Surprisingly, on Friday Professor Bacevich had an OpEd in The Boston Globe, which basically told the same story. The title is "America’s skewed national security priorities".
Professor Bacevich is a retired Army Colonel, with a PhD from Princeton University, in American Diplomatic History. As I recall, part of his time in the Army was a tour with Andy Marshall's Office of Net Assessment. A tour under Andy Marshall would be like getting a whole additional PhD.
The book was published in 2008. Maybe it was to allow the author to explain why he was so unhappy with President George W Bush. Maybe it was his job application to the anticipated Obama Administration. Maybe it was just his belief that someone had to speak out about what was wrong with Washington—a sort of early Tea Party plea.
As with most books, this one leads to others than need to be read. In particular there are the works of the late Reverend Reinhold Niebuhr. Before you say "another darned German", Rev Niebuhr was born and raised in these United States. By the beginning of the Cold War he had moved to an approach that might be called "realism":
Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.The Pastor's position was toward the center, believing in sin and questioning the social gospel, but rejecting the Biblical literalism of those deemed more conservative.
In a quick summation, Professor Bacevich holds that the Executive Branch has been gaining power since the time of Franklin D Roosevelt and the US Congress has been abrogating its own responsibilities and has become a claque for what is becoming an Imperial Presidency.
The Professor marks as one of the turning points the approval of NSC-68, which was the US National Strategy for the Cold War. It can be found here. While the Professor doesn't say it, he implies that the invasion of South Korea by the North was not that important, but worse, gave the appearance of credibility to the draft NSC-68, crafted by Paul Nitze.
For Nitze, it was a timely bit of good luck. Communist North Korea's invasion of the south seemingly affirmed the analysis contained in NSC 68: International Communism, responding to directives issued by the Kremlin, was apparently on the march. Not for the last time in recent American history—the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 offers another example—Wise Men impulsively attributed earth-shattering significance to a development of middling importance.It might be noted that Mr X, the author of "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" (Foreign Affairs, July 1947), was a "realist" in foreign policy and opposed NSC-68 as being too focused on a military response to the Soviet Union.
In parallel with his argument about the Executive gaining too much power it is argued that the Wise Men of WWII and before have been replaced by new "Wise Men" (and women) who are too quick to react to changes in the international situation. Some problems don't need to be tended too. Describing the last of the old school Wise Men, Henry L Stimson, Professor Bacevich writes:
He had seen it all. As such, he was not given to overreaction. He did not panic. He represented steadiness, prudence, and sobriety.In contrast was, first, James Forrestal, who became the first Secretary of Defense, and then Paul Nitze, and finally Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense under President George W Bush, until pushed out. From the author's point of view, this later group tended to overreact and thus caused the United States to take action when none was required. The Invasion of Iraq and the prolongation of the war in Afghanistan being two cases of overreaction.
But, there is another thread running through the book and that is American dependence on foreign oil. It is the Professor's contention that our ever deepening dependence on foreign oil is causing us to make foreign policy decisions that are stupid—his word. To that dependence on foreign oil, with its terrible impact on our balance of payments problem he would add unwarranted destruction of the environment.
Going back to the newspaper article of Friday:
Since the promulgation of the Carter Doctrine in 1980, the United States has expended hundreds of billions of dollars (along with the lives of several thousand US troops) in vainly attempting to determine the course of events across the Greater Middle East. Resting on the assumption that the application of American hard power fosters order and stability, that effort continues today, with no end in sight.The Professor is very unhappy with the US Congress.
Little evidence exists to suggest that US exertions, whether aimed at liberating, transforming, or dominating the Islamic world, are achieving success. No matter: Washington shows no sign of relenting. In Congress, new appropriations to fund the war in Afghanistan are pending — $58 billion — with passage assured.
It is possible that if the Tea Party movement had a foreign affairs wing, it might embrace this critique of Washington.
Professor Bacevich has a new book coming out in August of this year, Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. I expect it will be a further explication of the themes of The Limits of Power. Waiting for the new book might substitute for buying the 2008 version. However, if you are thinking of sending something to Rep Tsongas or one of our two Senators, the 2008 book is good enough and they need to start reading now.
I don't agree with a lot of what the author says, but he has his finger on some strong points. First and foremost, I would single out the need for the US Congress to resume its traditional duties and for it to be in tension with the White House and not working for it. We do need a President who can respond to a real crisis, but we need a Congress that expresses the will of the People.
In closing I would note that when George Anthes was on WCAP in the mornings and I was the designated Guest Co-host one day I tried to get the Professor on to talk about one of his earlier books. However, there was some confusion as to who would pay for the phone call. In the end the Professor begged off, saying that it looked like a "setup". Far from it and unfortunate in that in Lowell we have quite a few people who are interested in both international affairs and where our nation is headed.
Regards — Cliff