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Retired U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich on the danger of axiomatic thinking

Bacevich puts five of the axioms that underlie U.S. military policy under the microscope, and he rejects them all.

Andrew Bacevich

An axiom is a fundamental truth, so self-evident that it requires no proof and a chain of logic built upon it will have a solid foundation. But what happens when it turns out that an elaborate worldview and life-and-death-making policies are built on half-truths or even false “axioms”?

Once something is embraced widely as an axiom, it’s extremely hard (but vitally necessary) to continue to keep one’s mind open to the possibility that a particular axiom is more truthy than true.

Blogging for the Huffington Post under the headline “Malarkey on the Potomac,” Andrew Bacevich puts five of the axioms that underlie the foreign/military policy of the United States under the microscope, and he rejects them all. Here are the five:

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  • The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.

  • The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.

  • Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.

  • The interests of the United States and Israel align.

  • Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.

Bacevich, a retired U.S. Army colonel who lost a son in the Iraq war, now Boston University-based scholar of international affairs and especially of war and peace, summarizes his conclusions thus:

For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.

Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up. To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy — or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.

For the full work up, the post is here.

Speaking of posts, this is my last one until after the holiday. I won’t say it’s number one on my list of many blessings, but I’m thankful for MinnPost readers.