Saturday, August 8, 2009

Recommendation: “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism”


This is a very timely book and Bacevich manages to pack it with a substantial amount of well organized information. His main themes, as evidenced by the title, are the limitations of power projection through military force and the ideology of American Imperium. He traces the history of the National Security State, its organizational apparatus and the friction between various departments and the ideology of National Security which provide the rationale for the projects of political elites. His analysis situates the Bush administration within a tradition of ideology that spans back to the early days of the Cold war. Whilst also demonstrating its discontinuities; above all, the Bush doctrine’s concept of “preemptive war”. For Bacevich, this policy is both morally indefensible and pragmatically inept. He attempts to give both a description of the current crises (the crisis of profligacy, the political crisis and the military crisis) and prescriptive advice on how to readdress past mistakes. However, he does not view the current political, economic and military quandaries of the United State’s as the product of the Bush Administration and its key insiders alone. Though, he does a fine job of dissecting figures like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz while linking their ideological positions to pervious policy makers like James Forrestal and Paul Nitze. The crucial advantage of Bacevich’s “The Limits of Power”, is that it moves beyond the notion that the Bush Administration is an aberration and contextualizes the last eight years within the broader history of U.S. Foreign policy. Moreover, his analysis of institutional frameworks and the nature of self-seeking political elites add a deeper understanding to the current situation. To mention one failing, Bacevich does little to relate the current crises to the operations of capitalism itself. That however, would have perhaps limited the books appeal to segments of the political spectrum and pushed the book beyond its scope of inquiry. Despite that quibble, I couldn’t recommend Colonel Bacevich’s book more strongly.

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