In America’s War for the Greater Middle East, Andrew J. Bacevich, one of our most eloquent and incisive students of American foreign policy, military history, and the often-vexed nexus between the two, makes a startling claim: For the last 36 years, the United States has been engaged in an ill-advised, counterproductive struggle to shape the destiny of the Muslim world—not only in the Middle East proper, but in Southwest Asia, North and East Africa, and the Balkans as well.

Like Vietnam, this has been an undeclared war that started off small, and escalated in fits and starts into a major conflict. Like Vietnam, it has been poorly understood by policymakers, senior military officers, and the American public.

And like Vietnam, it is a doomed undertaking, with tragic implications.

Since the early ’80s, in “almost imperceptible increments,” the American military’s center of gravity has shifted from the plains of Europe, where it was deployed to fend off a Soviet attack against Western Europe, to the Middle East. After the 9/11 attacks, the conflict expanded exponentially, driven by invidious delusions about the efficacy of American military power, and a hubristic belief that the world’s only “indispensable nation” has both the right and the obligation to remake the region over in our own image.

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