Andrew J. Bacevich: Osama bin Laden is Gone, but U.S. War in the Middle East is Here to Stay

Roundup: Historians' Take

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His most recent book, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War, is just out in paperback.

However emotionally satisfying to Americans, Osama bin Laden’s departure from the scene is unlikely to produce definitive results. It does not mark a turning point in history. The conflict commonly referred to as the “war on terror” and thought to have begun on Sept. 11, 2001 will not end with Bin Laden’s death – in large part because that war is not really about terrorism, with the first shots having been fired long before the events of 9/11.

The contest in which we are engaged is one to determine the fate of the greater Middle East, with particular attention to the oil-rich Persian Gulf. That contest began during World War I when Great Britain and France collaborated to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and to replace it with a New Middle East organized to serve the needs of London and Paris. During World War II, the United States became party to this effort when Franklin Roosevelt committed the United States to guaranteeing the safety and well-being of the Saudi royal family, which owned but needed help in exploiting a veritable El Dorado of oil....

The war in which we find ourselves today – honesty should compel us to call it the “war for the American way of life” – was joined in 1980. With the overthrow of Iran’s shah and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the full-scale militarization of US Middle Eastern policy commenced. Jimmy Carter’s promulgation of the Carter Doctrine committed the United States to using all necessary means – diplomatic code for threatening to employ force – to prevent any hostile power from controlling the Gulf. What followed was an ever-escalating penchant for US military interventionism, to which Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton each contributed in turn. Rather than simply preventing others from dominating the Gulf, we sought willy-nilly to dominate it ourselves....

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