UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper LIX: October 6, 2008, 7:00 p.m. Andrew J.

Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2008). Dedication. “To the memory of my beloved son / ANDREW JOHN BACEVICH / First Lieutenant, U.S. Army / July 8, 1979May 13, 2007” [vii]. INTRODUCTION: War without Exits. At the end of the Cold War, the U.S. undertook responsibility for a grand project it called “globalization,” a “euphemism for soft, or informal empire” (2; 1-3). In military terms, force projection had power over perimeter defense (3). After 9/11, “war became a seemingly permanent condition”—the “Long War” (3-4). This book places responsibility for this war and three attendant crises (economic-cultural, political, and military) not outside the U.S. but within, a consequence of the “heedless worship of freedom” in America (4-5). Reinhold Niebuhr [the presiding spirit of this book, whom Bacevich cites twenty times and calls “our prophet” in the last paragraph] warned that this amounts to self-idolatry instead of wise “realism and humility” (68). Americans’ preoccupation with consumption and self-indulgence has grown and is undermining national power by eviscerating citizenship, fostering a cavalier attitude to debt and a lack of concern about resources (9-11). “A grand bazaar provides an inadequate basis upon which to erect a vast empire” (11). “[I]t is the soldier who bears the burden of such folly” (12). But Iraq, by revealing this folly, holds out the prospect of being “the source of our salvation” (12; the conclusion of the book is much more pessimistic, however). American citizens “need to reassert control over their own destiny” (13). Ch. 1: The Crisis of Profligacy. The Jeffersonian ethic has degenerated into an “ethic of self-gratification” (15-17). Power and Abundance. Tocqueville shows such a tendency has deep roots in American history (17-18). A historical myth of American exceptionalism has sanitized American history, which has in fact been chiefly a bold and unplanned drive toward expansion, not liberation (18-22). Expansion fueled prosperity and heightened Americans’ sense of abundance and entitlement (22-25). Freedom did advance in the 1960s, thanks to the Left, but even this was grounded in the American drive for expansion (26-27). Not Less, But More. In the period 1965-1973, America’s “empire of production” yielded to something else (26-30). The years 1979-1983 were “the true pivot of contemporary American history” (30-31). Carter’s July 15, 1979, speech accurately diagnosed the situation (31-35). But it failed to rally the nation (35-36). Instead, the U.S. turned to Reagan, who fostered profligacy while spouting conservative bromides (37-39). Blame lies not with Reagan, however, but with the American people, who got “what they wanted” (40; 39-41). Americans embraced hypocrisy, extending it also into the strategic realm with the Star Wars project (41-43). Taking the Plunge. The U.S. became a debtor nation (43-44). In foreign policy, the U.S. extended the “tradition of reflexive expansionism” in Afghanistan and Central Asia, in the Persian Gulf (47; 4457). American Freedom, Iraqi Freedom. The Greater Middle East democratization project was a neoconservative extension of these efforts (58-59). Americans were encouraged to consume more (60-63). But Iraq turned into a disaster, and found the U.S. short of troops and money (6365). The historical link of expansionism and prosperity has broken: now,

“Expansionism squanders American wealth and power, while putting freedom at risk” (66). Ch. 2: The Political Crisis. U.S. mobilization for WWII and the Cold War ended the U.S. as a republic; it is now governed by an “imperial presidency” and is “a de facto one-party state” in which a Congress marked by pervasive “corruption” is ruled by “an Incumbents’ Party” and politics is theater (67-71). And the present system “doesn’t work” (71-72). The Ideology of National Security. The “national security state” is marked by failures: 1) to avert 9/11; 2) to bring to justice its architects; 3) to respond appropriately to Islamic extremism; 4) in the Iraq and Afghan wars (72). Bush has not broken with past tradition, he has affirmed a long-standing ideology of national security informed by four convictions with deep roots in American history: 1) History has a purpose; 2) The U.S. embodies freedom; 3) American success is guaranteed by Providence; 4) Freedom must prevail everywhere for the American way of life to endure (73-76). This highly elastic ideology, now “hardwired into the American psyche,” serves chiefly to legitimate action of the American executive, as speeches by Clinton and Obama suggest (77-81). The ideology serves the “self-selecting, selfperpetuating camarilla” [i.e. cabal]—a power élite of “hawks” in control of national security policy since WWII (8184). State of Insecurity. The gargantuan national security state shrouds itself in secrecy and lies (84-89). It has done “more harm than good” (89). The Bay of Pigs fiasco led Kennedy to realize that the system was out of control and he changed leadership, revamped institutions (McNamara, Bundy) and worked around the apparatus (e.g. did not use the NSC in the Cuban missile crisis, instead devising a small extraconstitutional group, an approach often replicated since) (90-94). The actual

institutions of the national security state undergo perpetual reform while those who hold power regard them as “not partners but competitors” and “the American people remain in the dark,” the apparatus remaining in place because it provides legitimacy for “political arrangements that are a source of status, influence, and considerable wealth” (95; 94-96). The Bush administration distrusted all national security state institutions (96-101). Wise Men without Wisdom. The cult of “Wise Men,” supposedly wiser than the people and republican institutions, has characterized the era of “permanent national security crisis” (102; 101-03). Earlier Wise Men embodied the social elite and its values; this changed on Sept. 21, 1945, when Henry L. Stimson went home and James Forrestal stayed in Washington, D.C. (103-07). Paul Nitze succeeded him, drafting NSC 68, a 1950 classified report of fundamental importance that set political patterns that molded post-WWII American life (107-14). Paul Wolfowitz is the contemporary heir of Nitze (114-19). War without End. The Bush Doctrine, by embracing preventive war, is the most momentous national security initiative since the Manhattan Project, but its first application produced disaster (119-21). We should learn 1) “[T]he ideology of national security, American exceptionalism in its most baleful form, poses an insurmountable obstacle to sound policy” (121); 2) “Americans can no longer afford to underwrite a government that does not work” (122); 3) “To attend any longer to this elite would be madness . . . today’s Wise Men . . . have forfeited any further claim to trust” (123). Ch. 3: The Military Crisis. The power of the U.S. armed forces was “wildly overstated,” with the army failing to accomplish assigned mission—the elimination of the leadership of al-Qaeda and the subjugation of Iraq (124-26).

The reason is threefold: 1) the illusion of full spectrum dominance; 2) the illusion of strategic principles (the WeinbergerPowell docrine); 3) the illusion of a new civilian-military compact (127-31). These “puerile expectations” have now been exposed (131-33). Learning the Wrong Lessons. Three lessons of the current wars: 1) they define future challenges; 2) civilian interference in military planning is counterproductive; 3) the civilian-military divide must be healed (139; 133-41). “Small Wars” for Empire. Current trends would endorse “imperial policing” as the U.S. military’s primary mission (141-43). Does Knowing Douglas Feith Is Stupid Make Tommy Franks Smart? The civilian meddling represented by Feith was a problem (143-44). But the mediocrity of U.S. military leadership was “consistently disappointing” (147; 14552). Why the Draft Is Not a Good Idea and Won’t Happen. Practical and political obstacles make this option implausible (152-56). The Enduring Nature of War. “War’s essential nature is fixed, permanent, intractable, and irrepressible” (156). The IED shows war’s unpredictability (157-60). The Limited Utility of Force. Whatever its aim, reliance on the use of force is proving counterproductive (160-63). The Folly of Preventive War. The doctrine of preventive war is both morally wrong and irrational (citing Niebuhr again) (163-65). The Lost Art of Strategy. American military leaders, with Tommy Franks a case in point, confuse operations with strategy, ignoring the fact that the subordination of war to politics “lies at the very heart of strategy” (168; 165-69). “America doesn’t need a bigger army. It needs a smaller—that is, more modest— foreign policy” (169). CONCLUSION: The Limits of Power. The presidential campaign doesn’t matter as much as finding an approach to American politics that does not exacerbate the tendency to demand

delivery of goods, oil, and credit, and instead comes to a “realistic appreciation of limits” (174; 170-74). In foreign policy, citing Niebuhr again, the U.S. should return to “enlightened realism,” with “containment” instead of aggression as the response to Islamism (174-78). Abolishing nuclear weapons and preserving the earth should take priority as aims (178-81). Americans are living in denial (181). “Thus does the tragedy of our age move inexorably toward its conclusion . . . Americans appear determined to affirm Niebuhr’s axiom of willful self-destruction” (182). Notes. 12 pp. Acknowledgments. Index. 10 pp. [On the Author. Andrew J. Bacevich was born in 1947 in Normal, Illinois. He graduated from West Point in 1969 and served for a year in Vietnam (19701971). He retired from the U.S. Army in the early 1990s with the rank of colonel. He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. diplomatic history from Princeton. He has taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins, and is now professor of international relations and history at Boston University, where he teaches courses on “The American Military Experience,” “American Foreign Policy,” “Wars of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries,” “Ideas and American Foreign Policy,” and “U.S. Foreign Policy since the End of the Cold War.” His Fall 2008 office hours are 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; his office telephone number is 508-3580194. He is the author of American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy (2002) and The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005), and the editor of The Imperial Tense: Problems and Prospects of American Empire (2003) and The Long War: A New History of U.S.

National Security Policy since World War II (2007). Bacevich is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In addition to the son they lost in Iraq, he and his wife Nancy have three daughters. Bacevich, who once described himself as a “Catholic conservative,” has emerged

as perhaps the leading mainstream critic of American militarism (though he avoids the word in The Limits of Power). Politically non-partisan, he has called Barack Obama the best choice for conservatives in an article in The American Conservative (Mar. 24, 2008).]

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