Final lecture in the “Civility” series takes aim at American involvement in Middle East

Students and community members alike gathered to hear distinguished professor and author Andrew Bacevich give a lecture May 17, which critically addressed the United States’ actions in the global “war on terrorism,” a war he said went far beyond the conventional wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Elsewhere – Pakistan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, for example – U.S. forces have been busily opening up new fronts,” said the West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, who now teaches international relations at Boston University.

Bacevich said the front of the “war on terrorism” has been extended to The Horn of Africa, where the U.S. is “establishing, what has been called a … ‘constellation of secret drone bases.’”

Drones are the latest addition to U.S.’s arsenal in the “war on terrorism,” Bacevich said, adding that the missile-carrying remote-controlled unmanned aircraft are used “to eliminate anyone, not excluding U.S. citizens, that the president of the United States decides to eliminate.”

“Under President Obama, such attacks have proliferated,” he added. “Furthermore, acting on behalf of the United States, the president exercises this supposed right without warning, without congressional authorization … and without consulting anyone other than [Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence] Michael Vickers and a handful of others.”

This new phase of the “war on terror” – that of assassination by drone or special forces unit such as the one that assassinated Osama bin Laden in Pakistan – is unlikely to end soon, said Bacevich, whose son was killed serving in Iraq in 2007.

Bacevich went on to explain that once a nation begins to covertly target suspected insurgents or terrorists for assassination, “the list of targets has a way of becoming infinitely extensive.”

Drones, however, are only the latest modification to a global war that was launched in Afghanistan over a decade ago.

“The war,” Bacevich said, “was formed at the outset by utopian expectations – remember all the rhetoric about eliminating evil and spreading democracy. That war continues today with no concretely stated expectations whatsoever.”

The decade-long conflict, Bacevich said, has gone through three phases: from a liberation phase, characterized by lofty rhetoric of establishing peace and democracy in the greater Middle East and Central Asia; to a pacification phase, a redefining of the strategic aims in Iraq and Afghanistan; to the current assassination phase, characterized by covert unilateral strikes on suspected militants.

“What is incontestable is that the wars have not gone as American soldiers had hoped or expected,” Bacevich said, “nor have they produced the happy results that U.S. policy makers had forecast.”

The missteps in the global “war on terrorism” were largely the missteps of strategists in the Pentagon and White House, Bacevich said, although he also identified the American public as guilty of not engaging itself in the war and demanding more from elected officials.

“We are a nation of people who together lack self-awareness, and that there lies one of the explanations for some of the problems we have in relating to the rest of the world,” he said.

“But if there’s one reason we got ourselves into our present fix,” he said, “it’s immodesty compounded by absence of self-awareness.” To be aware of oneself, the professor said, is necessary to act civilly toward others.

Bacevich’s lecture wrapped up Southern Oregon University’s 2011-2012 “Civility” campus theme lecture series, a series of lectures sponsored by the university throughout the academic year that address the overall campus theme. This year has seen presentations on everything from the Arab Spring to digital censorship.

Next year’s campus theme will be “Happiness,” and the lectures, yet to be announced, will be free and open to the public.


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