Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Three Books I Plan to Read

Bill Moyers recently interviewed Andrew Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. A few excerpts, as follows:

Well, I've been troubled by the course of U.S. foreign policy for a long, long time. And I wrote the book in order to sort out my own thinking about where our basic problems lay. And I really reached the conclusion that our biggest problems are within. I think there's a tendency on the part of policy makers and probably a tendency on the part of many Americans to think that the problems we face are problems that are out there somewhere, beyond our borders. And that if we can fix those problems, then we'll be able to continue the American way of life as it has long existed. I think it's fundamentally wrong. Our major problems are at home.

The pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has induced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people...is that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part of through the distribution of largesse here at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad.

What will not go away, is a yawning disparity between what Americans expect, and what they're willing or able to pay....I think one of the ways we avoid confronting our refusal to balance the books is to rely increasingly on the projection of American military power around the world to try to maintain this dysfunctional system, or set of arrangements that have evolved over the last 30 or 40 years. But, it's not the American people who are deploying around the world. It is a very specific subset of our people, this professional army. We like to call it an all-volunteer force--but the truth is, it's a professional army, and when we think about where we send that army, it's really an imperial army. I mean, if as Americans, we could simply step back a little bit, and contemplate the significance of the fact that Americans today are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ask ourselves, how did it come to be that organizing places like Iraq and Afghanistan should have come to seem to be critical to the well-being of the United States of America.

There is nothing in the preamble to the Constitution which defines the purpose of the United States of America as remaking the world in our image, which I view as a fool's errand. There is nothing in the preamble of the Constitution that ever imagined that we would embark upon an effort, as President Bush has defined it, to transform the Greater Middle East. This region of the world that incorporates something in order of 1.4 billion people. I believe that the framers of the Constitution were primarily concerned with focusing on the way we live here, the way we order our affairs. To try to ensure that as individuals, we can have an opportunity to pursue our, perhaps, differing definitions of freedom, but also so that, as a community, we could live together in some kind of harmony. And that future generations would also be able to share in those same opportunities.

I think that the Bush Administration's response to 9/11 in constructing this paradigm of a global war on terror, in promulgating the so called, Bush Doctrine of Preventive War, in plunging into Iraq - utterly unnecessary war - will go down in our history as a record of recklessness that will be probably unmatched by any other administration.

There are many people who say they support the troops, and they really mean it. But when it comes, really, down to understanding what does it mean to support the troops? It needs to mean more than putting a sticker on the back of your car. I don't think we actually support the troops. We the people. What we the people do is we contract out the business of national security to approximately 0.5 percent of the population. About a million and a half people that are on active duty. And then we really turn away. We don't want to look when they go back for two or three or four or five combat tours. That's not supporting the troops. That's an abdication of civic responsibility. And I do think it - there's something fundamentally immoral about that. Again, as I tried to say, I think the global war on terror, as a framework of thinking about policy, is deeply defective. But if one believes in the global war on terror, then why isn't the country actually supporting it? In a meaningful substantive sense?

Yep, this is a book I plan to read. The full interview, here.

Another book on my to-read list is Michael Scheuer's Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq. Scheuer is the ex-CIA operative who authored Imperial Hubris a couple of years back. The man knows what he is talking about.

Finally, there is Tony Judt's Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century. Peregrine Worthorne, in a review in the American Conservative, had this to say:

For Americans, victory in the Cold War was more than a terrestrial victory. It was also a celestial victory for which the U.S. had been prepared to risk destroying not only their own and the Russian peoples--who could be presumed to have given their consent--but the peoples of the rest of the world whose permission was never asked. Henceforth all things were going to be fundamentally transformed--in a word, reborn. As Judt puts it,

...with too much confidence and too little reflection we put the 20th century behind us and strode boldly into its successor swaddled in self-serving half truths: triumph of the West, the end of history, the uni-polar American moment, the ineluctable march of globalization and the free market

In other words, as one evil empire fell, a utopian empire--equally dangerous--took its place.



The Scylding said...

As somebody who grew up in the third world, and now lives in the US's northern neighbour, this is the most spot-on analysis I have ever seen. I have told people before - In ou day and age, Washington is Rome, with accompanying blessings and curses. And people tend to dislike empires, even when those empires bring them material wealth - like, truth be told, many Jews in 1st century Israel / Palestine. They had more rights than most conquered peoples in the empire.

I think if the US populace become self-aware of their imperial status, it might go a long way in helping them understand the world around them. Of course, empire is not inherently evil either. But it brings along a lot of baggage that need dealing with.

John said...

You are absolutely correct. Like Pat Buchanan said--"Americans have many fine qualities. A capacity to see ourselves as others see us is not high among them."

I have the Bacevich book on order, and picked up the Judt book today.

James the Thickheaded said...

Might be useful to revisit George Washington's Farewell Address. I stumbled earlier in the summer on the fact that hardly any of the Federalist papers have been released. We all think they have, but the bicentennial began a project and finally released GW's stuff - much of it for the first time. I'd be curious to see whether the caution on foreign engagements wasn't precisely intended to stem the messianic remake-the-world foreign policy we've engaged in since Jimmy Carter axed Kissinger's "realism".