Volume 15, No. Bacevich Metropolitan Books, , pgs. Andrew Bacevich has written a powerful but flawed criticism of American foreign policy. Both an academic historian and a professional soldier, he is exceptionally qualified to undertake such a critique. He begins his indictment from an indisputable fact. By allowing empire to trump defense, what Bacevich calls the "national security state" failed miserably.
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Volume 15, No. Bacevich Metropolitan Books, , pgs. Andrew Bacevich has written a powerful but flawed criticism of American foreign policy. Both an academic historian and a professional soldier, he is exceptionally qualified to undertake such a critique. He begins his indictment from an indisputable fact.
By allowing empire to trump defense, what Bacevich calls the "national security state" failed miserably. A political elite preoccupied with the governance of empire paid little attention to protecting the United States itself.
Four core conditions inform this ideology of national security …  history has an identifiable and indisputable purpose …  the United States has always embodied, and continues to embody, freedom. America, favored by its geographical position, could avoid involvement in European power politics. Bacevich does not discuss Beard in the present book, but he has written about him sympathetically in his American Empire. Bacevich unfortunately disagrees: he thinks that America has always aimed at empire.
No doubt Washington did hope for enhanced American power, but it hardly follows from this that insulation from European struggles was intended as a temporary expedient. In suggesting otherwise, Bacevich unwisely follows the interpretation of the warhawk Robert Kagan. Like Kagan, he confuses continental expansion with empire and great power politics. In what way does the former imply the key doctrine of collective security?
What is wrong with the foreign policy of the national security state? History will hold George W. Bush primarily responsible for the disastrous Iraq War of But if that war had a godfather, it was Ronald Reagan … [whose] real achievement in the Persian Gulf was to make a down payment on an enterprise destined to consume tens of thousands of lives, many American, many others not, along with hundreds of billions of dollars — to date, at least, the ultimate expression of American profligacy.
He denies that Reagan was a genuine conservative. The federal government did not shrink. It grew, the bureaucracy swelling by nearly 5 percent while Reagan occupied the White House. Given the bad consequences of unlimited intervention and empire, why have American policymakers adopted this policy? Americans, it seems, demand more and more material goods.
These goods cannot be secured without access to energy, in particular to oil. They could curb their appetites and learn to live within their means or deploy dwindling reserves of U.
If the American economy requires oil, there is no need to use military measures to secure it. Countries with oil have every incentive to trade with us. Hostile countries are no exception. Ivan Eland has pointed out that even if Saddam Hussein had taken over the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, his control over a greater market share of world-wide oil production and reserves would have allowed him to drive oil prices higher by cutting production somewhat.
Yet, according to [economist David] Henderson, those price increases would have amounted to less than one-half of 1 percent of U. Gross National Product. He looks with nostalgia on the "cadre of distinguished citizens rotated to Washington more often than not from Wall Street to occupy senior positions in the Roosevelt administration" p.
Most notable among these was Secretary of War Henry L. Adherents of the Stimson tradition saw themselves as servants of the state. To a remarkable extent, Stimson and others like him succeeded in achieving their goal. During his tenure as secretary of state in the Hoover administration, Stimson pursued a hostile policy toward Japan that helped drive that country into the arms of the Axis. His policy contrasted sharply with that of peace-loving President Hoover.
Further, Stimson supported dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, albeit with some misgivings. Bacevich contrasts Stimson and his cohorts with a more fanatical group that supplanted them.
Among the latter were James Forrestal and Paul Nitze. He was ambitious, erratic, insecure, combative, and resentful. Throughout the book, he continually appeals to the wisdom and far-sighted realism of Reinhold Niebuhr. As pastor, teacher, activist, theologian, and prolific author, Niebuhr was a towering presence in American intellectual life from the s throughout the s. Even today, he deserves recognition as the most clear-eyed of American prophets.
But he was a committed opponent of s noninterventionism and a firm supporter of the Cold War as well. In ethics, he disdained absolute prohibitions. The prudent statesman must take account of the "impossible possibilities" of the Gospels but could be guided neither by them nor by natural law precepts.
For an excellent defense of the continued relevance of the traditional policy of nonintervention, see Eric Nordlinger, Isolationism Reconfigured, and my review in The Mises Review Fall Cite This Article Gordon, David. The Mises Review 15, No.
Prophetic indictment of the house of cards and hubris that is American exceptionalism. Unflinching and stunningly articulate analysis of the structural flaws in the dominant American narrative. Oct 10, Ed rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to understand How we, the U. Recommended to Ed by: PBS Shelves: essays-politics-science-religion , reviewed , non-fiction Written by a true conservative, ex-military officer and current Boston University professor, this book concisely explains how the actions of citizens, government and the military over the last 45 years have pushed the U.
We Got Trouble
Kennedy and John F. His book should be read by every concerned US citizen. This is not theoretical for you. This was not hypernationalistic chest- thumping; it was the conventional wisdom. Niebuhr entertained few illusions about the nature of man, the possibilities of politics, or the pliability of history.
The Limits of Power
Bacevich thinks our political system is busted. To accommodate this hunger, pandering politicians have created an informal empire of supply, maintaining it through constant brush-fire wars. Yet the foreign-policy apparatus meant to manage that empire has grown hideously bloated and has led the nation into one disaster after another. In the dog days of the George W. The nation does seem to be in serious trouble.