The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (American Empire Project)
a book by Andrew J. Bacevich
(our site's book review)
An immediate New York Times bestseller, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism offers an unparalleled examination of the profound triple crisis facing America: an economy in disarray that can no longer be fixed by relying on expansion abroad; a government transformed by an imperial presidency into a democracy in name only; and an engagement in endless wars that has severely undermined the body politic. See Democracy—an American Delusion, Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, The Neoconserative Threat to World Order: America's Perilous War for Hegemony, and American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan.
The skyrocketing price tag for our military tilting at windmills and precipitating a response called ISIS is nearly incalculable
Dubya and Obama want to restart the Crusades with us footing the bill for this insane neocon wet dream
Writing with knowledge born of experience, conservative historian and former military officer Andrew J. Bacevich argues that if the nation is to solve its predicament, it will need the revival of a distinctly American approach: the neglected tradition of realism. In contrast to the multiple illusions that have governed American policy since 1945, he calls for respect for power and its limits; aversion to claims of exceptionalism; skepticism of easy solutions, especially those involving force; and a conviction that Americans must live within their means. Only a return to such principles, Bacevich eloquently argues, can provide common ground for fixing America’s urgent problems before the damage becomes irreparable.
Realism—although Bacevich doesn't say it—needs to include firing neocon warmongers from their jobs, elected or unelected, and replacing them with reasonable people willing to admit the recent gross errors that made us seem like a bull in a china shop to everyone in the world except Americans, whose perspective on foreign affairs and military policy is mercilessly conditioned in by mainstream media propaganda mostly managed by CIA flunkies. But since many of the neocon warmongers are shadow government personnel, it will be hard to get to them, since many of their identities are unknown outside the perimeters of the shadow government.
Americans need to admit the recent gross errors that made us seem like a bull in a china shop to everyone in the world except Americans
The author describes the substitution of the values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with "Whoever dies with the most toys wins"; "Shop till you drop"; "If it feels good, do it." The latter aren't values, they're symptoms of a culture whose values slowly eroded due to capitalism's influence, since for capitalists to succeed, they must out-sell competitors which requires out-marketing them which requires a deluge of advertisements that have been psychologically targeted so they don't just make brands popular—they create needs. They're not real needs, but the psychological effects of the ads are to make them feel like they are, like you have a hollow place that needs filling, like you will not be loved without the product—you'll be lonely, ugly, unpopular, awkward, and left out wihout it. It was this calculated psychological onslaught that changed us from buying what we need to buying what they say we need, and buying more of it than we need, and shopping to fill that artificially created "hollow place." See Media Sexploitation.
Maybe 'shop till you drop' isn't the key to happiness after all
The author doesn't spend too much time discussing these things, and even less discussing why people in our culture are so vulnerable to being manipulated into doing what they don't want to do, believing untrue things, and feeling things about themselves that are false. The issue here is why they're not able to stand up to the onslaught from the marketers. Why aren't they secure in their beings so that someone else's attempt at trying to define them and judge them and "mess with their minds" is met with failure? Why are they insecure, vulnerable, gullible, and suggestable? If they were none of those things, they wouldn't indulge in shopping obsessions, conspicuous consumption, obsessive escapism, obsessive social networking aimed at obtaining indirect self acceptance, and an addiction to sensationalism and overindulging the senses. Keep these things in mind as you read on. We'll come back to them.
This website has much wisdom on that subject, including describing actions one can take to leave superficial consumerism values behind, gain more sense of self, gain the strength to fight the forces of overconformity and consumption addiction, and attain a successful social milieu, so that these hollow values the author rightly bemoans are replaced by the original non-hollow ones—and much more. This site has The Big Answer.
As the prerequisites of the American way of life have grown, they have outstripped the means available to satisfy them, says Bacevich. And he disdains claims from the likes of Dubya that America is attempting to end tyranny as well as spread liberty and democracy worldwide. In the pursuit of empire building, if the American forces accidentally liberate or end a tyranny or empower a democracy in the world, they pat themselves on the back. But the idea that that is the purpose of their military adventures on this planet is not just disingenuous—it's a lie. (It sounds good in political speeches, however much it's overt prevarication.)
U.S. influence has much more often been to prevent or destroy freedom and democracy in its adventures, whether in Latin America or Africa or the Mideast. Even U.S. democracy, freedom, rights, and privacy are being eroded mercilessly by neocon fanatics.
In actual fact, U.S. influence has much more often been to prevent or destroy freedom and democracy in its adventures, whether in Latin America or Africa or the Mideast. Even U.S. democracy, freedom, rights, and privacy are being eroded mercilessly by neocon fanatics and their lackeys. America's tradition is expansion, not liberation and even though we've pretended we were spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ or liberating, these were mere hollow cover stories. See A Game As Old As Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption.
Neocons do not care what happens to our soldiers or to Mideast citizens—they care about their own power and wealth, and see citizens as mere cannon fodder—a means to an end
Bacevich leaves no doubt about America's goals and methods: "How was expansion achieved? On this point, the historical record leaves no room for debate: by any means necessary. Depending on the circumstances, the United States relied on diplomacy, hard bargaining, bluster, chicanery, intimidation, or naked coercion. We infiltrated land belonging to our neighbors and then brazenly proclaimed it our own. We harassed, filibustered, and, when the situation called for it, launched full-scale invasions. We engaged in ethnic cleansing."
Expansion is achieved by any means necessary—war is the United States' religion, according to their actions
Policy makers kept their focus on enhancing American influence, wealth, and power in our past. This seemed like nationalism, and it originally was nationalism, but since the neocons assumed power, that has changed to—you guessed it—another cover story. Although inperialism to build empire is the m.o. of neocons, the actual goal underneath it all is wealth and power accumulation for the neocons themselves and their oligarch buddies. American citizens will not gain but lose in this process—the empire is for the neocons. And if you think that the lion's share of the wealth these neocons will be grabbing and accumulating will originate not in foreign lands but in the wallets of us citizens, you're right! Check out the national debt. This is money WE OWE! See The Neoconserative Threat to World Order: America's Perilous War for Hegemony.
The doomsday clock is currently set at 3 minutes to midnight
Unless American citizens start defecating money, the debt has put us all in deep doo-doo
The author tells us that "U.S. foreign policy at its most successful has not been idealism, but pragmatism, frequently laced with pragmatism's first cousin, opportunism." This is in spite of White House pronouncements full of high ideals and values. Again, they're the cover story.
In the 1970s the U.S. had its first protracted economic downturn since World War II. It confronted Americans with a fundamental choice: curb their appetites and learn to live within their means or utilize dwindling U.S. power in hopes of obliging others to accommodate their lust for conspicuous consumption. Between July 1979 and March 1983 they chose the latter. Carter made a depressing but brave and honest speech about it in which he bemoaned our selfishness and self-indulgence. But the public was too blinded by greed to buy it—they waited until Reagan promised we could have it all at no real cost. Good-bye sacrifice, hello hyperconsumerism. That this delusion of plenty without a price to pay was a fantasy and the steep price would be paid eventually was obvious to thinkers and historians of the time, but Reagan's snake oil was quite popular. He told them not the truth but what they wanted to hear, which is the lead-in to most con games. It's the setup. Carter's ideas meant settling for less, while Reagan's ideas were "hopeful." Reagan portrayed himself as conservative, which he was not. He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption.
Good-bye sacrifice, hello hyperconsumerism: Reagan's snake oil was quite popular—he told them what they wanted to hear, which is the lead-in to most con games
Reagan promised to reverse the growth of government, making it out to be like an enemy. But once Reagan occupied the White House, he did the opposite of what he said: government grew, deficits grew, spending grew, as if he was naive enough to have drunk his own Kool-Aid. If things were not going great in the U.S., get control of the oil. Reagan wielded U.S. military power to ensure access to oil, hoping thereby to prolong the empire of consumption's lease on life. SDI (Star Wars) tried to assure American security, and later the GWOT (global war on terror) took its place. Both are about delusion and both failed. But global military supremacy became a national goal and the goal persists to this day. This, then, is the Reagan legacy, along with that Iran-Contra fiasco and screwing up the economy and convincing the "we can have it all" citizens to borrow lots of money and get into lots of credit card debt.
Credit card debt
SDI (Star Wars) tried to assure American security, and later the GWOT (global war on terror) took its place. Both are about delusion and both failed
Bacevich outlined the philosopy of the megalomaniacal neocons in charge in 2002 with this: "The strategy devised by the Bush administration in response to 9/11 was 'comprehensive, prophetic, [and] evangelical.' It derived from the assumption that, 'for the evils of terror to be defeated,' most of the Islamic world needed to 'be made new.' The ultimate aim of that strategy was nothing less than 'to remake the world' or at least what the administration referred to as the Greater Middle East." That was then; this is now (2016). ISIS, not American troops, is the force to reckon with in that area, and its power is such that it is inspiring bold terrorist attacks in the U.S. itself.
9/11 terrorist attack
When will the leadership of the U.S. realize that warped-minded neocon warmongers should not only not direct foreign policy and military actions, they should not be listened to at all? ISIS—like herpes, the gift that keeps on giving—is the world telling us they've had a bellyful of U.S. interference and they'd appreciate it if we would simply extract ourselves from our latest self-generated quagmire, pack up, and go home. Perhaps ISIS would dissolve into nothing, or melt into a puddle like The Wizard of Oz's wicked witch of the west, since the entity that inspired it is now just a bad memory.
Perhaps if U.S. left, ISIS would dissolve into nothing, or melt into a puddle like The Wizard of Oz's wicked witch of the west
But the wars still rage, ISIS still terrorizes, and the useless wars we cannot even begin to afford keep sucking trillions from an ailing U.S. economy. Future generations could figure out how to pay the bills. We can't (and we are not even trying). Once our lenders cease lending and instead want their money repaid, what then? We have no option but to nuke them (the neocons will likely suggest), since that would seem to be the only solution the U.S. has for anything. And a cute name like Operation Chinese Freedom will surely be assigned to it!
Our leaders, when they get told of the skyrocketing debt, pretend not to hear, and get a faraway look in their beady little eyes
Bacevich sees things like a wise historian should: "The reciprocal relationship [long, long ago] between expansionism, abundance, and freedom—each reinforcing the other—no longer exists. If anything, the reverse is true: Expansionism squanders American wealth and power, while putting freedom at risk." But our leaders—especially the clueless neocon "warriors," seem to be living in the past, and when they get told of the skyrocketing debt, they pretend not to hear, get a faraway look in their beady little eyes, and pretend things are the way they want them to be—not the way they are. There's a word for the misinformation spewed by such people, minted by the incomparable Stephen Colbert: "truthiness." As America's most fearless purveyor of "truthiness," Stephen Colbert shines a light on ego-driven punditry, moral hypocrisy and government incompetence. The good news is that nearly everyone is listening (and learning the down side of neocon truthiness). The bad news? Neocons are the only ones NOT listening.
Neocons pretend not to hear uncomfortable truths, and pretend things are the way they want them to be—not the way they are—there's a word for the misinformation spewed by such people, minted by the incomparable Stephen Colbert: 'truthiness'
"Perhaps Bacevich doesn’t feel he has to provide detailed answers because he sees himself more as a prophet than as a policy maker. But surely what we require today, more than broad condemnations of American consumerism, are very specific solutions to very specific problems." (Source: We Got Trouble, New York Times Sunday Book Review, Jonathan Tepperman, Sept. 14, 2008)
The book is shining a bright, penetrating light on the need to trade military solutions in for a serious attempt at getting our own house in order at home
This put-down of Bacevich's wonderfully insightful book was a bit harsh, given that very specific solutions to U.S. hypermilitarization and self-involved consumption obsession are not really his job. Bacevich clearly says we need to trade military solutions in for a serious attempt at getting our own house in order at home. Not being a social policy specialist, sociologist, politician, or magician, Bacevich's general statement of the solution needs to be accepted—and appreciated—with less snark. The statement stands on its own as insightful and—even better—true. Bacevich is an American historian specializing in international relations, security studies, American foreign policy, and American diplomatic and military history, which make his brief prescription just what the doctor ordered since the man has little training to back up a prescription for getting our house in order at home, so he told us what he knows, but didn't waste our time guessing about what he isn't sure about.
On this website, we also stick to what we know. We are neither historians nor military experts so to learn about such matters as The Limits of Power deals with, we consult those people—such as Bacevich—who thoroughly understand these matters. But the answer to getting our house in order and living within our means happens to be our forte, and not because we are politicians or economists who can change debt into surplus with a few magic words or a bit of book cooking. It's our forte because we've studied this stuff for decades.
The answer to getting our house in order and living within our means happens to be our forte because we've studied this stuff for decades
So we've come full circle and we are back to discussing why people in our culture are so vulnerable to being manipulated into doing what they don't want to do, believing untrue things, and feeling things about themselves that are false. The issue here is why they're not able to stand up to the onslaught from the marketers. Why aren't they secure in their beings so that someone else's attempt at trying to define them and judge them and "mess with their minds" is met with failure? Why are they insecure, vulnerable, gullible, and suggestable? If they were none of those things, they wouldn't indulge in shopping obsessions, conspicuous consumption, obsessive escapism, obsessive social networking aimed at obtaining indirect self acceptance, and an addiction to sensationalism and overindulging the senses.
This outlines the ontological-existential dilemma underlying our inability to face reality or live within our means or leave behind our materialistic obsessions or stop being gullible and vulnerable to manipulation. We have the disease of insecurity-leading-us-to-not-think-for-ourselves-but-letting-media-pundits-or-parents-or-friends-do-it-for-us. Our citizens seek indirect self-acceptance on social networking sites because they do not accept themselves. They are alienated, other-directed, and superficial, but hardly ever thoughtful, insightful, and happily BEING WITHOUT NEEDING. (See Toward a Psychology of Being, The Adjusted American: Normal Neurosis in the Individual and Society, The Lonely Crowd, and The Responsive Communitarian Platform.)
To drop obsessions with military power and social engineering and hyperconsumption requires new values which can only come from revamped character, since our citizens' current characters are what makes them insecure, vulnerable, gullible, and suggestable so they don't bat an eye when a loser named Dubya tells them to go fight non-enemies in a non-hostile country forever in order to satisfy neocon wet dreams. What people with character would do is refuse, impeach the damn fool, and try to find a leader not out to be the hero in a John Wayne war movie, but out to empower U.S. citizens to live within their means, grow, thrive, be productive, and be happy, restoring our reputation worldwide as peacemakers (like in WWII) rather than warmongering terrorism precipitators and imperialistic empire builders.
When Dubya told our young to go fight non-enemies in a non-hostile country forever in order to satisfy neocon wet dreams, they should have refused, impeached the damn fool, and tried to find a decent leader
But how can this character revamping miracle be empowered? That, folks, is where OUR expertise comes in. You will not find a better site on earth for locating the answer to that question. (See for yourself in the MC Articles section of the Articles page. Whatever you do, don't overlook the novel link called Novel Related to Microcommunities (MCs). Okay?)
“Andrew Bacevich speaks truth to power, no matter who's in power, which may be why those of both the left and right listen to him.”—Bill Moyers
“Crisp prose, sweeping historical analysis and searing observations on the roots of American decadence elevate this book from a mere scolding to an urgent call for rational thinking and measured action, for citizens to wise up and put their house in order.”—Publishers Weekly
“In this utterly original book, Andrew Bacevich explains how our ‘empire of consumption' contains the seeds of its own destruction and why our foreign policy establishment in Washington is totally incapable of coming to grips with it. Indispensable reading for every citizen.”—Chalmers Johnson, author of the Blowback Trilogy
“A clear-eyed look into the abyss of America's failed wars, and the analysis needed to climb out. In Andrew Bacevich, realism and moral vision meet.”—James Carroll, author of House of War
“In The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich takes aim at America's culture of exceptionalism and scores a bulls eye. He reminds us that we can destroy all that we cherish by pursuing an illusion of indestructibility.”—Lt. Gen. Bernard E. Trainor, USMC (Ret.), co-author of The General's War and Cobra II
“Andrew Bacevich has written a razor sharp dissection of the national myths which befuddle U.S. approaches to the outside world and fuel the Washington establishment's dangerous delusions of omnipotence. His book should be read by every concerned US citizen.”—Anatol Lieven, author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism
“In The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich delivers precisely what the Republic has so desperately needed: an analysis of America's woes that goes beyond the villain of the moment, George W. Bush, and gets at the heart of the delusions that have crippled the country's foreign policy for decades. Bacevich writes with a passionate eloquence and moral urgency that makes this book absolutely compelling. Everyone should read it.”—Mark Danner, author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror