Andrew J. Bacevich on the limits of American power

The August 15 edition of PBS’ Bill Moyers Journal featured the most startlingly clear-eyed assessment of the current state of our nation that I’ve ever heard.

Andrew J. Bacevich teaches international relations and history at Boston University, is a graduate of West Point, and a retired Army colonel. He’s no lefty, preaching to the Moyers choir. Neither, it would appear, has he any use for Bushie neocons. Instead, he’s an astute observer of the political scene, with a deep knowledge of history, and a keen insight into the nature of the American character.

Professor Bacevich understands that a good-sized piece of our foreign policy problems are a result of our dogged determination to maintain a highly consumerist “American way of life.” If it’s our God-given right to unending supplies of cheap energy, cheap consumer goods, and unlimited credit, then our political leaders have no other real function other than to project military force, in a Sisyphean effort to protect the incoming supply lines for all the goodies we demand.

Which, of course, leads to a sort of permanent militarization of the country, especially when we can’t get our way, or when somebody gives us a black eye. In the preface to his new book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, Bacevich writes:

… for the United States after 9/11, war became a seemingly permanent condition. President George W. 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. Just two weeks after 9/11, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was already instructing Americans to “forget about ‘exit strategies’; we’re looking at a sustained engagement that carries no deadlines.”

And here we are.

Bill Moyers and Andrew J. Bacevich -- August 15, 2008

Bill Moyers and Andrew J. Bacevich - Aug. 15, 2008

There are ways out of this mess, but setting things to right will require a massive realignment of the way we think of ourselves. It’s time to start acting like grown-ups.

Catch the whole thing in video, audio, or transcript starting HERE , and be sure to read excerpts from Bacevich’s book, the site’s blog comments, slideshows, and other features. This is important stuff.

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2 Responses to “Andrew J. Bacevich on the limits of American power”

  1. Thanks for the link to the excellent interview.

  2. I agree. Mr. Bacevich eloquently articulates many unnerving aspects of our military, politics and social attitutes that many of us know to be true deep inside, but are afraid to acknowledge. I hope the politicians and the media start discussing the important issues he raises.

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