Promoting a New Realism
By Shawn Brimley
Hello everyone, and thanks for having me.
I spent the better part of yesterday reading Andrew Bacevich's new book "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism".
A former Army Colonel and popular professor at Boston University, Bacevich believes that both Democrats and Republicans have been suffering from the same delusion - "an outsized confidence in the efficacy of American power as an instrument to reshape the global order." Seven years of war, a skyrocketing deficit, rising oil prices, and a domestic politics that is nothing if not corrosive, it is certainly hard to be an optimist these days.
But in Bacevich's view, the root of the problem is a deep desire among most Americans for more, more, more. "American habits of conspicuous consumption," according to Bacevich, "drew the United States ever more deeply into the vortex of the Islamic world, saddling an increasingly debt-ridden and energy-dependent nation with commitments that it could neither shed not sustain."
Also at fault is something Bacevich calls the "ideology of national security," which consists of four convictions:
1. History's abiding theme is freedom, to which all humanity aspires.
2. America has always been, and remains, freedom's chief exemplar and advocate.
3. Providence summons America to ensure freedom's ultimate triumph.
4. For the American way of life to endure, freedom must prevail everywhere.
Not surprisingly, Bacevich argues that Democrats and Republicans have all bought into this ideology, "not to divine truth or to even make sense of things, but to provide a highly elastic rational for action...to legitimate the exercise of executive power."
Bacevich believes that time is running out. "When American power was ascendant, the United States could pretend to interpret history's purpose or God's will," Bacevich warns. "Today, it can no longer afford to indulge in such conceits."
There is much more to the book, including a section titled "Does Knowing Douglas Feith is Stupid Make Tommy Franks Smart?" which was worth the cover price alone. From a critique of the modern military's faith that technology can lift the fog of war, to a description of what a better U.S. grand strategy might look like, this is foreign policy criticism at its most readable.
"The Limits of American Power" is a cogent and passionate work of dissent from one of the more direct public intellectuals of our day. Bacevich is no radical, but he is one of those rare figures not seen very much anymore - a true conservative realist deeply concerned about America's future, and willing to challenge the status quo. I certainly didn't agree with everything in the book, but it was time well spent.
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