Headline Writers: Bacevich's 'Washington Rules'

America's militaristic, idealistic approach to the world is costing the country dearly. That's the theme of foreign-policy guru Andrew Bacevich's new book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. A Boston University professor and West Point grad who spent 23 years in the Army, Bacevich thinks everyone would get along just fine without the U.S. playing global policeman—and what's more, things would improve at home if we stopped squandering resources abroad.

This isn't just isolationism redux. Bacevich says the globe is more stable than Washington claims. Russia's no longer a threat. China's an economic partner. And as for outliers—Iran, North Korea, Venezuela—Bacevich says they're goof states, not real dangers. This is debatable, but today real arguments about foreign policy are like UFOs: they don't exist. Instead, says Bacevich, groupthink reigns. Washington's best and brightest derive "profit, power, and privilege" from keeping the military-industrial status quo intact.

The problem with this, says Bacevich, is the status quo is a misuse of our military and it's ruining the country. Take the war on terror. What's debated are tactics, not underlying assumptions. So few people of consequence question why we must fight a global war on terror at all, and those who do call for debate are written off as members of the fringe.

Bacevich is right to ask if our militaristic approach to the rest of the world is the best and only way. But he rehashes lessons learned from Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq. It might be more edifying to explore a history of iconoclasts who were quickly boxed out by questioning the system, starting with President Dwight Eisenhower, running through Sen. J. William Fulbright and President Jimmy Carter, and ending up with…well, who might that person be today?