Andrew Bacevich

David Warsh: Was ending the draft a big mistake?

On June 5, 1917, young men in New York City registering for the draft during    World War I    .

On June 5, 1917, young men in New York City registering for the draft during World War I .


The news was intriguing:  billionaires George Soros and Charles Koch, polar opposites in much of their philanthropic activism, had joined forces to provide seed funding for a new foreign policy think-tank. The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft is to be dedicated to promoting restraint in the use of American military power abroad. The initiative was first reported by Stephen Kinzer in The Boston Globe, enthusiastically if cautiously seconded by Daniel Drezner in The Washington Post, its plans described in some detail by David Klion in The Nation. The name comes from an 1821 speech by John Quincy Adams.

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

The institute is expected to open its doors in November, with Andrew Bacevich, of Boston University, as president.

The news coincides with the appearance of a striking new account of the creation of an all-volunteer army, in 1973, to replace military conscription in the United States.  Richard Nixon espoused the measure as part of his successful campaign for the presidency in 1968, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

In The Economists’ Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society, by New York Times  reporter Binyamin Appelbaum writes:

The world changes and it’s hard to say why. The United States ended conscription in 1973 because an insecure man named Lyndon Baines Johnson doubled down on a losing hand and because it kept getting harder to teach recruits how to operate new military technology and because the voting age dropped to eighteen and because young men in an increasingly prosperous nation did not want to fight. But it is also true that the United States ended conscription because Milton Friedman persuaded [campaign adviser Martin] Anderson who persuaded Nixon, who won the 1968 election

Congress traditionally authorized a draft as part of a decision to fight a war, The Selective Service Act was passed in 1917, as America prepared to enter World War I.  It served as a model for the Selective Service and Training Act of September 1940, the nation’s first peace-time draft, which was considerably extended after Pearl Harbor. The second peacetime draft, the Selective Service Act of 1948, was passed as the dimensions of the Cold War became apparent. It ceased to be operative after 1973 but was reinstated by President Jimmy Carter in July 1980, in response to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Since then, the volunteer army has been employed in Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq and in countless small-unit actions in Africa and South America. Civilian contractors were employed in numbers roughly equal to the military in large-scale deployments in the Balkans, Iraq, and Afghanistan, according to Appelbaum.

Did a measure designed to remedy one quagmire by professionalizing the military lead to the creation of new quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq, by making the armed forces easier to deploy?  Wikipedia says that no one has been prosecuted for failure to register for the draft since 1986. Did the end of the obligation to serve weaken the bonds of civil society?  The law is still on the books.  Women aren’t required to register: here’s why.

Bacevich is the author of several powerful books critical of America’s interventionist tendencies, beginning, in 2007, with The New American Militarism:  How Americans Are Seducd by War  (Oxford). He says, “I long ago concluded that the creation of the all-volunteer force is the principal source of evil in contemporary American society.”  Look for an increasing level of debate.

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Environmental economist Martin Weitzman’s splendid life and tragic death are related  here by The New York Times, here by the The Washington Post,  and here by The Economist.

David Warsh, an economic historian and veteran columnist, is proprietor of Somerville-based


David Warsh: U.S. foreign policy and the hell of good intentions

The Unisphere, in the New York city borough of Queens.

The Unisphere, in the New York city borough of Queens.


The single hardest thing to understand about Donald Trump is that his dominating foreign-policy concerns are probably shared by a substantial majority of Americans, though not in any detail. Two of these matters are trade and immigration policies, but more fundamental than either is America’s overall posture vis-a-vis China and Russia – its “grand strategy.” The quintessential Manhattan real estate dodger turned television personality turns out to have a pretty good feel for American politics.

Two new books that seek to make sense of Trump’s victory have appeared recently: The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (Yale, 2018), by John Mearsheimer; and The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Stephen Walt. So far, they have been thoroughly ignored. A third book, similarly oriented, by Andrew Bacevich, No Solid Ground: America after the Cold War (Metropolitan) will appear next year.

There is not a great deal of difference between Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s basic views of American foreign policy. This is unsurprising, since the two collaborated on The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, a book published in 2007 after several years of controversy in the making. Then their target was what they considered the disproportionate influence on American foreign policy of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which had been a forceful enthusiast of the war in Iraq. This time their target is the foreign policy community in general.

But instead of trying to make sense of the views of the current occupant of the White House – Walt writes, “[Trump] lacked the acumen, discipline and political support to pull off a judicious revision of U.S. foreign policy, and his inept handling of these issues has undermined US influence without diminishing America’s burdens” – they zero in from different angles on the period between 1993 and 2017, when the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, each in control of foreign policy for eight years, pursued a policy that the authors call “liberal hegemony.”

These were the years of “the end of history” and “the unipolar moment,” when, boasting of having won the Cold War, the U.S. sought to spread its own values around the world. Balance-of-power considerations that had animated US foreign policy for the previous 50 years were put aside. Invasions, humanitarian interventions, and regime change became new instruments of policy. The result, the authors argue, were seven wars, a depleted treasury, a run-down military, and, most of all, diminished US influence around the world.

Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, is a political theorist, and his book is more thorough and austere, with a good deal of attention paid to philosophical matters and the history and logic of nation-states. He makes a closely reasoned case for the virtues of restraint.

Walt, of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is a scrapper. The Hell of Good Intentions is a manifesto for what he calls “off-shore balancing.” Give up on trying to remake the world in America’s image, he advocates; concentrate instead on maintaining a balance of power in three key regions in the Northern hemisphere: Europe, East Asia, and the Persian Gulf.

Two outsiders have tried and failed to reorient foreign policy along these lines, Walt says – first Obama, now Trump. Why has it been so difficult to change course? Political leadership has something to do with it: Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Looking beyond political parties, Walt says, is an amorphous foreign- policy establishment consisting of Foreign Service professionals, multinational corporations, foundations, associations of various sorts, think tanks, and journalists specializing in foreign affairs. Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser, called it “the Blob.” In Because They Could I called it “the Generation of ’91.”

Walt writes: “The foreig- policy establishment will not embrace a strategy that would diminish its own power, status, and sense of self-worth.” And indeed, after 25 years, the hegemony of the liberal hegemonists is pretty complete. As Walt points out, as of 2017, the only editorial columnists at major U.S. newspapers who espouse non-interventionist views of U.S. foreign- policy were Steve Chapman, of the Chicago Tribune, and Stephen Kinzer, of The Boston Globe.

“[I]nstead of being a disciplined body of professionals constrained by a well-informed public and forced by necessity to set priorities and hold themselves accountable, today’s foreign policy elite is a dysfunctional caste of privileged insiders who are frequently disdainful of alternative perspectives and insulated both professionally and personally from the consequences of the policies they promote.’’

How to change the current mindset? Walt says the only way to broaden public debate is to “create a countervailing set of organizations and institutions that can do battle in the marketplace of ideas…. Needless to say,” he continues, “this effort will require significant financial resources drawn from Americans who worry that continuing to pursue liberal hegemony will do serious long-term damage to the United States.”

So it’s not without interest that both Mearsheimer and Walt have been supported by the Charles Koch Foundation, that arch-bugaboo of the liberal establishment. But no one who has read Know Your Enemy: The Rise and Fall of America’s Soviet Experts (2009), by David Engerman, will doubt that America’s foreign-policy establishment needs rebuilding from the ground up. In this respect, strength to at least one arm of the Koch brothers’ political activities, the Charles Koch Institute.

My hunch is that a Post-Trump Generation will take over sometime in the next six years, and gradually remake U.S. politics. The foreign-policy establishment will follow. “Offshore balancing,” after all, is just a new name for an old doctrine — what, in an earlier age, was known as foreign policy realism. Devised through trial and error by Democrat Harry Truman in the early years of the Cold War, it became the animating principle of Republican presidents from Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Could a return to realism come from the Republican Party? Perhaps, though current GOP leadership seems to have been pretty thoroughly hollowed out by its obsequiousness to Trump. A young Democratic Party candidate could campaign successfully on a program of offshore-balancing – but grooming such a candidate takes time. Those interested in defeating Donald Trump in 2020 should consider compromising on Joe Biden, especially if he pledges to serve a single term.

Only a candidate who understood himself to be more a stop-gap than a standard-bearer would make such a pledge, forfeiting an enormous amount of leverage. But Biden is old and wise enough to remember the immense service President Gerald Ford performed in similarly tumultuous circumstances nearly 50 years ago.

David Warsh, an economic historian and long-time columnist, is proprietor of Somerville-based, where this piece first appeared.

PCFR speakers from far and wide

  Speakers at the 2014-15 season of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations ( were:

Anders Corr, a geopolitical analyst and former Defense Department official in Afghanistan, on Chinese expansionism.

Richard George, former high National Security Agency official, on international cyber-security.

Prof. Evodio Kalteneker, on the Brazilian economy and politics.

Professor and journalist Janet Steele on democratic Indonesia.

Jennifer Yanco, a public-health expert and a director of the West Africa Research Association, on the Ebola crisis.

Australian Consul Gen. Nick Minchin, on his nation’s relations with Asia and the U.S.

Delphine Halgand, a high official of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, on threats to free speech and journalism. (She spoke a few days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.)

Amir Afkhami, M.D., a psychiatrist, on dealing with mental illness in war zones, particularly the Mideast.

Military historian and retired Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich on why America should stop fighting wars in the Mideast.

Famed Canadian journalist Diane Francis on why the U.S. and Canada should consider merging.

International landscape architect Thomas Paine on making cities more humane, especially in China.

Admiral Robert Girrier, deputy chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, on countering Chinese expansion in the South China Sea.

Gary Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the Benghazi attack and now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on lessons for the U.S. in Libya and the future of international trade.

The new season looks exciting too. (And maybe even useful for investing decisions.)

We’re still penciling in speakers and dates, but we can say that Cuban-American businessman and civic leader Eduardo Mestre will speak on Sept. 30 about the reopening of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the land of his birth.

Mr. Mestre is a member of the boards of the International Rescue Committee and the Cuba Study Group.

He’s also a senior adviser at Evercore and was previously vice chairman of Citigroup Global Markets and chairman of its Investment Banking Division. Before then, he headed investment banking at Salomon Smith Barney and its predecessor firms from 1995-2001 and was co-head of Salomon Brothers' mergers and acquisitions department in 1989-1995.

Skedded for Oct. 22 is Scott Shane, the New York Times reporter who wrote the new book Objective Troy, about  Anwar al-Awlaki, “the once-celebrated American imam who called for moderation after 9/11, but a man who ultimately directed his outsized talents to the mass murder of his fellow citizens’’ and was eventually killed by an American drone. Among other things, he’ll discuss the moral issues raised by the increasing use of drones.

Some of the people we have on the drafting board for the rest of the season:

A U.N. expert on international refugee crises; a journalist or diplomat who will discuss the Greek crisis; a member of the Federal Reserve Board who will discuss international financial-system challenges; a Japanese journalist to talk about that nation’s increasingly muscular regional posture; an expert on international shipping in light of the widening of the Panama Canal; a status report on Mexico; a Chinese philanthropist; a member of the Ukrainian Congress Committee; (we have been trying for some time to get a Russian official or journalist to give Moscow’s side of the war in eastern Ukraine), and the director of the Aga Khan University Media School to talk about training journalists in the Developing World

All subject to change. We frequently repeat Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s purported response when he was asked what he most feared:

“Events, my dear boy, events.’’

Members should feel free to chime in with suggestions.

Also, we’ll strive to frequently update the PCFR Website with supplemental news and commentary on international matters that may be of interest.

Please consult or message for questions about the PCFR.

Enjoy the rest of the summer!

Robert Whitcomb, chairman


Col. Bacevich to speak on U.S. military actions abroad

  Prof. Andrew Bacevich, a distinguished military historian, political scientist and  retired Army colonel, will be speaking on American military interventions abroad at the meeting Thursday evening of the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations.  With ISIS, Putin's invasion of Ukraine and Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, it will be an interesting evening. Professor Bacevich is a well known skeptic about the utility of American military actions in such places as the Mideast.