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THE LIMITS OF POWER by Andrew J. Bacevich


The End of American Exceptionalism

by Andrew J. Bacevich

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8815-1
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

A retired U.S. Army colonel makes the case for a more modest American posture on the world stage, including less use of the military.

The United States’ recent tendency to flex its muscle is misguided and goes against national tradition, argues Bacevich (History and International Relations/Boston Univ.; The New American Militarism, 2005, etc). The American armed services are stretched too thin and have been sent on too many missions that should not have been launched. Citing theologian and social thinker Reinhold Niebuhr, who favored realism and humility as the guideposts of policymaking, the author finds the approach of many recent presidents, especially George W. Bush, sorely lacking in both. The Bush administration, in his view, has affirmed an “ideology of national security” that sees the United States as the embodiment of freedom in the world and believes that we can only be secure when liberty prevails across the globe. This inflated view of America’s importance has dangerous consequences at home and abroad, Bacevich writes: “It imposes no specific obligations. It functions the way ideology so often does—not to divine truth or even to make sense of things, but to provide a highly elastic rationale for action. In the American context, it serves principally to legitimate the exercise of executive power…It certainly does not prevent American policymakers from collaborating with debased authoritarian regimes that deny basic freedoms like Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt or Pervez Musharraf’s Pakistan.” The author offers little new information, but ably synthesizes existing scholarship. In spare prose, with rarely a wasted word, he examines and convincingly refutes many conservative foreign-policy tenets, including those that make the case for preemptive war, which Bacevich finds abhorrent. He does not include references to his own military career and never makes his argument in emotional terms; although the book is dedicated to his son, readers only learn in the acknowledgments that Lieutenant Andrew John Bacevich was killed in action in Iraq.

Well-reasoned and eloquently argued.