America is at a turning point. Can it rebuild its reputation in and beyond? In The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich, uniquely respected. 1 (Spring )THE LIMITS OF POWER: THE END OF AMERICAN Andrew Bacevich has written a powerful but flawed criticism of American. With The Limits of Power, Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University and retired U.S. Army colonel, continues his.

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Tags War and Foreign Policy. Bacevich Metropolitan Books,pgs. Andrew Bacevich has written a powerful but flawed criticism of American foreign policy. Both an academic historian and a professional soldier, he is exceptionally qualified to undertake such a critique. He begins his indictment from an indisputable fact.

By allowing empire to trump defense, what Bacevich calls the plwer security state” failed miserably. A political elite preoccupied with the governance of empire paid little attention to protecting the United States itself. The institution nominally referred to as the Department of Defense didn’t actually do defense; it specialized bacevkch power projection.

Bacevich contends that this failing reflects not merely the defects of the Bush administration, though he addresses these in detail, but the whole course of long-established American foreign policy. Four core conditions inform this ideology of national security … [1] history has an identifiable and limite purpose … [2] the United States has always embodied, and continues to embody, freedom.

Bacefich key idea, the core of the core, is in my view powet security, i. Traditional American foreign policy, exemplified in Washington’s Farewell Address, rejected this position. America, favored by its geographical position, could avoid involvement in European power politics.

Bacevich does not discuss Beard in the present book, but he has written about him sympathetically in his American Empire. The Farewell Address merely reflected America’s temporarily weak position: No doubt Washington did hope for enhanced American power, but it hardly follows from this that insulation from European struggles was intended as a temporary expedient.

The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich | American Empire Project

In suggesting otherwise, Bacevich unwisely follows the interpretation of the warhawk Robert Kagan. Like Kagan, he confuses continental expansion with empire and great power politics.

In what way does the former imply the key doctrine of collective security?

What is wrong with the foreign policy of the national security state? Bacevich argues that, far from promoting America’s safety, the policy embroils us in dangerous disputes that weaken us. America’s military presence in the Persian Gulf is a prime example:. Far more than any liimts his predecessors, Reagan led the United States down the road to Powerr Gulf perdition. History will hold George W. Bush primarily responsible for the limita Iraq War of But if that war had a godfather, it was Ronald Reagan … [whose] real achievement in the Persian Gulf was to make a down payment on an enterprise destined to consume tens of thousands of lives, many American, many others not, along with hundreds of billions pimits dollars — to date, at least, the ultimate expression of American profligacy.


Though Bacevich is a political conservative, it is apparent that he holds Reagan, usually viewed as a paragon of the Right, in contempt. He denies that Reagan was a genuine conservative. He promised to curtail government but instead expanded it:. The federal government did not shrink. It grew, the bureaucracy swelling by nearly 5 percent while Reagan occupied the White House.

Carter, though normally considered far to the left of Reagan, was substantially less a spendthrift. Bacevich’s revisionism on Reagan is useful, but lumits it lies a dubious thesis on which the author insists.

Given the bad consequences of unlimited intervention and empire, why have American policymakers adopted this policy? Americans, it seems, demand more and more material goods. These baceivch cannot be secured without access to energy, in particular to oil. America’s aggressive policy in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere is ultimately motivated by our refusal to restrict consumption:. The first protracted economic downturn since World War II [in the ‘s] confronted Americans with a fundamental choice.

They could curb their appetites and learn to live within their means or deploy dwindling reserves of U.

Bacevich may deplore “conspicuous consumption,” but his Veblenesque theory does not vacevich for our bellicose foreign policy. If the American economy requires oil, there is no need to use military measures to limifs it. Countries with oil have every incentive to trade with us. Hostile countries are no exception. Yet, according to [economist David] Henderson, those price increases would have amounted to less than opwer of 1 percent of U.

The American foreign-policy elite has indeed sought control of foreign resources, but this reflects its own quest for power and profit rather than an attempt to fulfill the demands of the rapacious consumer. As Bacevich himself emphasizes, the controllers of foreign policy disdain public opinion:.

From time to time, however, the mask slips and it becomes apparent that those on the inside don’t care a fig for what members of the great unwashed might think.

Public opinion is suspect; when it comes to national security, the public’s anointed role is to defer. Bacevich displays appropriate severity toward the pretensions of the security elite; but at times, he is regrettably ambivalent. He looks with nostalgia on the “cadre of distinguished citizens rotated to Washington more often than not from Wall Street to occupy senior positions in the Roosevelt administration” p.


Adherents of the Stimson tradition saw themselves as servants of the ilmits. In the circumstances that existed in the s, preserving the nation meant strengthening it — establishing beyond question America’s place in the front rank of great powers. To a remarkable extent, Stimson and others like him succeeded in achieving their goal. This praise for Stimson goes altogether too far.

During his tenure as secretary of state in the Hoover administration, Stimson pursued a hostile policy toward Japan that helped drive that country into the arms of the Axis. His policy contrasted sharply with that of peace-loving President Hoover. Further, Stimson supported dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, albeit with some misgivings. Bacevich contrasts Stimson and his cohorts with a more fanatical group that bzcevich them. Among the latter were James Forrestal and Paul Nitze.

Forrestal in particular arouses our author to fury, and about him he writes the following, which I commend to all lovers of invective:. Forrestal’s personal life was bacdvich shambles: His wife was a floozy and a drunk; he was himself a hard drinker, an inattentive father, and a compulsive womanizer.

He was ambitious, erratic, insecure, combative, and resentful.

The Limits of Power by Andrew J. Bacevich | Black Inc.

I fear that I must take issue with Bacevich on one more point. Throughout the book, he continually appeals to the wisdom and far-sighted realism of Reinhold Niebuhr.

As pastor, teacher, activist, theologian, and prolific author, Niebuhr was a towering presence in American intellectual life from the s throughout the s. Even today, he deserves recognition as the most clear-eyed of American prophets. Niebuhr was a leading theologian; his magnum opusThe Nature and Destiny of Manmerits careful study.

But he was a committed opponent of s noninterventionism and a firm supporter of the Cold War as well. In ethics, he disdained absolute prohibitions.

Book Review: The Limits of Power

The prudent statesman must take account of the “impossible possibilities” of the Gospels but could be guided neither by them nor by natural law precepts. Readers may find it useful to compare Bacevich’s enthusiasm for Niebuhr with the remarks on him in Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Limitts of The Limits of Power: The Mises Review 15, No. View the discussion thread. Skip to main content.