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Outstanding Dose of Reality!
on March 31, 2012
Andrew Bacevich, West Point graduate, retired Army colonel, and current professor of history at Boston University rejects wasting time pursuing ideological battles. 'Ideology makes people stupid. Employing ideology as the basis for policy is a recipe for disaster. Surviving in a complex, uncertain environment requires flexibility, pragmatism, and perhaps above all self-awareness. That's true if you're in the business of making cars or selling donuts. It's truer still for those whose business is statecraft.' Bacevich's flexible, pragmatic, self-aware approach is visible throughout his latest book, 'The Short American Century.' 'The Short American Century' is a collection of essays examining American global preeminence following WWII, written in response to Henry Luce's February, 1941 'Life' magazine article titled 'The American Century' that made a case for U.S. entry into WWII and that we must share our way of life with all others. Editor/author Bacevich asserts it was more of an illusion, and extraordinarily arrogant.
WWII helped reaffirmed Luce's thinking. We were transformed from a Depression-ridden country to a global manufacturing powerhouse, the only nation to emerge from that contest in a superior position. Unfortunately, we also overstated our role in victory - the Russians contributed far more in manpower and casualties, and the actual turning point can be traced to Russia turning back Germany at Stalingrad. Regardless, the U.S. took the lead in creating many post-war institutions, including the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the USIA (to publicize/export America's values and accomplishments). The 'bad news' is that we also began meddling in other nation's affairs - China (Taiwan), Cuba, Iran, Israel (and its neighbors), and Vietnam among them. Trade alliances became a favorite mechanism to spread America's prosperity while also impeding the growth of Communism - Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan were early beneficiaries.
At first, everyone thrived, and American workers were touted as the world's most skilled and productive. (I recall a National Geographic photo of a number of Chinese workers, comparing their output unfavorably to a single American using a bulldozer - clearly self-deceptive.) Ultimately, however, these trade pacts, along with others with eg. China, Mexico, Singapore, etc. weakened our economy via trade deficits, the relocation of production, services, and R&D. It became increasingly necessary to 'force-feed' the economy via low-interest rates and increased use of credit. Vietnam had also been a warning sign. For a time, however, these problems were hidden by euphoria over the collapse of the Soviet Empire - Washington promoted this as vindication of the American Century. Then came Iraq War I - at first appearance a stunning American victory; closer reflection, however, shows it (along with our reluctance to confront North Korea) to have motivated other nations to pursue nuclear weapons (eg. Iran, Libya).
September 11, 2001 should have convinced us that the U.S. was nowhere near invincible. Instead, it redoubled our martial tempo - wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a worldwide War on Terror. And it also took our eye of China and its rapidly growing economic strength, at our expense, as well as the fact that American businesses had separated their interests from those of the nation. What was good for business was often no longer good for America.
When did history turn against the U.S.? Bush II thought we'd reached a new historical peak when U.S. troops occupied Hussein's palaces. But 'Mission Accomplished' actually turned out to be 'Mission Just Begun' and we ended up with egg on our faces. Bacevich believes the 'American Century' (if it ever existed) ended between 2006 and 2008 when Bush gave up on victory in Iraq (and transforming the Middle East) and the Great Recession brought the U.S. economy to its knees, only about 16 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
A major cause - continued assertions by presidential contenders that, despite a Constitution mandating separation of church and state, 'God is on our side,' 'we are his instrument,' and their desires to lead us off into new mandated-from above open-ended quixotic quests for human rights and military supremacy. Somehow we are supposed to reinvigorate American by bombing Iran in a second preventive war, confronting China, and proclaiming Reagan-like 'Morning in America' mantras. Why - we can't face the truth. Collectively we overlook seemingly bombed-out cities such as Newark, Cleveland, and Detroit, globalization that has brought ballooning national debt and a floundering economy, failure in Iraq, the world's most expensive health care system, imminent failure in Afghanistan, a paralyzed political system, the Great Recession, insecurity despite the world's largest defense expenditures (even more so if Homeland Security is included), an ineffectual response to Katrina, and China's recently developed asymmetric weapons capable of destroying our vaunted 'Blue Water Navy' notwithstanding. And individually we are unable to either manage our household budgets or commit the parent/child effort to compete with other nations' education accomplishments.
War has become the new normalcy for the American public. Meanwhile, our image, for all the preceding reasons plus Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, special renditions, and water-boarding, has sagged. Not surprisingly, the 'Arab Spring' demonstrators have avoided any reference to the U.S. as the source of their inspiration.
Bacevich's Conclusions: It simply makes no sense to pretend the U.S. is promoting a special message in pursuit of a special mission from God. We are merely attempting to cope, and need to admit such. It's time we stop instructing the Chinese, or anyone else, on how to manage their affairs, and it's also time to put away our homemade 'World's Sheriff' badge. The era of ideological fancy is over. It's time to live within reality and within our means.