II, Vietnam, and beyond that might have taken the USA into periods of unprecedented peace, instead of numerous conflicts. Lessons that the author shows President Obama is clearly in the midst of learning, using a modified sacred trinity. Written in engaging prose, this is a very absorbing work of research with sections that some may find very troubling based on the decisions of our leaders. If I could recommend one book that President Obama and the Congress should read, this is it. But it should also be read by those who were and were not alive during our 20th Century to 21st Century wars and military encounters. My Highest Recommendation! Five ABSORBING Stars!! (This review is based on a Kindle download in iPhone mode and Kindle text-to-speech mode.)
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on 9 October 2012
This is a highly informed and passionate writing of the state America finds itself in with respect to the rest of the world: i.e a state of permanent war driven by the belief of a section of America's ruling class that the country needs to be constantly fighting new enemies (Korea, Vietnam, The USSR, the Taliban, Saddam etc) as a reason or pretext for the projection and spreading of American influence. And for profit.

Americans, it seems, believe in a providential right to be the world's policeman and to intervene where and how they deem fit (for peace and democracy, ostensibly). So we have this travesty: three thousand Americans die in 9/11 and the whole world has to pay. Half a million Iraqi children die from US sanctions and Madeline Albright, the Secretary of State, says: "It's a hard choice, but I think, we think, it's worth it".

I have met a few Americans (on the right) who are always bemoaning the size of the US debt and wailing about how the country is going to pay for (healthcare, education, infrastructure etc). Bacevich quotes Ike Eisenhower: "The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities; two fine, fully equipped hospitals ...". This was in the 1950s. Paradoxically, the citizens of god's own country would rather fellow citizens die from waste than give up making bombs. Bacevich believes that it is time America attends to home issues and focuses on becoming an example of a prosperous and thriving democracy; this being more fruitful than the ruinous path on which the country seems bent on taking.

Well researched and well-written.
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