Military historian to deliver the 2015 Tanner Lectures at Stanford

This year's Tanner Lectures on Human Values will be headlined by Andrew J. Bacevich, who will discuss the origins, conduct and consequences of U.S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East.

Courtesy Boston University Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich, a military historian at Boston University, will deliver this year's Tanner Lectures. His topic is 'America's War for the Greater Middle East.'

After numerous wars in the Middle East, what can America learn from it all?

Andrew J. Bacevich has some well-studied answers – and he will share them with the Stanford community. A noted military historian, retired U.S. Army colonel, and Boston University history professor, Bacevich will visit campus Oct. 7-9 to deliver the 2015 Tanner Lectures on Human Values. The lectures and discussions are free and open to the public.

Bacevich's first lecture, titled "America's War for the Greater Middle East: Origins and Conduct," will be delivered at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, in the Bechtel Conference Room of Encina Hall.

A discussion follows from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 8 in Encina Hall's Oksenberg Room. Stanford's Joe Felter, a researcher at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Hoover Institution, and Tamara Cofman Wittes, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, will join in the discussion.

Bacevich's second lecture, "America's War for the Greater Middle East: Consequences," is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 8 in Encina Hall's Bechtel Conference Room.

The discussion is set for 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 9 in Encina Hall's Oksenberg Room. Gregg Jones, a foreign correspondent and investigative journalist, and David Luban, a Georgetown University law and philosophy professor, will participate in the dialogue.

Stanford News Service recently interviewed Bacevich to get a preview of his perspectives.

The United States has the most powerful military in the world. Why hasn't it "won" in the Greater Middle East?

When embarking upon a war, a nation should know two things. First, who is the enemy? Second, what are you trying to achieve? The United States has had great difficulty in answering these questions. Or perhaps more accurately, policymakers have changed their answers over time as U.S. military actions have produced consequences other than those intended. So, translating military might into politically purposeful outcomes has posed a daunting challenge. In one sentence: We don't have a strategy worthy of the name.


Where does the U.S. military find itself today as it tries to deal with threats like ISIS?

After the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public no longer has any stomach for serious fighting likely to entail U.S. casualties. The Obama administration's anti-ISIS strategy – bombing supplemented with a train-and-equip mission – reflects this political reality. Right wing politicians might call for "boots on the ground," but it's not going to happen. It's impossible to tell whether the Obama approach will eventually work. Success will require more energetic efforts by local actors, to include not only Iraq, but also Iran and Turkey. But this much is certain: Defeating ISIS will solve little. The conditions that gave rise to ISIS will still exist. Just as ISIS emerged from the ashes of al-Qaida in Iraq, so, too, a successor organization will emerge from the ashes of ISIS.

Bacevich's most recent book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country (2013). Others include the American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (2004); The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005); The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II (2007); The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (2008); and Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010).

Bracevich received a 2004 Berlin Prize Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, and also has held fellowships at John Hopkins' Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy.

The McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford collaborates with the Office of the President to host the Tanner Lectures at Stanford. Other co-sponsors include the Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies.  

The lectures, which are established at nine universities, were created by the late American scholar, industrialist and philanthropist Obert Clark Tanner. In creating the lectureships, Tanner said, "I hope these lectures will contribute to the intellectual and moral life of mankind."

Clifton B. Parker, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-0224,