The intensification of the War for the Greater Middle East after 9/11 revealed unsuspected defects in America’s basic approach to raising its military forces. Notwithstanding the considerable virtues of our professional military, notably durability and tactical prowess, the existing system rates as a failure.

The All-Volunteer Force is like a burger from a fast-food joint: it’s cheap, filling and tastes good going down. What’s not to like? Take a closer look, however, and problems with the existing U.S. military system become apparent. It encourages political irresponsibility. It underwrites an insipid conception of citizenship. It’s undemocratic. It turns out to be exorbitantly expensive. And it doesn’t win.

Dishonesty pervades the relationship between the U.S. military and society. Rhetorically, we “support the troops.” But the support is seldom more than skin-deep.

In practice, we subject the troops we profess to care about to serial abuse. As authorities in Washington commit U.S. forces to wars that are unnecessary or ill-managed or unwinnable — or, in the martial equivalent of a trifecta, all of the above — Americans manifest something close to indifference. The bungled rollout of a health care reform program might generate public attention and even outrage. By comparison, a bungled military campaign elicits shrugs.

-Andrew J. Bacevich, in Notre Dame magazine, on the history of U.S. war in the Middle East over the past 30 years, and why there’s no end (or strategy) in sight.

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