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Books: The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts

July 31, 2007 | Books,Family,Motherhood,Work


Title: The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? (New York: Hyperion/Voice, 2007). Author: Leslie Bennetts has been a contributing editor at Vanity Fairsince 1988, writing on the subjects that have ranged from movie stars to U.S. antiterrorism policy. Before joining that magazine, she was the first woman ever to cover a presidential campaign for The New York Times. Bennetts lives in New York City with her husband and their two children.

Devra published this as a guest post, and I posted it on my old blog, which has since disappeared.

My first reaction while reading The Feminine Mistake was that Leslie Bennetts had a point. Near the end of the book, she said, “Protect yourself.” That’s good advice. Too bad her message was delivered in such a condescending, patronizing way.

Here’s the gist of the book: Bennetts sounds the alarm that too many American women are staying home to raise their children, and she argues they should not give up paid employment for the economic dependency of stay-at-home motherhood.

Combining work and family really is the best choice for most women, and it’s eminently doable.

While she claims she wants to protect women from making the terrible “feminine mistake,” it’s really just another version of Linda Hirshman‘s “get to work” philosophy. Instead of the enraged screaming and stomping we get from Hirshman, though, Bennetts delivers her message with a shrug and a nonchalant:

I’m just reporting the facts.

Bennetts’ examples of things gone wrong for women who stayed home were tragic and terrifying. As, I might add, were the things I read in Ann Crittenden‘s book, The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2001), which I read even before I had children. Bennetts told of women whose husbands left them destitute and with no marketable skills after decades of raising children and supporting their husbands’ careers. Yet Bennetts also gave examples of things gone wrong on the other side with women whose “careerist priorities … take a terrible toll on children.” Tsk, tsk.

She seemed to hold up her experience as the only balanced example of the right thing to do. I don’t think she intended for that message to come through, but it did. In her line of work, then, every woman who becomes a mother should go from writing for The New York Times, which she did for 10 years, to a “lucrative and glamorous” job of writing about celebrities, which she does for Vanity Fair. If she would look beyond herself, she would realize that someone who worked, say, on the copydesk at even The New York Times would not have the same opportunity to segue into a lucrative and glamorous job working from home. It’s not that simple.

She mentioned how important collective organizing could be, but that seemed to be a distraction. The main message was that, really, the only thing women could do was stay in the workplace, no matter what. That’s it. No matter if they’re fired when they become pregnant, they’re shoved out the door because of inflexibility or discrimination or that they’re one sick day or snow day away from losing their jobs.

Like Hirshman, who admits that the workplace can suck, she did not offer any ideas about ways to change it. Bennetts took a nine-month maternity leave, and her husband took seven weeks off when their first child was born, which she admitted was unusual. She also was fortunate enough to find a good nanny. Yet she did not realize that, in saying how incredibly lucky she was, she made clear that finding good childcare is a crap-shoot. But that was her experience, and she expects it to apply to everyone else.

Her entire message blames women — again — for their stupid choices. Instead of channeling anger at discrimination and inequality in the workplace and promoting changes with policymakers, she puts women in the cross-hairs. Not only do women make the wrong choices regarding their children, now they make the wrong choices regarding work, and they’re letting down all other women, or at least the women who live the same lives as Bennetts. (And, gee, how many could that be?)

Where Bennetts, Hirshman and so many others fail is in their misguided notion that all women’s lives are formed from the same cookie cutter. If Bennetts were to have said, here’s what I did and how it worked for me, and I hope you find something that works for you, that might be a whole other story. But her message is: You’re wrong. Dead wrong. Here are the terrible things that will happen to you because of the stupid choices you made.

While Bennetts cast a light on the hypocrisy of the likes of Caitlin Flanagan, Phyllis Schlafly and Laura Schlessinger (about whom Bennetts wrote an article in the September 1998 issue of Vanity Fair), she left Hirshman hiding in the shadows. Just like Flanagan was not the kind of stay-at-home mother she told others to be in To Hell with all that: Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2006), Hirshman’s message is, “Do as I say, not as I do.” She has followed none of her own rules outlined in Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World (New York: Viking, 2006) and the originating 2005 article, “Homeward Bound.” (She has since changed her “marry up” rule to “don’t marry a jerk.”) She knows exactly where the butter is, she married two men her age, and she “married up” both times. Find the money? She found the money by marrying it. That is not to say Bennetts is not what she says she is. She is just on the other side of the coin. It’s her way or the highway.

As an aside, Hirshman was annoyed that Bennetts got attention for hijacking her own message. Bennetts was angry at “mommybloggers” (or “the momosphere,” as her husband called it) ranting about her book without having read it. Yet she did not complain about Hirshman’s rant, even though Hirshman had not read her book either. See how circular all this is? Where does it go? Nowhere. What gets done? Nothing. These authors may not generate a lot of book sales (Hirshman’s book sold only 4,000 copies), but they do generate a lot of hype and chatter. And that’s about it.

On a Saturday-morning news show, Bennetts said about her book,

I wasn’t making a value judgment. I’m just a reporter. I’m just putting the facts out there. But if you know that three-quarters of the people who make a certain choice are going to end up having really negative consequences to it, those are just facts. So I’m not criticizing anybody personally. If people are defensive, it’s because they feel some insecurity about their own choices. I’m just a reporter.

It all started with an article she wrote — with just a wee bit of snark — in 2005 called “She’s Gotta Have It All.” It was touted to “make the case against stay-at-home motherhood.” A reader left a comment, saying, “you’re a bunch of cowbirds,” which Bennetts explained in detail in her book after discovering that “cowbirds are the shiftless hos of the bird world.” Defensive? Maybe. In any case, she ramped up the snark in her book.

While career women simply “said” things in the book, stay-at-home mothers she interviewed “snorted,” “scoffed” or “parroted” what others said. They dismissed their futures with an “airy I’ll think about it tomorrow” a la Scarlett O’Hara. “Infantilized by dependency,” SAHMs made “childish decisions” and were “willfully obtuse Pollyannas who insist that mommy-track employees are as valuable as full-time careerists.” They had a “lack of commitment” and “erratic nature” when it came to employment. She quoted Simone de Beauvoir, who called women parasites in 1949. While Bennetts admitted parasites was a harsh word, she said, well, if the shoe fits, wear it. (Shrug.)

About wealthy SAHMs, who often employed nannies and housekeepers, she said,

These women may not be working for pay, but their tennis lessons, hair and manicure appointments, shopping dates, volunteer commitments, and social engagements frequently keep them out of the house for longer hours than many of the working mothers I know.

Others were “super-fit stay-at-home moms who spend a good part of their day in the gym.” She described one SAHM “who most closely approximates the Stepford ideal” as “preternaturally perky.”

She said she was baffled by “women’s complicity” in their own oppression and said,

what all too many mothers are demonstrating for their children is that woman is the nigger of the world, as John Lennon and Yoko Ono put it so memorably in a song lyric in 1972.

Just the facts. (Shrug.)

Bennetts criticizes “the media” for not telling the whole story to women, which is an amusing indictment, considering that she employs the same half-a-story methods. In a television interview with Deborah Roberts on ABC (which, Roberts pointed out, is owned by Disney, as is Hyperion, Bennetts’ publisher), Roberts said some of Bennetts’ statistics “frankly shocked me,” and she cited, “40 percent of women say they would love to go back to the gender roles of the ’50s.”

Hold up. It seems Roberts (or ABC or Hyperion or Disney) was no more interested in checking facts than Bennetts was. Roberts did not qualify the “40 percent.” The way she said it sounded like she was talking about 40 percent of all American women. Is that correct? Let’s see.

Bennetts used flimsy, outdated sources to bolster her claim that far too many American women are leaving the workplace in droves (or forgoing it altogether) for a return to an idealized version of the 1950s motherhood. Many “facts” come from secondhand sources through interviews, articles or informal surveys that, statistically speaking, are irrelevant.

For example, she said in the text (and this is one of Roberts’ “shocking” statistics),

A recent poll cited by Psychology Today found that 40 percent of today’s women would actually prefer a return to the gender roles of the 1950s.

Who are today’s women? Every woman in the United States? A million women? A thousand? Umm, no. Today’s women (at least “the 40 percent” of them) are about 200 (give or take) women who were surveyed 10 years ago.

The “recent” poll cited in the January/February 2006 issue of Psychology Today was conducted in 1997 by The Washington Post-Kaiser Foundation-Harvard University by randomly calling 1,008 adults and asking, among other questions,

Considering everything, do you think it would be better or worse for the country if men and women went back to the traditional roles they had in the 1950s, or don’t you think it would make a difference?

Forty-two percent of the women polled said it would be better. Let’s say half of the adults were women, which would be 504 of various ages and backgrounds (the poll didn’t break down demographics or gender, whether they were single or married, parents, grandparents or childless, employed, unemployed or retired … you get the picture). Take that times 42 percent, and we have about 200 women saying it would be better for the country to return to the traditional roles of the 1950s.

So, no, it is not correct for Roberts to assume that Bennetts’ “shocking” statistics speak for all American women. The statistics apply to only about 200 women.

Does that say these 200 women wanted to be June Cleaver? No. Does it say they were June Cleaver in the 1950s and in 1997 were barely scraping by on a couple hundred bucks a month in a nursing home? No. Does it say they were Generation Xers who grew up as latchkey kids and didn’t want their children to grow up that way? Nope, it doesn’t say that either. All it says is that on that particular day about 200 women thought, for whatever reasons, the country would be better with traditional roles from the 1950s.

Even more interesting (and this was not included in Bennetts’ book) is the next question, which asked if it would be better or worse if respondents themselves went back to traditional roles of the 1950s. Only 27 percent of the married women said it would be better.

A similar survey by the same group, conducted days earlier, randomly called 804 adults and found that 80 percent of both men and women thought changes with families, the workplace and society made things harder for parents to raise children, and up to 71 percent of women felt discriminated against in the workplace. This still isn’t a representative sample, even if it does balance the picture a bit.

Citing an article that cites a study (3,020 parents surveyed in 2003 by Reach Advisors), she said that “twice as many Gen-X mothers as boomer mothers spent more than 12 hours a day ‘attending to child-rearing and household responsibilities.'” Twice as many of what number? Was it 200 Gen-Xers and 100 boomers? Or 2,000 and 1,000? What exactly does that information mean?

And in 2001, when Harvard Business School Professor Myra Hartsurveyed female Harvard MBAs from the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991, she found that only 38 percent of those with children were working full time.

Thirty-eight percent of what number? The 50 alumnae who attended Hart’s first “Charting Your Course” program in May 2000? If so, that would be 19, if all 50 were mothers. Or could it be the 100 or so who attended reunions and completed surveys? Even if all 100 were mothers, that’s 38 alumnae. The number of women surveyed should be specified.

Bennetts cited another article that cited another study (from 1994):

57 percent of mothers spent at least a year at home caring for their infant children in the first decade after graduation.

Even though it mentions this is from a survey of the Stanford University class of 1981, it sounded (as in the Psychology Today poll) as if she were talking about more than half of all American women. Nope. Just how many women are we talking about? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? A thousand? In Cream of the Crop: The Impact of Elite Education in the Decade After College, Herant Katchadourian and John Boli (BasicBooks/HarperCollins, 1994) wrote about a study that consisted of an extensive questionnaire survey of 224 graduates from the Stanford class of 1981 and intensive interviews with 100 members of that group. About one-third, or 81, were parents. The study did not break down participants by gender, so if I guess that half are women, that means 40 women were mothers. Take that times the 57 percent quote from the article cited in the book, and that’s 23 mothers “who spent at least a year at home caring for their infant children.”

The entire quote from the book is:

57 percent of mothers in our sample spent at least a year at home caring for their infant children, but only 4 percent of fathers did likewise. Most educational elite women do not want to interrupt their careers for long. Mothers did not usually stay home with their children for more than a year, and most of the 43 percent who stayed home less than a year were off the job for six months or less. Only one out of four [read: 6 mothers] have stayed home three or more years, including one who has been a homemaker since the first year after graduation. Thus far, at any rate, these long-term, full-time homemakers are exceptional, though perhaps more women will adopt that role in the next few years as they have more children or as more of them become first-time mothers.

Even Bennetts’ sources contradict each other (though she explained that in her source notes, not the text of the book). Another Stanford survey (from 1990) found that 12 percent of female graduates from the class of 1981 were full-time homemakers. Something didn’t match up. Either the 57 percent didn’t consider themselves homemakers, or the studies asked different questions, or maybe something dramatic happened in the four years that separated the two studies.

Or … here’s a thought. Maybe the 57 percent were taking “maternity leaves” they could have gotten if they lived in just about any other western industrialized country but, whoops, couldn’t get in the United States. Even the U.S. Census Bureau can add it up:

The 2000 participation [in the labor force] level of 55 percent was the first statistically significant decline since 1976 and its level was not different from 2002 (also 55 percent). Changes in the labor force participation of women with infants could signal changes in the need for child care, in child rearing practices, in future childbearing and birth spacing patterns, and in the demand for employer-sponsored maternity leave benefits.

Quoting Hirshman, who performed a “study” of women with wedding announcements in The New York Times in 1996,

Although all were college graduates with budding careers, 85 percent had stopped working full time within eight years.

Eighty-five percent. That’s a big number. How many women is that exactly? What Bennetts did not say was that Hirshman contacted 41 women. That means that 33 women were enough to get Hirshman to pound out a manifesto and for Bennetts to drive another nail into the “feminine mistake” coffin. Near the end of the book, though, she took Hirshman to task for giving impractical, flippant advice, some of which she called “facetious at best … destructive at worst.” She gets points for that, but she needs to put her own advice under the same microscope.

Bennetts said in the book’s prologue,

In the history of the world, no females have ever enjoyed a greater range of opportunities than do American women today. Most of the barriers to realizing those possibilities are self-imposed — the products of an anachronistic myth that encourages female dependency while obscuring its price.

Wow. The entire history of the world. What facts did she use to back up this claim?

Maybe she considered the fact that:

  • American women get the same amount of paid maternity leave as women do in Lesotho, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland: zero.
  • Same for American men and paternity leave: zero.
  • It’s legal in most states for employers to discriminate against American mothers.
  • While illegal, American women deal with pregnancy discrimination every day.
  • At least 76 countries protect the right of mothers to breastfeed at work, but the United States does not.
  • The United States is tied with Ecuador and Suriname for 39th place regarding enrollment in early childhood careand education for 3- to 5-year-olds, that almost all European countries perform better and a range of developing and transitioning countries had higher enrollment rates than the United States, despite being poorer.
  • Employer-sponsored childcare in the United States is available to only one in eight employees.
  • The only way for American women to get guaranteed affordable, high-quality child care is to join the military.
  • At least 96 countries require employers to provide paid annual leave, but the United States does not.
  • At least 84 countries have a maximum length workweek, but the United States — whose workweek length was second only to Japan’s hours among industrialized countries — does not.
  • At least 34 countries guarantee discretionary leave from work — Greece and Switzerland offer paid leave specifically for children’s educational needs — but the United States does not.
  • At least 37 countries guarantee leave from work for sick children, but the United States does not.
  • At least 139 countries provide paid sick leave to employees, but the United States does not.
  • Women still earn less than men do, and mothers earn less than anyone.

Maybe she considered these facts. Or … maybe not. What with all those self-imposed barriers American women place on their own roads to success — like identifying with Cinderella, damsels in distress and the hooker in Pretty Woman (yeah, she really said that) — those other facts just get in the way. Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with the workplace?” she asks, “What’s wrong with women?”

Et tu, Leslie?

[Note: I found a 2007 updated version of The Work, Family, and Equity Index that I used for much of the abive information. Only three newspapers ran articles in 2004 about the first report. Two ran articles in 2006. Four ran articles in 2007 about the latest report, while one international newspaper and two Canadian newspapers did. None was The New York Times or The Washington Post, which would rather run articles by and about Hirshman, Bennetts and/or the “mommy wars.” Compare 12 articles over three years about a report that discusses “what’s wrong with the workplace” with about 80 newspapers that have run articles about The Feminine Mistake in just a couple of months. By the way, the 2004 report highlighted the 4th Annual Invitational Journalism-Work/Family Conference in Boston in 2005. If it was important enough to hold an entire conference about, why the virtual silence in the media? Speaking of silence, Miriam Peskowitz and The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother? (Seal Press, 2005) was mentioned in about 20 articles and one — ONE — review. Could that be because it has the word truth in the title?]

I don’t think Leslie Bennetts is a cowbird. Nor am I defensive about what she says. She just needs to be accountable for what she reports. “I’m just a reporter” is a cop-out. If you say you’re a reporter, act like one. If you want to report “just the facts,” then get the facts straight. And, for crying out loud, pay a good editor to clean up the condescension and snark.

Posted by Becky @ 4:01 pm | 11 Comments  

Arms + Middle East x $20 bil. / defense industry = peace?

July 28, 2007 | Defense industry,Middle East

The Bush administration plans a $20 billion deal to sell weapons to Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman to “counter Iran’s rising influence.”

I don’t know. Isn’t that kind of like putting Tony Blair in charge of peace and Paul Wolfowitz in charge of the World Bank?

Posted by Becky @ 3:55 pm | Comments  

Covering the war, part 6


The Wall Street Journal published “General Petraeus Needs Time,” a commentary by Peter Wehner, deputy assistant to the U.S. president and director of strategic initiatives, today. In the article, Wehner wonders why “some critics of the war are unwilling to hear good news of any sort” coming from Iraq.

Yeah, everyone is tired of the war, he says, which has been full of mistakes, misjudgments and 3,600 deaths of American troops. But, hey, that’s the nature of war, he says. Besides, Baghdad is returning to normal, he argues, with “soccer leagues, amusement parks and vibrant market places.”

To emphasize that point, the above photograph of a soccer fan celebrating Iraq’s win over Vietnam in the Asian Cup on July 21, ran with the article. (Photo credit: AP/Khalid Mohammed)

But what about the celebrations of Iraq’s win over South Korea on July 25? The ones that turned tragic with two suicide bombings that killed 50 people and injured 130 in Baghdad?

I guess running a photograph of that might have messed up the whole point of the article.

Update: In other news, Iraqi leaders apparently don’t want to give Petraeus more time, and the prime minister has asked George W. Bush to remove the general.

Posted by Becky @ 2:41 pm | Comments  

Covering the war, part 5

July 26, 2007 | Afghanistan,Death,Ethics,Journalism,Military

A national newspaper in Norway ran this photograph of a flag-draped coffin of a Norwegian soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. This is how the newspaper covered it on the Norwegian pages.

This has not yet been mentioned in U.S. newspapers.

Posted by Becky @ 6:38 pm | Comments  

Covering the war, part 4

Death,Ethics,Iraq,Journalism,Local news,Military

Page 1 

Local Marine, 25, shot and killed … in his hometown.

I am not saying this story does not belong on the front page. As I said before, though, I wonder what is behind the decisions about story placement. Did someone from the newspaper attend the funeral, which was held this morning? Will they run that on the front page tomorrow? With a flag-draped coffin? Would that be OK because he did not die in Iraq?

In other news, a Florida soldier who died in Afghanistan was mentioned in an Associated Press brief on page 11.

Posted by Becky @ 5:40 pm | 1 Comment  

When is it time to watch the local news?

July 25, 2007 | Local news,My neighborhood

When you have not one …


… not two or three …


… not four …


… but five …


… FIVE helicopters hovering over your house.

I haven’t yet been able to figure out exactly what happened, but this just came through. I was confused by this, which was about a shooting that happened Saturday. I wonder if they’re related.

Posted by Becky @ 6:56 pm | Comments  

The high cost of dignitary visits to Iraq, part 1

July 24, 2007 | Death,Dignitary visits,Iraq,Military

I suck at math, so I need some help. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to do some figurin’. Here goes.

It takes 200 to 300 troops, two to three days out, to prepare a site for one congressional visit.

Depending on who you ask, that’s a conservative estimate.

More than 400 elected officials have visited Iraq* — most more than once, many several times, one has been there 15 times (so far, anyway) — since the mission was “accomplished” in May 2003.

*The link contains a database put together by Kirsten Korosec and Steven Stanek, who called every office in the House of Representatives. The database is useful even though it’s already out of date — because the visits keep on keepin’ on.

Do you know where your representative is?

My guess? Iraq. Go check the quarterly foreign travel reports at the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Then go see how many U.S. troops died during each visit. If you want to see more than just names and dates, go here.

Do the math. Come back later, and we’ll compare notes.

Posted by Becky @ 4:27 pm | 1 Comment  

Covering the war, part 3

July 22, 2007 | Death,Ethics,Iraq,Journalism


Metro section, page 4

Local soldier, 20, dies in Iraq.

Metro front page

  • Wetlands replacement plan
  • Insurance
  • Curfew
  • Prison ministry
  • Teasers for murder-suicide and lightning victim

Page 1

Nothing but teasers

  • Wetlands replacement article on Metro front
  • Reading proficiency, page 6
  • Tammy Faye Messner dies, page 10
  • Hairspray, Brittany Snow, John Travolta
  • Beyonce, Metro, page 2
  • Sports, travel, business
Posted by Becky @ 1:31 pm | Comments  

Books: The New American Militarism by Andrew J. Bacevich

July 21, 2007 | Books,Iraq,Military


Title: The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (Oxford University Press 2006, paperback). Author: Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. A graduate of West Point and a Vietnam veteran, he has a doctorate in history from Princeton and was a Bush Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He is the author of several books, including American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy.

Weird things happen when I read. I was reading another book that quoted Andrew J. Bacevich from 2005 about the importance of the Downing Street memo regarding the war in Iraq. That morning, two days before Memorial Day, his name popped out at me from a headline in the Wall Street Journal (.pdf). The article said that his son, 27-year-old U.S. Army 1st Lt. Andrew Bacevich, died on Mother’s Day in a suicide bombing in Balad, Iraq.

An outspoken critic of the war, Bacevich had never mentioned his son in his writings and asked reporters not to write about his son because he “didn’t want to burden him with my political baggage.” He also wrote a raw account of a father’s grief on May 27 in The Washington Post.

I looked him up, read some of his articles and ordered this book, which he said in the introduction was “not only a corrective to what has become the conventional critique of U.S. policies since 9/11 but … a challenge to the orthodox historical context employed to justify those policies.”

The new American militarism made its appearance in reaction to the 1960s and especially to Vietnam. It evolved over a period of decades, rather than being spontaneously induced by a particular event such as the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. Nor … is present-day American militarism the product of a conspiracy hatched by a small group of fanatics when the American people were distracted or otherwise engaged. Rather, it developed in full view and with considerable popular approval.

He quoted James Madison from 1795:

Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. … No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

He concluded the introduction with:

The purpose of this book is to invite Americans to consider the continued relevance of Madison’s warning to our own time and circumstances.

Bacevich carries an industrial-sized flashlight and leads readers down a long, dark hallway of U.S. history, giving an unvarnished look behind each door. Through the last door, he shows how everything comes together, and he offers a prescription for change.

Got your boots on? Let’s go for a walk.

Door No. 1: Wilsonians under Arms 

Bacevich explained the new American militarism evolution by separate but coinciding influences. He started with President Woodrow Wilson and his goal to “end all wars” through his Fourteen Points foreign policy that, ordained by God, would spread American principles of liberal democracy and free enterprise.

He traced Wilsonian ambitions to 1) Ronald Reagan, “Wilson’s truest disciple,” 2) Bill Clinton, who followed Reagan with the spread of democratic capitalism and “intervened with greater frequency in more places for more varied purposes than any of his predecessors,” and 3) George W. Bush, who — especially after Sept. 11, 2001 — became “the most Wilsonian president since Wilson himself.” Bush, for whom “the connection between America’s calling and God’s will was self-evident,” published the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, which revived such Wilsonian ideals.

Militarism led to the United States to spend more on defense than all other nations in the world put together. It led to military bases and forces in dozens of countries, the “normalization of war” and implementing “coercive diplomacy” without dissent from politicians or the public. As Vice President Dick Cheney said, “… force makes your diplomacy more effective going forward, dealing with other problems.”

Door No. 2: The Military Profession at Bay

By the turn of the 21st century, a cleaner image of war emerged with a highly skilled professional military carrying out coercive diplomacy with high-tech warfare and “smart” weapons, rendering war “surgical, frictionless, postmodern, even abstract or virtual.” The military gained new respectability and confidence, and the soldier was elevated “to the status of national icon.” Politicians exploited the dynamic of “supporting the troops” — on both sides of the aisle — even though “few have made any effort to educate themselves regarding issues of national security.”

Military service was no longer an obligation of good citizenship, allowing the elite (Cheney and Clinton alike) to see it as a “matter of personal choice, devoid of civic connotations,” giving us an all-volunteer force that has less and less in common with the general population.

After the disaster of the Vietnam War and the end of the Cold War, victory in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 meant redemption for the military. Digging up the values of “crusty but compassionate” Gen. Creighton Abrams, the military set forth on a path of “intense purification and rigorous preparation.”

Through Herculean exertions, the services beginning in the mid-1970s purged their ranks of the pathologies bred of defeat. Out went the dopers and the bigots, the malcontents and the untrainable. That was just the beginning. Evincing a hitherto uncharacteristic passion for operational excellence, the U.S. military set out to reinvent itself. The result was sustained innovation on a massive scale: new doctrine, sophisticated new weapons, more rigorous approaches to training and the development of leaders, large-scale changes to organizations and tactics — all developed over the period of a decade and more and fully unveiled for the first time during the pummeling administered to Saddam Hussein‘s army.

In 1984, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger introduced the Weinberger Doctrine, which “created a series of tests or preconditions for any policy decision that might put American troops into harm’s way.” The most “passionate advocate” of the Weinberger Doctrine was Gen. Colin Powell, who also “did more than any other soldier to ensure its demise.” While Powell was revered by most Americans, insiders saw him as “too adept at the arts of manipulation” and “conniving and faintly mendacious.”

Operation Desert Storm in 1991 “vaulted Powell to the status of national hero,” even though he argued against using force because he thought “Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait came nowhere close to satisfying each of the Weinberger Doctrine’s several preconditions.” The Iraq campaign went well, but Powell erred in ending hostilities too soon, which allowed Saddam Hussein stay in power and obliged the United States to keep a military presence in the Gulf, “thereby putting in train a series of events that led ultimately to 9/11 and yet another major war whose ambiguous outcome led to still deeper U.S. military involvement in the region.”

After the war, Powell “supplemented, modified, and ultimately transcended the Weinberger Doctrine” with the Powell Doctrine, which required an exit strategy and emphasized “overwhelming force” with “his fellow generals calling the shots.”

With the Pentagon spending about $300 billion a year throughout the 1990s, there was pressure for “some tangible return on the nation’s investment.”

Although it is difficult to make the case that these operations were especially effective, their cumulative effect was to reduce any residual inhibitions that Americans entertained about the use of force. Each successive episode eroded that much further the collective ability of the officer corps to stay the hand of the advocates of intervention. By the end of the decade, the Powell Doctrine looked increasingly like a dead letter.

Gen. Wesley K. Clark mismanaged Operation Allied Force in Kosovo and violated the Powell Doctrine. This restored the idea “that generals needed more adult supervision … greater civilian oversight … over all facets of military activity.” Republicans took control in 2000, along with the Bush administration and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whose task was “to exercise civilian control over the department for the commander in chief and the country.”

Although members of the Bush administration professed to hold America’s fighting men and women in high regard, they evinced little patience with soldiers who counseled caution or restraint and the notion of civilian control of the military became meaningless, since civilians were the leading militarists.

Because of this, 9/11 was the officer corps’ “worst nightmare come to life,” facing an open-ended global warwithout having any say in how things happened. Rumsfeld overruled Gen. Tommy Franks, who wanted “plodding orthodoxy,” while Rumsfeld wanted “novelty and dash.” Getting into Afghanistan and Iraq was easy. Getting out was not. By 2004, high-ranking retired officials began calling for withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq. Then came Fallujah. Then Abu Ghraib.

Whether for good or ill, by the first decade of the twenty-first century, the effort to restore the authority of the officer corps, initiated thirty years earlier by Creighton Abrams, had collapsed. Senior officers advised and implemented, but they did not decide. Henceforth, the generals might drive the bus, but others chose the destination and picked the route. As to paying the fare, that was left to the soldiers in the ranks.

Door No. 3: Left, Right, Left 

Add to mix the neoconservative movement, whose core beliefs were that 1) “evil is real,” 2) “in international politics there was no substitute for power, especially military power,” 3) “alternatives to or substitutes for American global leadership simply did not exist,” and 4) at home and abroad there should be an “appreciation for authority.” They saw things in black and white, good and evil, through the lens of crisis as a permanent condition.

After the Cold War, a new generation reinvented neoconservatism, not with ideas but with political agitation and hegemony. By the end of the 1990s, they became established, their views mainstream and less controversial. They warned of the dangers of isolationism, called for more defense spending and advocated using it around the world. Three of the leading national newspapers had at least one neocon offering regular commentary on foreign policy, and neoconservative views dominated the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal.

Ideas that even a decade earlier might have seemed reckless or preposterous now came to seem perfectly reasonable.

Pressured by a public letter from neoconservatives, Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which called for the removal of the regime headed by Saddam Hussein and $99 million to do it. Immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, neoconservatives argued, “The road that leads to real security and peace,” … was “the road that runs through Baghdad.”

Door No. 4: California Dreaming

Mythology plays a major role in the new American militarism, creating a great divide between what Americans want to believe and what really happens and between how America is portrayed at home and how others see it from abroad. Adversely affected by the aftermath of Vietnam, Americans faced high inflation and unemployment, long gas lines and an energy shortage. Carter addressed the problems with his “Crisis of Confidence” speech in 1979 and promised to cap oil imports and invest in alternative sources of energy. He called for personal sacrifice as “an act of patriotism.”

Then came the Iran hostage crisis, which paralyzed the Carter administration.

Reagan rode in on his white horse with a message of “abundance without end” and limitless economic expansion “without moral complications or great cost.” He doubled the Pentagon’s budget and put the soldier on a pedestal. Under Reagan, “military might … became the preferred measure for gauging the nation’s strength.” Popular culture propped up that image with An Officer and a Gentleman, Rambo and Top Gun.

Reagan showed that in post-Vietnam America genuflecting before soldiers and playing to the pro-military instincts of the electorate wins votes.

Reagan’s myths “became enshrined as permanent aspects of American political theater,” and Clinton perpetuated and exalted those myths.

Door No. 5: Onward

As a “Christian nation,” the United States has about 100 million Americans who define themselves as evangelical Christians. They wield enormous political clout, with such early leaders as Billy Graham — who served as “spiritual counselor to presidents and leading members of Congress” and was “something of a political power broker able, it was said, to swing millions of votes” — and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder in 1979 of the Moral Majority, Jim Bakker, Jim Dobson, Pat Robertson and others.

Militant evangelicals imparted religious sanction to the militarization of U.S. policy and helped imbue the resulting military activism with an aura of moral legitimacy.

As Falwell said in 1980, “A political leader, as a minister of God, is a revenger to execute wrath upon those who do evil. Our government has the right to use its armaments to bring wrath upon those who would do evil by hurting other people.”

With an obsessive preoccupation with Israel regarding premillenial dispensationalism, evangelicals believe it is crucial for Jews to return to the Holy Land in a sequence of events leading up to Christ’s Second Coming. Consequently, “the Religious Right has been unflinchingly loyal to the Jewish state, eager to support Israel in the performance of its prescribed role (although according to the most commonly accepted script, before the Millennium arrives all Jews will either convert to Christianity or be killed off).”

Evangelicals granted special dispensation to Israel regarding war and saw rearmament as “akin to a religious imperative.” Reagan courted the Religious Right, holding private conversations with leaders and speaking to large group of followers. The Religious Right, in turn, promoted Reagan’s military building, even forming a “Religious Coalition for a Moral Defense Policy” to promote ballistic missile defense, which they considered a moral obligation.

… were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals, militarism in this deeply and genuinely religious country becomes inconceivable.

Door No. 6: War Club

After World War II, a new profession of “defense intellectuals,” led by Bernard Brodie, arose, as well as institutions such as the RAND Corp., a federally funded research facility founded in 1946. Mathematicians, economists and political scientists became “charter members of the new postwar national security elite” and included Charles Hitch, Herman Kahn and John von Neumann. Albert Wohlstetter, known as “the dean of American nuclear strategists,” joined RAND in 1951. (Paul Wolfowitzstudied with Wohlstetter at the University of Chicago.) These “high priests of nuclear strategy came to wield great influence, without the burden of actual responsibility.”

Members of this priesthood remained largely hidden from public view and thus unaccountable.

Wohlstetter studied Strategic Air Command and a possible Soviet attack and “concluded that ‘strategic-retaliatory-force vulnerability’ was ‘the problem of nuclear war.” He became obsessed with vulnerability and was convinced that Americans were oblivious that they lived “in a world of persistent danger.” His belief that “defensive ends required the use of offensive means” instructed “the ongoing evolution of American thinking about strategy” that ultimately led “down a path ending some four decades later in a fully developed argument for preventive war as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy.”

Andrew Marshall, “the ultimate insider,” took up the task of “refining the design, drawing up the detailed blueprints, and cajoling the officer corps into full compliance with” Wohlstetter’s vision. He did so with the Revolution in Miliatary Affairs, whose essence “was to move war out of the industrial age and into the information age.”

Door No. 7: Blood for Oil 

Bacevich argued that the Cold War was actually World War III and that World War IV, started on Sept. 11, 2001, “promises to continue indefinitely.” World War IV was “declared” in 1980 by Jimmy Carter, of all people. In January 1980, Carter outlined in his State of the Union Address what became known as the Carter Doctrine and has since remained sacrosanct:

An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region, will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.

In the words of Lt. Gen. Robert Kingston, this step “was to assure the unimpeded flow of oil from the Arabian Gulf.” In other words, “The overarching motive for action was the preservation of the American way of life.”

Here lay the driving force behind U.S. actions in what became World War IV: not preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction; not stemming the spread of terror; certainly not liberating oppressed peoples or advancing the cause of women’s rights. The prize was mastery over a region that leading members of the American foreign policy elite, of whatever political persuasion, had concluded to be critically important to the well-being of the United States.

Osama bin Laden‘s 1996 Declaration of Jihad “emerged at least in part as a response to prior U.S. policies and actions, in which lofty ideals and high moral purpose seldom figured.”

The United States cannot be held culpable for the maladies that today find expression in violent Islamic radicalism. But neither can the United States absolve itself of any and all responsibility for the conditions that have exacerbated those maladies. After several decades of acting as the preeminent power in the Persian Gulf, American did not arrive at the end of the twentieth century with clean hands.

Prescription for change — Door No. 8: Common Defense

In the last chapter, Bacevich outlined 10 principles to diminish the new American militarism.

1) Restore the basic precepts of the Constitution.

2) Revitalize the concept of separation of powers.

The problem is not that the presidency has become too strong. Rather, the problem is that the Congress has failed — indeed, failed egregiously — to fulfill its constitutional responsibility for deciding when and if the United States should undertake military interventions abroad.

3) View force as a last resort.

4) Enhance U.S. strategic self-sufficiency.

5) Organize U.S. forces explicitly for national defense.

6) Devise an appropriate gauge for determining the level of U.S. defense spending. Instead of basing it on a percentage of gross domestic product, it should be determined by what others spend.

7) Enhance alternative instruments of statecraft.

If the United States is to remain effectively engaged with the rest of the world, it needs a highly competent agency to coordinate and manage U.S. diplomacy. It needs mechanisms to counter the negative image of the United States and is policies prevailing in too many parts of the world. And it needs to solve the riddle of development and, once having done so, to invest in implementing that solution.

8 ) Revive the moribund concept of the citizen-soldier.

Standing armies threaten government by the people, the soldier-historian John McAuley Palmer observed between the world wars, not because they consciously seek to pervert liberty, but because they relieve the people themselves of the duty of self-defense.

9) The role of the National Guard and the reserve components need to be re-examined, which means a return “to their original purpose — a trained militia kept in readiness as the primary instrument for community self-defense. Of course, community in this context refers not to Kosovo and Iraq but to Kansas and Iowa.”

10) Reconcile the American military profession to American society.

Posted by Becky @ 6:30 pm | Comments  

Stop the presses! Clinton has cleavage! Obama likes Potter!

July 20, 2007 | MSM,Paris Hilton Effect,Stop the presses!

The Washington Post reports a most pressing issue today: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has cleavage!

The Associated Press reported Wednesday (and dozens of newspapers picked up the story, even the UK’s Daily Telegraph!): Sen. Barack Obama likes Harry Potter!

In other news, 56 U.S. troops have died this month, including four on Wednesday and three yesterday.

Posted by Becky @ 5:45 pm | 1 Comment  


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