Andrew Bacevich, a professor of international relations at Boston University, has been one of modern American foreign policy’s most astute critics. In his new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, Bacevich questions the dominant U.S. national security consensus which privileges the vigorous exercise of American military power in order to maintain “the American way of life,” arguing that neither of these things will be sustainable in the future.
Think Progress/Wonk Room editor Faiz Shakir and I spoke to Prof. Bacevich about some of the issues and arguments in his book. Bacevich writes that the US currently faces three crises: a crisis of profligacy, a political crisis, and a military crisis, and that the Iraq war is the clearest manifestation of all three of these. Asked to elaborate on this point, Bacevich said that the Iraq war “embodies the tendency to think that by relying on military power we can address the most fundamental problems that face the nation.”
I’ve become convinced that the solution to the biggest problems we face lie at home. That the best way to try and preserve the American way of life is actually to change the American way of life, rather than fancying that through the exercise of hard power we can change the world to accommodate the the American way of life.
Later, I referenced a July article in which Bacevich wrote that “absent a willingness to assess in full all that Bush has wrought, the general election won’t signify a real break from the past.”
The challenge facing Obama is clear: he must go beyond merely pointing out the folly of the Iraq war; he must demonstrate that Iraq represents the truest manifestation of an approach to national security that is fundamentally flawed, thereby helping Americans discern the correct lessons of that misbegotten conflict.
I asked Bacevich whether he felt at this point whether Obama was willing to to make this kind of break. He said that “the appointments that have been announced thus far strike me as indicative of a preference for people who are seasoned and accomplished, but who don’t necessarily signify a determination to change the way Washington works, as was promised.”
President Bush proclaimed immediately after 9/11 that the proper response to violent Islamic radicalism was global war. His vision of that global war was one that assumed that we had both the capacity, and indeed the need, to radically transform the greater Middle East. And he shortly thereafter claimed the prerogative of waging preventive war, which is the essence of the Bush doctrine, in order to pursue those objectives.
I would want to see a President Obama explicitly abrogate the doctrine of preventive war and to question fundamentally whether global war — open-ended global war — really provides the proper framework in which to address the threat posed by violent Islamic radicalism. I did not hear him pose those fundamental questions on the campaign trail, and it’s not clear to me that — given the kind of people he’s appointing — it’s not clear to me that those most fundamental questions are going to be asked after January 20.