James J. SheehanFebruary 23, 2009 - 11:07am0 comments
The Limits of Power
The End of American Exceptionalism
Andrew J. Bacevich
Metropolitan Books, $24, 224 pp.
If it is true that, in the words of the military historian Correlli Barnett, “war is the great auditor of institutions,” then we Americans have more to worry about than our 401(k)s. The Iraq war’s bloody audit has revealed institutional flaws that have been consistently overlooked or concealed by those who should have been keeping an eye on the balance sheet. And while it is surely right to blame the Bush administration’s miscalculations, willful illusions, and mendacity for these disasters, the Democratic opposition has persistently failed to provide meaningful alternatives, reasoned criticism, or even well-informed debate. Even now, with the war in its fifth year, many political leaders take refuge in inflated claims about the triumphs of the “surge,” while others concentrate on what we should have done in the past rather than on the difficult choices that confront us in the present. Enabling these failures of intellect and will is the indifference of a public that has been largely untouched by the war’s costs, which have been shifted to future generations, or, more immediately, to a relatively small group of professional warriors and their loved ones. About the skill and courage of these troops there is no question, but their leadership has often been inept, their political mission ill-defined.
No one has described the deep roots of these political and military difficulties more eloquently than Andrew J. Bacevich,...