Skip to comments.On the mend? America comes to its senses
Posted on 06/28/2011 8:50:51 PM PDT by Cardhu
The messiah-nation, gripped by war and fear of the unknown, could finally be coming to its senses.
At periodic intervals, the American body politic has shown a marked susceptibility to messianic fevers. Whenever an especially acute attack occurs, a sort of delirium ensues, manifesting itself in delusions of grandeur and demented behavior.
By the time the condition passes and a semblance of health is restored, recollection of what occurred during the illness tends to be hazy. What happened? How'd we get here? Most Americans prefer not to know. No sense dwelling on what's behind us. Feeling much better now! Thanks!
Gripped by such a fever in 1898, Americans evinced an irrepressible impulse to liberate oppressed Cubans. By the time they'd returned to their senses, having acquired various parcels of real estate between Puerto Rico and the Philippines, no one could quite explain what had happened or why. (The Cubans meanwhile had merely exchanged one set of overseers for another.)
In 1917, the fever suddenly returned. Amid wild ravings about waging a war to end war, Americans lurched off to France. This time the affliction passed quickly, although the course of treatment proved painful: confinement to the charnel house of the Western Front, followed by bitter medicine administered at Versailles.
The 1960s brought another bout (and so yet more disappointment). An overwhelming urge to pay any price, bear any burden landed Americans in Vietnam. The fall of Saigon in 1975 seemed, for a brief interval, to inoculate the body politic against any further recurrence. Yet the salutary effects of this "Vietnam syndrome" proved fleeting. By the time the Cold War ended, Americans were running another temperature, their self-regard reaching impressive new heights. Out of Washington came all sorts of embarrassing gibberish about permanent global supremacy and history's purpose finding fulfillment in the American way of life.
Give me fever
Then came 9/11 and the fever simply soared off the charts. The messiah-nation was really pissed and was going to fix things once and for all.
Nearly 10 years have passed since Washington set out to redeem the Greater Middle East. The crusades have not gone especially well. In fact, in the pursuit of its saving mission, the American messiah has pretty much worn itself out.
Today, the post-9/11 fever finally shows signs of abating. The evidence is partial and preliminary. The sickness has by no means passed. Oddly, it lingers most strongly in the Obama White House, of all places, where a keenness to express American ideals by dropping bombs seems strangely undiminished.
Yet despite the urges of some in the Obama administration, after nearly a decade of self-destructive flailing about, American recovery has become a distinct possibility. Here's some of the evidence: In Washington, it's no longer considered a sin to question American omnipotence. Take the case of Robert Gates. The outgoing secretary of defense may well be the one senior US official of the past decade to leave office with his reputation not only intact, but actually enhanced. (Note to President Obama: think about naming an aircraft carrier after the guy). Yet along with restoring a modicum of competence and accountability to the Pentagon, the Gates legacy is likely to be found in his willingness - however belated - to acknowledge the limits of American power.
That the United States should avoid wars except when absolutely necessary no longer connotes incipient isolationism. It is once again a sign of common sense, with Gates a leading promoter. Modesty is becoming respectable.
The Gates doctrine
No one can charge Gates with being an isolationist or a national security wimp. Neither is he a "declinist". So when he says anyone proposing another major land war in the Greater Middle East should "have his head examined" - citing the authority of Douglas MacArthur, no less - people take notice. Or more recently there was this: "I've got a military that's exhausted," Gates remarked, in one of those statements of the obvious too seldom heard from on high. "Let's just finish the wars we're in and keep focused on that instead of signing up for other wars of choice." Someone should etch that into the outer walls of the Pentagon's E-ring.
A half-dozen years ago, "wars of choice" were all the rage in Washington. No more. Thank you, Mr Secretary.
Or consider the officer corps. There is no "military mind", but there are plenty of minds in the military and some numbers of them are changing.
Evidence suggests that the officer corps itself is rethinking the role of military power. Consider, for example, "Mr Y", author of A National Strategic Narrative, published this spring to considerable acclaim by the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. The actual authors of this report are two military professionals, one a navy captain, the other a Marine colonel.
What you won't find in this document are jingoism, braggadocio, chest-thumping, and calls for a bigger military budget. If there's an overarching theme, it's pragmatism. Rather than the United States imposing its will on the world, the authors want more attention paid to the investment needed to rebuild at home.
The world is too big and complicated for any one nation to call the shots, they insist. The effort to do so is self-defeating. "As Americans," Mr Y writes, "we needn't seek the world's friendship or proselytise the virtues of our society. Neither do we seek to bully, intimidate, cajole, or persuade others to accept our unique values or to share our national objectives. Rather, we will let others draw their own conclusions based upon our actions We will pursue our national interests and let others pursue theirs..."
You might dismiss this as the idiosyncratic musing of two officers who have spent too much time having their brains baked in the Iraqi or Afghan sun. I don't. What convinces me otherwise is the positive email traffic that my own musings about the misuse and abuse of American power elicit weekly from serving officers. It's no scientific sample, but the captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels I hear from broadly agree with Mr Y. They've had a bellyful of twenty-first-century American war and are open to a real debate over how to overhaul the nation's basic approach to national security.
Intelligence where you least expect it
And finally, by gum, there is the United States Congress. Just when that body appeared to have entered a permanent vegetative state, a flickering of intelligent life has made its reappearance. Perhaps more remarkably still, the signs are evident on both sides of the aisle as Democrats and Republicans alike - albeit for different reasons - are raising serious questions about the nation's propensity for multiple, open-ended wars.
Some members cite concerns for the Constitution and the abuse of executive power. Others worry about the price tag. With Osama bin Laden out of the picture, still others insist that it's time to rethink strategic priorities. No doubt partisan calculation or personal ambition figures alongside matters of principle. They are, after all, politicians.
Given what polls indicate is a growing public unhappiness over the Afghan War, speaking out against that war these days doesn't exactly require political courage. Still, the possibility of our legislators reasserting a role in deciding whether or not a war actually serves the national interest - rather than simply rubberstamping appropriations and slinking away - now presents itself. God bless the United States Congress.
Granted, the case presented here falls well short of being conclusive. To judge by his announcement of a barely-more-than-symbolic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Obama himself seems uncertain of where he stands. And clogging the corridors of power or the think tanks and lobbying arenas that surround them are plenty of folks still hankering to have a go at Syria or Iran.
At the first signs of self-restraint, you can always count on the likes of Senator John McCain or the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal to decry (in McCain's words) an "isolationist-withdrawal-lack-of-knowledge-of-history attitude" hell-bent on pulling up the drawbridge and having Americans turn their backs on the world. In such quarters, fever is a permanent condition and it's always 104 and rising. Yet it is a measure of just how quickly things are changing that McCain himself, once deemed a source of straight talk, now comes across as a mere crank.
In this way, nearly a decade after our most recent descent into madness, does the possibility of recovery finally beckon.
Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations. His most recent book, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (Metropolitan Books) is just out in paperback.
This reads as if it were written in a fever induced delirium. Readers in a fever induced delirium will eat it up.
gross. why was this posted? lol
This article needs more cowbell.
Andrew J. Bacevich is an Obummer supporter and a fixture of the left. A college professor at BU with military background to give him street cred.
BTW, when did we start posting Al Jazeera crap w/o a barf alert?
Yet another discharge of flatus from the ever prestigious rectum of academia...
Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history...
Unfortunately, most of his students probably fall for his teachings.
HAHAHA One of my favorite comments of ALL time.
Bacevich graduated from West Point in 1969 and served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, serving in Vietnam from the summer of 1970 to the summer of 1971. Later he held posts in Germany, including the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the United States, and the Persian Gulf up to his retirement from the service with the rank of Colonel in the early 1990s. He holds a Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University, and taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins University prior to joining the faculty at Boston University in 1998. On May 13, 2007, Bacevich's son, 1LT Andrew J. Bacevich, Jr., was killed in action in Iraq by an improvised explosive device south of Samarra in Salah ad Din Governate. The younger Bacevich, 27, was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.
I disagree with much that he says but I'm humbled by what he has given.
Professor of history? Really? He went from WW I to Vietnam. Guess he must have been sleeping the days his teachers aides were going over WW II and Korea. He seems to have left out Bay of Pigs and a couple of others between Vietnam and now.
Bacevich has given more of himself than have most of the desk-bound Rambos who freely sent brave Americans into harms way decades after staying very far away from Vietnam. I think he’s right and I think the man is more of a true conservative than many so-called conservatives who have gotten carried away with the big government program of unlimited global interventions.
Anyway, Taranto ripped this guy a new hole today - see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304314404576413923687472488.html?mod=googlenews_wsj
Is this what passes for writing by an academic these days?
You took the words right out of my mouth LOL
When the towers were attacked I wish we would have built them back right where they were PLUS an identical pair of towers on the West Coast. Tell the world that if anybody touches anything here again we will build a THIRD set of towers in whatever country attacks us. Of course we’d have to clear a place to build them. That is sanity.