Robert Kaiser, an associate editor of The Washington Post (and the former managing editor, the vice president of the Post editorial lineup), demonstrated just how much some deep thinkers at the top of the Post think like Code Pink and MoveOn.org in a Sunday Book World review of Andrew Bacevich’s book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.
Kaiser's rave review touted Bacevich as a "self-described conservative," but that description stretches credulity when an author is the darling of the radical-left media, as Bacevich is right now. Kaiser’s review very neatly describes how much Bacevich’s argument sounds just like standard left-wing media boilerplate.
1. The American people are a herd of shopping sheep. Their patriotism is shallow and enables reckless wars. Kaiser summarized:
Consumption has become the great American preoccupation, and consumption of imported oil the great chink in our national armor. When on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States suffered the most serious attack on its soil since 1812, our government responded by cutting taxes and urging citizens onward to more consumption. Bacevich quotes President Bush: "I encourage you all to go shopping more."After 9/11, Bacevich writes, "most Americans subscribed to a limited-liability version of patriotism, one that emphasized the display of bumper stickers in preference to shouldering a rucksack."
2. President Bush is horrible, and the Congress is worse than wimpy in opposing his "imperial presidency."
Bacevich's political crisis involves more than just George W. Bush's failed presidency, though "his policies have done untold damage." Bacevich argues that the government the Founders envisaged no longer exists, replaced by an imperial presidency and a passive, incompetent Congress. "No one today seriously believes that the actions of the legislative branch are informed by a collective determination to promote the common good," he writes. "The chief...function of Congress is to ensure the reelection of its members."
3. America is overwhelmed by an ideology of militarism and the poisonous thought that America should spread democracy.
In Bacevich's view, the modern American government is dominated by an "ideology of national security" that perverts the Constitution and common sense. It is based on presumptions about the universal appeal of democracy and America's role as democracy's great defender and promoter that just aren't true. And we ignore the ideology whenever it suits the government of the day, by supporting anti-democratic tyrants in important countries like Pakistan and Egypt, for example. The ideology "imposes no specific obligations" nor "mandates action in support of the ideals it celebrates," but can be used by an American president "to legitimate the exercise of American power."
4. Barack Obama embraces George Bush's military ideology.
Today politicians of all persuasions embrace this ideology. Bacevich quotes Sen. Barack Obama echoing "the Washington consensus" in a campaign speech that defined America's purposes "in cosmic terms" by endorsing a U.S. commitment to "the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders" regardless of the circumstances.
5. Our troops are isolated from reality, and serve as an "imperial constabulary."
He calls the all-volunteer Army, isolated from the society it is supposed to protect, "an imperial constabulary" that "has become an extension of the imperial presidency."
Bacevich favors a draft, and knows that his new friends on the hard left want one, too. From a book excerpt circulated approvingly by The Nation Institute:
Some political activists look to an Iraq-era draft to do what the Vietnam-era draft did: animate large-scale protest, alter the political dynamic, and eventually shut down any conflict that lacks widespread popular support. The prospect of involuntary service will pry the kids out of the shopping malls and send them into the streets.
6. To overgeneralize, war is a terrible idea. It should not have been tried after 9/11. Back to Kaiser's review:
The heart of the matter, Bacevich argues, is that war can never be considered a useful political tool, because wars invariably produce unintended consequences: "War's essential nature is fixed, permanent, intractable, and irrepressible. War's constant companions are uncertainty and risk." New inventions cannot alter these facts, Bacevich writes. "Any notion that innovative techniques and new technologies will subject war to definitive human direction is simply whimsical," he writes, quoting Churchill approvingly: "The statesman who yields to war fever is no longer the master of policy, but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events."
Yet the United States is today engaged in multiple wars that both exceed the capacity of the all-volunteer force and are highly unlikely to achieve their political aims, Bacevich argues. War is not the answer to the challenges we face, he says, and "to persist in following that path is to invite inevitable overextension, bankruptcy and ruin."
The end of the Cold War left the United States feeling omnipotent but without a utilitarian doctrine to guide its foreign policy. Instead, we have succumbed, again and again, to the military temptation. In Iraq we stumbled into a real disaster. If we cannot get our goals and our means into balance soon, our future will be a lot less fun than our past....Candidates for office owe the voters their take on the big argument here: Do they think military power remains a tool of choice to help the United States make its way through the perils of the modern world? If so, can they explain why?
Like a good media liberal, Kaiser suggested that one can believe that all wars are bad wars, and that America is an ignorant colossus spreading ruin, but then somehow believe that he is free of "ideology" and "cant," and apparently, so is Bacevich. This is the reviewer's obvious attempt at a dust-cover blurb:
This compact, meaty volume ought to be on the reading list of every candidate for national office -- House, Senate or the White House -- in November's elections. In an age of cant and baloney, Andrew Bacevich offers a bracing slap of reality.