Andrew J. Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism ( New York: Metropolitan Books, ), pp., $ Andrew Bacevich’s latest . The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. By Andrew J. Bacevich. Metropolitan Books, pp. $ Purchase. In post-Cold War . “Andrew Bacevich speaks truth to power, no matter who’s in power, which may be why those of both the left and right listen to him.”—Bill Moyers An immediat.
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Liimits who identifies three major problems oof our democracy: The Enduring Relevance of Reinhold Niebuhr. April 16, Welcome to The Blog Ghe 15, Andrew J. The American Empire Project poses questions to American thinkers and writers: How did we get to this point?
And what lies down the road? Bacevich has posted a new entry on the blog: But Thought It Did. War Without Exits For the United States, the passing of the Cold War yielded neither a powee dividend” nor anything remotely resembling peace. Instead, what was hailed as a historic victory gave way almost immediately to renewed unrest and conflict.
By the time the East- West standoff that some historians had termed the “Long Peace” ended inthe United States had already embarked upon a decade of unprecedented interventionism. In the years that followed, Americans became inured anrew reports of U. Yet all of these limots out to be mere preliminaries. In came the main event, an open- ended global war on terror, soon known in some quarters as the “Long War.
After all, these small events left unaltered what many took to be the defining reality of the contemporary era: During the s, at the urging of politicians and pundits, Americans became accustomed to thinking of their country as “the indispensable nation. The chief responsibility was to preside over a grand project of political- economic convergence and integration commonly referred to as globalization. In point of fact, however, globalization served as a euphemism for soft, or informal, empire.
The collapse of the Soviet Union appeared to offer an opportunity to expand and perpetuate poder empire, creating something akin to a global Pax Americana. The indispensable nation’s chief prerogative, self assigned, was to establish and enforce the norms governing the post-Cold War international order. Even in the best of circumstances, imperial policing is a demanding task, requiring not only considerable acumen but also an abundance of determination.
The preferred American approach was to rely, whenever possible, on suasion.
Yet if pressed, Washington did not hesitate to use force, as its numerous military adventures during the s demonstrated. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, few questioned that assumption. The status of the United States as “sole superpower” appeared unassailable. Its dominance was unquestioned and unambiguous.
This was not hypernationalistic chest- thumping; it was the conventional wisdom. Recalling how Washington saw the post-Cold War world and America’s place in or atop it helps us understand why policy makers failed to anticipate, deter, or deflect the terrorist attacks of September 11, A political elite preoccupied with the governance of empire paid little attention to protecting the United States itself.
The institution nominally referred to as the Department of Defense didn’t actually do defense; it specialized in power projection. Inthe Pentagon was prepared for any number of contingencies in the Balkans or Northeast Asia or the Persian Gulf. It was just not prepared to address threats to the nation’s eastern seaboard. Well- trained and equipped U.
Odd as they may seem, these priorities reflected a core principle of national security policy: When it came to defending vital American interests, asserting control over the imperial periphery took precedence over guarding the nation’s own perimeter. Although it cobbled together a new agency to attend to “homeland security,” the administration also redoubled its efforts to shore up the Pax Americana and charged the Department of Defense with focusing on this task.
Rather than soft and consensual, the approach to imperial governance became harder and more coercive. Bush and members of his administration outlined a campaign against terror that they suggested might last decades, if not longer.
On the national political scene, few questioned that prospect. In the Pentagon, senior military officers spoke in terms of “generational war,” lasting up to a century. For the present generation, it has already become part of the natural order of things that GIs should be exerting themselves at great cost to pacify such far- off domains.
For the average American tuning in to the nightly news, reports of U. How exactly did the end of the Long Peace so quickly yield the Long War?
Seeing themselves as a peaceful people, Americans remain wedded to the conviction that the conflicts in which they find themselves embroiled are not of their own making. The global war on terror is no exception. Certain of our own benign intentions, we reflexively assign responsibility for war to others, typically malignant Hitler like figures inexplicably bent on denying us the peace that is our fondest wish.
This book challenges that supposition. It argues that the actions of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, however malevolent, cannot explain why the United States today finds itself enmeshed in seemingly never- ending conflict. Although critics of U. Certainly, the president and his advisers, along with neocons always looking for opportunities to flex American military muscle, bear considerable culpability for our current predicament.
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Yet to charge them with primary responsibility is to credit them with undeserved historical significance. The impulses that have landed us in a war of no exits and no deadlines come from within. Foreign policy has, for decades, provided an outward manifestation of American domestic ambitions, urges, tye fears. Those contradictions have found their ultimate expression in the perpetual state of war afflicting the United States today.
Gauging their implications requires that we acknowledge their source: Ansrew reflect the accumulated detritus of freedom, the by- products of our frantic pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Freedom is the altar at which Americans worship, whatever their nominal religious persuasion.
Yet even as they celebrate freedom, Americans exempt the object of their veneration from critical examination. In our public discourse, freedom is not so much a word or even a value as an incantation, its very mention enough to stifle doubt and terminate all debate. The Limits of Power will suggest that this heedless worship of freedom has andrw a mixed blessing. Bacevic our pursuit of freedom, we have accrued obligations and piled up debts that we are increasingly hard- pressed to meet.
Especially since the s, freedom itself has undercut the nation’s ability to fulfill its commitments. We teeter on the edge of insolvency, desperately trying to balance accounts by relying on our presumably invincible armed forces. Yet there, too, having exaggerated our military might, we court bankruptcy.
The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism by Andrew J. Bacevich
The United States today finds itself threatened by three interlocking crises. The first of these crises is economic and cultural, the second political, and the third military.
All three share this characteristic: They are of our own making. In assessing the predicament that results from these crises, The Limits of Power employs what might be called a Niebuhrean perspective.
Writing de cades ago, Reinhold Niebuhr anticipated that predicament with uncanny accuracy and astonishing prescience. As such, perhaps more than any other figure in our recent history, he may help us discern a way out. As pastor, teacher, activist, theologian, and prolific author, Niebuhr was a towering presence in American intellectual life from the s through the s.
Even today, he deserves recognition as the most clear- eyed of American prophets. Niebuhr speaks to us from the past, offering truths of enormous relevance to the present. Today, we ignore that warning at our peril. Niebuhr entertained few illusions about the nature of man, the possibilities of politics, or the pliability of history.
Realism and humility formed the core of his worldview, each infused with limuts deeply felt Christian sensibility. Realism in this sense implies an obligation to see the world as it actually is, not as we might like it to be.
The enemy of realism is hubris, which in Niebuhr’s day, and in our own, finds expression in an outsized confidence in the efficacy of American power as oc instrument to reshape the global order. Humility imposes an obligation of a different sort. It summons Americans to see themselves without blinders. The enemy of humility is sanctimony, which gives rise to the conviction that American values and beliefs are universal and that the nation itself serves providentially assigned purposes.
This conviction finds expression in a determination to remake the world in what we imagine to be America’s image. In our own day, realism and humility have proven in short supply. Good fortune and a position of apparent preeminence placed the United States “under the most grievous temptations to self- adulation.
Hubris and sanctimony have become the paramount expressions of American statecraft. That President Bush is waging his global war on terror to preserve American freedom is no doubt the case. Yet that andreww, however well intentioned, begs several limit questions: As actually expressed and experienced, what is freedom today?
What is its content? What costs does the exercise of freedom impose? These are fundamental questions, which cannot be dismissed with a rhetorical wave of the hand. That President Bush seems oblivious to their very existence offers one mea sure of his shortcomings as a statesman. Amdrew is not static, nor is it necessarily benign.
In practice, freedom constantly evolves and in doing so generates new requirements and abolishes old constraints.
The common understanding of freedom that prevailed in December when the United States entered the war against Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany has long since become obsolete. In some respects, this must be cause for celebration. In others, it might be cause for regret.