I’m a fan of books and book sales. A few weeks ago, I came across a vintage copy of Hugh Prather’s “Notes to Myself.” Published in 1970, it caught the Zeitgeist of the “Age of Aquarius” and became a surprise best seller. Its considerable influence is shown by the fact it was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live” as part of the “Deep Thoughts” series.
Some of Prather’s “notes” are solipsistic and more than a little pretentious, a fact he himself recognized, but some of them also have considerable depth of meaning.
Consider this one:
When I see I am doing it wrong there is
a part of me that wants to keep on doing
it the same way anyway and even starts
looking for reasons to justify the continuation.
When I read this, I instantly thought of U.S. strategy when it comes to the Middle East. I recently read Colonel (ret.) Andrew Bacevich’s new book, “America’s War for the Greater Middle East,” and Prather’s note could serve as an epigraph to the book, and an epitaph to U.S. wars and policy in the Middle East.
Despite a painfully expensive and tragically wasteful record of militarized interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and many other countries throughout the greater Middle East, the U.S. military and foreign policy establishment persists in staying its presence course. Sure, the tactics have changed slightly over the years. Obama is less enamored of committing big battalions of ground troops than Bush/Cheney were, yet his administration is nevertheless committed to constant military interventions, misguided and one-sided relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia, and unwavering optimism that this time, maybe this time, we’ll finally build effective Iraqi (or Afghan) security forces while simultaneously encouraging liberty in the region by sending more U.S. troops and selling more weaponry (together with bombing and killing, of course).
As Bacevich notes in his book (you should beg, borrow, or otherwise acquire a copy), experience has not taught the U.S. national security state much of anything. Whether that state is led by a Clinton or a Bush or an Obama matters little. The U.S. can’t help but meddle, using its powerful military as a more or less blunt instrument, at incredible expense to our country, and at a staggering cost in foreign lives lost or damaged by incessant warfare. And no matter how catastrophic the results, that national security state can’t help but find reasons, no matter how discredited by events, to “stay the course.”
Consistent with what Prather says, it looks “for reasons to justify the continuation” of present policy, even when it knows things are going wrong in a very bad way.
Perhaps the U.S. national security state needs to make some “notes to itself.” Consider it a personal audit of sorts, since the Pentagon can’t pass a financial one. If it ever does, Prather’s “note” above would be a good place to start.