Andrew J. Bacevich. The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2008)
Reviewed by T. Hatch
Professor Bacevich's The Limits of Power is a slender and powerful little book that is to the ethic of imperialism what Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class was to conspicuous consumption. Since the end of World War II and the founding of the national security state the federal government in general, and the Executive Branch in particular, have acquired power roughly in the same way as John Belushi piled food on his tray in the cafeteria scene in the film Animal House. Not only has this gluttonous acquisition of power continued unabated but the spectator consent-givers that the people of the United States have become have passively watched while the power grab transpired. They only have themselves to blame.
According to Bacevich, a retired U.S. Army colonel and West Point graduate, that the American people persist in their passivity is because they have been co-opted into a reckless consumerism that both excuses and sees as infinite the exercise U.S. power in the world. We find ourselves in the middle of a permanent and global war on “terrorism” largely because of a moral failing. Clearly this is a losing strategy. “American power has limits and is inadequate to the ambitions to which hubris and sanctimony have given rise.” This system perpetuates itself because the modern imperialist “little war” is not something that intrudes on everyday life. In fact, “...most Americans subscribed to a limited-liability version of patriotism, one that emphasized the display of bumper stickers in preference to shouldering a rucksack.” The President may say we are at war but you couldn't tell it by the behavior of the nation. It is not a choice of guns or butter. The only decision left to be made is how creamy do we want the butter?
In the author's view George W. Bush is to blame for a recklessness in office but in regard to the invasion and occupation of Iraq he is firmly in the tradition of the other emperor-presidents who have preceded him. President Bush is certainly part of the longstanding practice of conviction following self-interest. The Bush ideology consists at its core of the belief that history has a purpose (the triumph of freedom over oppression and evil), the United States embodies the cause of freedom, God has chosen the U.S. to ensure that freedom prevails, and for the American way of life to succeed “freedom” must exist everywhere. Of course this was all to be achieved by the Bush Doctrine of preemptive war . However, God's plan for the U.S. was radically altered when the Bush Doctrine sank on its maiden voyage faster than the Titanic.