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America: A Nation of 'Damned Fools'Daniel Johnson Salem-News.com
Americans have to decide to join the rest of the human race on the planet instead of staying with the pig-headed belief that everyone must fit them.
(CALGARY, Alberta) - Book review: The Limits of Power: The end of American Exceptionalism by Andrew J. Bacevich (New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2008)
Calling himself a “conservative Catholic”, Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University and a retired Army colonel. He is the author of four other books, including The New American Militarism: How American are seduced by war.
I began my examination of American culture from an American point of view with a review of Vance Packard’s 1960 book The Waste Makers.
America’s current political, social, economic an military gridlock began on several levels in the 1950s. In 1960 Vance Packard wrote: “The people of the United States are in a sense becoming a nation on a tiger. They must learn to consume more and more or, they are warned, their magnificent economic machine may turn and devour them. They must be induced to step up their individual consumption higher and higher, whether they have any pressing need for the goods or not. Their ever-expanding economy demands it.”
In 1955, in The Journal of Retailing , Victor Lebow made an argument for “forced consumption”. “Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption….We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing rate.”
In a letter to the editor of Product Engineering, in the 1950s a reader complained about planned obsolescence, writing: “Let’s stop all this researching and developing for awhile! We’re up to our glasses in ‘progress’ now….We are inundating ourselves with junk. Science devises junk; industry mass produces it; business peddles it; advertising conditions our reflexes to reach for the big red box of it. To be sure, we are skilled junkmen—but what of us? How far have we advanced? We are junk-oriented cavemen!”
The result, says Packard “is a force-fed society with a vested interest in prodigality and with no end in sight to the need for ever-greater and more wasteful consumption.”
“The preoccupation with consumption is starting to make Americans look a bit fatuous in the eyes of the world” said Packard. “A few years ago, the Industrial designer Raymond Lowey commented that nothing about the appearance of the nation’s fat, gleaming automobiles ‘offsets the impression that we must be a wasteful, swaggering, insensitive people.’”
In the last sentence of his book Packard says: “The central challenge seems to be this: Americans must learn to live with their abundance without being forced to impoverish their spirit by being damned fools about it.”
And, for the next 50 years most Americans continued to be “damned fools”. (Let’s be clear about this statement. Most Americans are not fools, they just willingly let themselves be gulled.)
“Even before 1950, the United States had begun to import foreign oil. At first, the quantities were trifling. Over time, they grew. Here was the canary in the economic mineshaft. Yet for two decades no one paid it much attention,” writes Bacevich. (All unattributed quotes below are by Bacevich)
Packard noted that US oil consumption had tripled in the fifteen years since the end of WW II. “With only one seventh proved reserves, the US is consuming more than half the world’s production.”
In 2008, “while soldiers fought, people consumed. With the United States possessing less than 3 percent of the world’s known oil reserves and Americans burning one out of every four barrels of petroleum produced worldwide, oil imports reached 60 percent of daily national requirements and kept rising.”
“The most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its hypocrisy.” said the American philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, a favorite of Bacevich, who adds: “In international politics, the chief danger of hypocrisy is that it inhibits self-understanding. The hypocrite ends up fooling mainly himself.”
In 1992, George H. W. Bush said: “The American way of life is not negotiable.”
“A 1996 UNICEF report estimated that up to half a million Iraqis had died as a result of the sanctions. Asked to comment, U. S. ambassador to the United Nations Madeline Albright did not even question the figure. Instead, she replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.”
“Yet as long as Americans at home were experiencing a decade of plenty during the Clinton era, consumers enjoyed low gas prices and gorged themselves on cheap Asian imports—the price that others might be paying didn’t matter much.”
A month after 9/11 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said: “We have two choices. Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter.”
“As individuals, Americans never cease to expect more. As members of a national community, they choose to contribute less.”
“Whether the issue at hand is oil, credit, or the availability of cheap consumer goods, we expect the world to accommodate the American way of life.”
American way of life
“For the majority of contemporary Americans, the essence of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness centers on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge, and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavors. A bumper sticker, a sardonic motto, and a charge dating from the Age of Woodstock have recast the Jeffersonian trinity in modern vernacular: ‘Whoever dies with the most toys wins’; ‘Shop till you drop’; ‘If it feels good, do it.’”
In December 2006, President Bush noting that the holiday spending binge was off to “a strong beginning”, said to Americans: “I encourage you all to go shopping more.”
“The ethic of self-gratification threatens the well-being of the United States. It does so not because Americans have lost touch with some mythical Puritan habits of hard work and self-abnegation, but because it saddles us with costly commitments abroad that we are increasingly ill-equipped to sustain while confronting us with dangers to which we have no ready response. As the prerequisites of the American way of life have grown, they have outstripped the means available to satisfy them. Americans of an earlier generation worried about bomber and missile gaps, both of which turned out to be fictitious. The present-day gap between requirements and the means available to satisfy those requirements is neither contrived nor imaginary. It is real and growing. This gap defines the crisis of American profligacy.”
“It would be misleading to suggest that every American has surrendered to this ethic of self-gratification. Resistance to its demands persists and takes many forms. Yet dissenters, intent on curbing the American penchant for consumption and self-indulgence, are fighting a rear-guard action, valiant perhaps but unlikely to reverse the tide. The ethic of self-gratification has firmly entrenched itself as the defining feature of the American of life. The point is neither to deplore nor to celebrate this fact, but simply to acknowledge it.”
The failure of the free press
This is where the so-called “free press” has failed, not just America, but the entire Western world. What happened is the “free press” served itself and its corporate masters, not the people of the United States. No one gave it a second thought because isn’t that the way free enterprise is supposed to work?
To borrow from the old cowboy ballad, from the 1950s until now, “nary was heard, a discouraging word”. The economic tsunami has been bearing down on America for sixty years and it has never been made an issue of national debate. Why should it have been? The income of the MSM was primarily from advertising. They were equally dependent on the flow of cash coming from production, sales, and consumption of goods. Quarterly profit projections were the important things—who cared about what might or might not happen ten or twenty years down the road.
“In 1986, the net international investment position of the United States turned negative as U. S. assets owned by foreigners exceeded the assets that Americans owned abroad. The imbalance has continued to grow ever since. Even as the United States began accumulating trillions of dollars of debt, the inclination of individual Americans to save began to disappear. For most of the postwar era, personal savings had averaged a robust 8-10 percent of disposable income. Simultaneously, consumer debt increased, so that by the end of the century household debt exceeded household income.”
At this point it should have been declared a national emergency—because it was! “ Long accustomed to thinking of the United States as a superpower, Americans have yet to realize that they have forfeited command of their own destiny.” (my emphasis)
“Others have described, dissected, and typically bemoaned the cultural—and even moral—implications of this development. Few have considered how an American preoccupation with ‘more’ has affected U. S. relations with [the] rest of the world. Yet the foreign policy implications of our present-day penchant for consumption and self-indulgence are almost entirely negative. Over the past six decades, efforts to satisfy spiralling consumer demand have given birth to a condition of profound dependency. The United States may remain the mightiest power the world has ever seen, but the fact is that Americans are no longer masters of their own fate.” (my emphasis)
I’ve argued before, that the Founding Fathers did not set out to establish democracy. Bacevich says the same thing. In 1776. “The hardheaded lawyers, merchants, farmers, and slaveholding plantation owners gathered in Philadelphia that summer did not set out to create a church. They founded a republic. Their purpose was not to save mankind. It was to ensure that people like themselves enjoyed unencumbered access to the Jeffersonian trinity.” It had nothing to the do, except perhaps in passing, with the rights or welfare of woman, slaves, peasants, or the yeoman. We the People… in this context means We the elite, the property holders.
“The problem with the existing system of government is not that it differs from what the authors of the Federalist Papers intended or from what elementary students learn about in social studies. The problem is that what we have doesn’t work. The gross incompetence of those who preside over the federal apparatus is appalling and unacceptable. Washington ought to symbolize enlightened governance. Instead, a system conceived ‘to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity’ poses a clear and present danger to those it was meant to serve. This is the political crisis confronting Americans today.”
“In 2001, the Pentagon was prepared for any number of contingencies in the Balkans or Northeast Asia or the Persian Gulf. It was just not prepared to address threats to the eastern seaboard. Well-trained and equipped U. S. forces stood ready to defend Seoul or Riyadh; Manhattan was left to fend for itself.”
“In the wake of 9/11, these puerile expectations—that armed force wielded by a strong-willed chief executive could do just about anything—reached an apotheosis of sorts. Having manifestly failed to anticipate or prevent a devastating attack on American soil, President Bush proceeded to use his ensuring global war on terror as a pretext for advancing grandiose new military ambitions married to claims of unbounded executive authority—all under the guise of keeping Americans ‘safe’. With the president denying any connection between the events of September 11 and past U. S. policies, his declaration of global war nipped in the bud whatever inclination the public might have entertained to reconsider those policies. In essence, Bush counted on war to both concentrate greater power in his own hands and to divert attention from the political, economic and cultural bind in which the United States found itself as a result of its own past behavior.”
Bacevich is harsh in his judgement of the way 9/11 was handled.
“Some mistakes, even honest ones cannot be forgiven. The record of miscalculation and malfeasance that is the narrative of national security policy since 2002 extends orders of magnitude beyond inexcusable.”
The last truthful president
We routinely believe that politicians lie. But not all do. In the 1950s, Senator Joseph S. Clark of Pennsylvania said: “The goal of our economy is not the production of more consumer goods at all. The goal of our economy is to provide an environment in which every American family can have a good house for living and shelter, a good school to which to send the children, good transportation facilities and good opportunities for cultural and spiritual advancement.”
His message was rejected by the American people.
In 1980, running for re-election, Jimmy Carter tried to be straight:
“In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God,” he said, “too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”
Ronald Reagan denied this thesis as he peddled his “morning in America” mythology to the American people who overwhelmingly voted for it.
Reagan was a “faux-conservative” who “added to America’s civic religion two crucial beliefs: credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due. Balance the books, pay as you go, save for a rainy day—Reagan’s abrogation of these ancient bits of folk wisdom did as much to recast America’s moral constitution as did sex, drugs and rock and roll.”
“During the Carter years, the federal deficit had averaged $54.5 billion annually. During the Reagan era, deficits skyrocketed, averaging $210.6 billion over the course of Reagan’s two terms in office. Overall federal spending nearly doubled, from $590.9 billion in 1980 to $1.14 trillion in 1989. The federal government did not shrink. It grew, the bureaucracy swelling by nearly 5 percent while Reagan occupied the White House. Although his supporters had promised that he would shut down extraneous government programs and agencies, that turned out to be just so much hot air.”
“The Reagan Revolution over which he presided was never about fiscal responsibility or small government. The object of the exercise was to give the American people what they wanted, that being the essential precondition for winning reelection in 1984 and consolidating Republican control in Washington. Far more accurately than Jimmy Carter, Reagan understood what made Americans tick: They wanted self-gratification, not self-denial. Although always careful to embroider his speeches with inspirational homilies and testimonials to old-fashioned virtues, Reagan mainly indulged American self-indulgence”.
Rethinking An American Future
“For the abused wife, a condition of dependence condemns her to continuing torment. Salvation begins when she rejects that condition and asserts control over her life. Something of the same can be said of the American people.
“ For the United States the pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has induced a condition of dependence—on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people, whether they admit it or not, is that nothing should disrupt their access to those goods, that oil and that credit. The chief aim of the U. S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part through the distribution of largesse at home (with Congress taking a leading role) and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad (largely the business of the executive branch).
“From time to time, various public figures—even presidents—make the point that dependence may not be a good thing. Yet meaningful action to reduce this condition is notable by its absence. It’s not difficult to see why. The centers of authority within Washington—above all the White House and the upper echelons of the national security state—actually benefit from this dependency: It provides the source of status, power and prerogatives. Imagine the impact just on the Pentagon were this country actually to achieve anything approaching energy independence. U. S. Central Command would go out of business. Dozens of bases in and around the Middle East would close. The navy’s Fifth Fleet would stand down. Weapons contracts worth tens of billions would risk being cancelled.
“ So rather than addressing the problem of dependence, members of our political class seem hell-bent on exacerbating the problem. Rather than acknowledging that American power is not limitless, they pursue policies that actually accelerate the depletion of that power. Certainly, this has been the case since 9/11.”
“Humility imposes an obligation of a different sort. It summons Americans to see themselves without blinders. The enemy of humility is sanctimony, which gives rise to the conviction that American values and beliefs are universal and that the nation itself serves providentially assigned purposes. This conviction finds expression in a determination to remake the world in what we imagine to be America’s image.”
“In contemporary American politics, appearances belie reality. Although the text of the Constitution has changed but little since FDR’s day, the actual system of governance conceived by the framers—a federal republic deriving its authority from the people in which the central government exercises limited and specified powers—no longer pertains. Citizens disgusted with what many see as a perpetual mess in Washington yearn for a restoration of a mythical Old Republic. Yet one might as well hope for the revival of the family farm or for physicians to resume making house calls.”
“It would be wrong to charge all the officials employed by these agencies [State Department, the armed services, various intelligence agencies, the Joint Chiefs, Office of the Secretary of Defence, National Security Council and the FBI] with engaging in a conscious effort to fleece or abuse the American people. Yet it would not be wrong to suggest that in an eagerness to advance institutional interests and protect institutional reputations trumps all other considerations and routinely provides the basis for behavior that is dishonest, unprofessional, unethical, and frequently at odds with the nation’s well-being.”
“The reciprocal relationship 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. As a consequence, the strategic tradition to which Jefferson and Polk, Lincoln and McKinley, TR and FDR all subscribed has been rendered not only obsolete but pernicious.”
“No doubt American economic and military power are substantial. Yet when considering the events of the past several years, above all the Iraq War, the president’s ‘for us or against us’ ultimatum appears foolhardy in the extreme, and his promise to eliminate evil, manifestly absurd. His policies have done untold damage….By overstating the Islamist danger, President Bush has committed the United States to a strategy of open-ended global war that cannot succeed. Although the Bush administration and its supporters want us to believe that alternatives to waging global war do not exist, that is nonsense.”
“Rather than confronting this reality head-on, American grand strategy since the era of Ronald Reagan, and especially throughout the era of George W. Bush, has been characterized by attempts to wish reality away. Policy makers have been engaged in a de facto Ponzi scheme intended to extend indefinitely the American line of credit. The fiasco of the Iraq War and the quasi-permanent U. S. occupation of Afghanistan illustrate the results and prefigure what is yet to come if the crisis of American profligacy continues unabated.”
“Rather than insisting that the world accommodate the United States, Americans need to reassert control over their own destiny, ending their condition of dependency and abandoning their imperial delusions. Of perhaps even greater difficulty, the combination of economic, political, and military crisis summons Americans to reexamine exactly what freedom entails. Soldiers cannot accomplish these tasks, nor should we expect politicians to do so. The onus of responsibility falls squarely on citizens.”
“To persist in pretending that the United States is omnipotent is to exacerbate the problems that we face. The longer Americans ignore the implications of dependency and the longer policy makers nurture the pretense that this country can organize the world to its liking, the more precipitous will be its slide when the bills finally come due.”
The American Military
“A new national security consensus emerged based on the conviction that the United States military could dominate the planet as Reagan had proposed to dominate outer space. In Washington, confidence that a high-quality military establishment, dexterously employed, could enable the United States, always with high-minded intentions, to organize the world to its liking had essentially become self-evident. In this malignant expectation—not in any of the conservative ideals for which he is retrospectively venerated—lies the essence of the Reagan legacy.”
“America doesn’t need a bigger army. It needs a smaller—that is, more modest—foreign policy, one that assigns soldiers missions that are consistent with their capabilities.”
“ Declaring that ‘defense is not a budget item,’ Reagan severed the connection between military spending an all other fiscal or political considerations—a proposition revived by George W. Bush after September 2001.”
Ronald Reagan said: “The defense policy of the United States is based on a simple premise: The United States does not start fights. We will never be an aggressor. We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression—to preserve freedom and peace. Every item in our defense program –our ships, our tanks, our planes, our funds for training and spare parts—is intended for one all-important purpose: to keep the peace.”
Today, says Bacevich: “Despite Reagan’s assurances, by the end of the twentieth century, the United States did, in fact, ‘start fights’ and seemed well on its way to making that something of a national specialty.”
“Even under the most optimistic scenario, Western forces will remain stuck in Afghanistan for many years, if not decades, to come. Although die-hard supporters of the global war on terror will insist otherwise, events in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated definitively that further reliance on coercive methods will not enable the United States to achieve its objectives. Whether the actual aim is to democratize the Islamic world or subdue it, the military ‘option’ is not the answer.”
“History has repeatedly demonstrated the irrationality of preventive war. If the world needed a further demonstration, President Bush provided it. Iraq shows us why the Bush Doctrine was a bad idea in the first place and why its abrogation has become essential. For principled guidance in determining when the use of force is appropriate, the country should conform to the Just War tradition—not only because that tradition is consistent with our professed moral values, but also because its provisions provide an eminently useful guide for sound statecraft.”
“Many factors have contributed to the military crisis in which the United States finds itself today: greed, envy, miscalculation, ideological blinders, the nature of the international system, the sins of past generations coming due, the hubris of militarized citizens, the iron law of unintended consequences. But in American Soldier [by General Tommy Franks] we see on display one additional factor: an approach to generalship that misconstrues the very purpose of war.”
“SDI [Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative] prefigured the GWOT, both resting on the assumption that military power offered an antidote to the uncertainties and anxieties of living in a world not run entirely in accordance with American preferences.”
“The first lesson to be taken away from the Bush administration’s two military adventures is simply this: War today remains what it has always been—elusive, untamed, costly, difficult to control, fraught with surprise, and sure to give rise to unexpected consequences. Only the truly demented with imagine otherwise.”
“The point of rehearsing this chronicle of misjudgement and miscalculation is simply this: The shortcomings evident in the way that General Tommy Franks planned and executed his two wars were hardly unique. They form part of a pattern. Time and again since the end of the Cold War, senior military officers shouldering the challenge of wartime command have been found wanting.”
“The quality of American generalship since the end of the Cold War has seldom risen above the mediocre. Although the overall quality of U. S. forces may be at an all time high, the same cannot be said of the most recent generation of four-star generals and admirals. This is one of those dirty little secrets to which the world’s only superpower has yet to own up. As the United States has come to rely ever more heavily on armed force to prop up its position of global preeminence, the quality of senior American military leadership has been consistently disappointing. The troops are ever willing, the technology remarkable, but first-rate generalship has been hard to come by.”
“To credit Reagan with having conceived a full-fledged Persian Gulf strategy would go to far. Indeed, his administration’s immediate response to various crises roiling the region produced a stew of incoherence. In Lebanon, he flung away the lives of 241 marines in a 1983 mission that still defies explanation. The alacrity with which he withdrew U. S. forces from Beirut after a suicide truck bomb had levelled a marine barracks there suggests that there really was no mission at all.”
“Valor does not offer the measure of an army’s greatness, nor does fortitude, nor durability, nor technological sophistication. A great army is one that accomplishes its assigned mission. Since George W. Bush inaugurated his global war on terror, the armed forces of the United States have failed to meet that standard.”
Bacevich on War
“War’s essential nature is fixed, permanent, intractable, and irrepressible. War’s constant companions are uncertainty and risk. ‘War is the realm of chance,’ wrote the military theorist Carl von Clausewitz nearly two centuries ago. ‘No other human activity gives it greater scope: no other has such incessant dealings with this intruder,’ a judgement that the invention of the computer, the Internet, and precision-guided munitions has done nothing to overturn. ‘The statesman who yields to war fever,’ Churchill correctly observed, ‘is no longer the master of policy, but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.’ Therefore, any notion that innovative techniques and new technologies will subject a war to definitive human direction is simply whimsical.”
“When tested, the new American of Way of War yielded more glitter than gold. The generals and admirals who touted the wonders of full spectrum dominance were guilty of flagrant professional malpractice, if not outright fraud. To judge by the record of the past twenty year, U. S. forces win decisively only when the enemy obligingly fights on American terms—and Saddam Hussein’s demise has drastically reduced the likelihood of finding such accommodating adversaries in the future. As for loose ends, from Somalia to the Balkans, from Central Asia to the Persian Gulf, they have been endemic.”
Mythologies of America
“Realism…implies an obligation to see the world as it actually is, not as we might like it to be. The enemy of realism is hubris, which…finds expression in an outsized confidence in the efficacy of American power as an instrument to reshape the global order.
“America’s status as a force for good in a world that pits good against evil has provided a rationale for bribing foreign officials, assassinating foreign leaders, overthrowing governments, and undertaking major military interventions. George W. Bush did not invent this practice; he merely inherited and expanded upon it.”
“Crediting the United States with a ‘great liberating tradition’ distorts the past and obscures the actual motive force behind American politics and U. S. foreign policy. It transforms history into a morality tale, thereby providing a rationale for dodging serious moral analysis. To insist that the liberation of others has never been more than an ancillary motive of U. S. policy is not cynicism; it is a prerequisite to self-understanding.
“If the young United States had a mission, it was not to liberate but to expand. ‘Of course,’ declared Theodore Roosevelt in 1899, as if explaining the self-evident to the obtuse, ‘our whole national history has been one of expansion.’ TR spoke truthfully. The founders viewed stasis as tantamount to suicide. From the outset, Americans evinced a compulsion to acquire territory and extend their commercial reach abroad.
“How was this 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 ethic cleansing. At times, we insisted that treaties be considered sacrosanct. On other occasions, we blithely jettisoned solemn agreements that had outlived their usefulness.
“As the methods employed varied, so too did the rationales offered to justify action. We touted our status as God’s new Chosen People, erecting a ‘city upon a hill’ destined to illuminate the world. We acted at the behest of providential guidance or responded to the urgings of our ‘manifest destiny’. We declared our obligation to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ or to ‘uplift little brown brother.’ With Woodrow Wilson as our tutor, we shouldered our responsibility to ‘show the way to the nations of the world how they shall walk in the paths of liberty.’ Critics who derided these claims as bunkum—the young Lincoln during the war with Mexico, Mark Twain after the imperial adventures of 1898, Senator Robert La Follette amid ‘the war to end all wars’—scored points but lost arguments. Periodically revised and refurbished, American exceptionalism (which implied exceptional American prerogatives) only gained greater currency.”
The U.S. Government hijacked
I was aware many years ago that the “arms race” between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was something trumped up on the American side, but Bacevich gives us the background and relevant details.
“Today, everything about the national security state is gargantuan: its payroll, total budget, organizational complexity, appetite for information, ability to churn out reams of self-justifying press releases, and capacity for dissembling, chicanery and dirty tricks. The Pentagon alone houses a workforce of 25,000 employees, who each day make 200,000 phone calls and send a million emails, while occupying 3,705,793 square feet of office space, traipsing over 17.5 miles of corridors, mounting 131 staircases, watching 4,200 clocks, drinking from 691 water fountains, and relieving themselves in 284 lavatories.”
In early 1950, Paul Nitze of the NSC prepared a secret report for President Truman and the NSC called NSC 68 in which American military buildup was the only realistic response to international communism. “It also argued for higher taxes to make available the resources needed to fund rearmament. In effect, this ‘Nitze doctrine’ offered a recipe for the permanent militarization of U. S. policy.” (my emphasis)
Most important, however, Nitze “devised the technique of artfully designing ‘options’ to yield precooked conclusions, thereby allowing the analyst to become the de facto decision maker.” (My emphasis. I think it is vitally important to recognize this usurpation of power in the chain of command.)
“Even today, the methods pioneered by Nitze in 1950 retain value. He demonstrated the advantages of demonizing America’s adversaries, thereby transforming trivial concerns into serious threats and serious threats into existential ones.”
“He showed how easily American ideals could be employed to camouflage American ambitions, with terms like peace and freedom becoming code words for expansionism. Above all, however, Nitze demonstrated the inestimable value of sowing panic as a means of driving the policy-making process. When it came to removing obstacles and loosening purse strings, the Nitze Doctrine worked wonders.”
“Even today, for neoconservatives like Max Boot, Thomas Donnelly, and Frederick Kagan, NSC 68 retains a talismanic significance, a model for what a ‘coherent grand strategy’ ought to look like. According to Kagan, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Nitze’s handiwork offers ‘a vision of the security policy America must pursue for as long as it is a global power. Yet what some see as coherence appears in another light as extreme agitation laced with paranoia, delusions of grandeur, and a cavalier disregard for empirical truth. To read NSC 68 today is to enter a hothouse of apprehension, dread and panic—the same combination of emotions that helped facilitate the Iraq War with as little connection to reality. NSC 68 was an exercise in fearmongering, which has remained the stock-in-trade of Wise Men [NSC advisors] from Nitze’s day to the present.”
“No doubt today’s Wise Men see themselves as devoted patriots. No doubt they even mean well. Yet that’s not good enough. As Paul Wolfowitz himself wrote; ‘No U. S. president can justify a policy that fails to achieve its intended results by pointing to the purity and rectitude of his intentions.’ Much the same can be said of those who advise presidents and whose advice yields horrific consequences of the sort we have endured beginning on 9/11 and continuing ever since. They have forfeited any further claim to trust.”
“None of these, beginning with the NSC 68’s phantasmagoric description of Soviet capabilities and intentions in 1950, turned out to be accurate. In each and every case, proponents of the Nitze Doctrine garbled the facts and magnified the danger. The bomber and missile gaps of the Eisenhower era were figments of overactive imaginations. Even as its nuclear arsenal grew in the 1960s and 1970s, the Soviet Union never achieved anything remotely like a preemptive strike capability. As for the Rumsfeld Commission, its conclusions have proven entirely bogus. Yet in each of these cases, as with NSC 68, the hue and cry concocted by Wise Men produced the intended result.”
“The Wise Men may not be overtly or consciously malevolent. To charge them with inventing threats out of whole cloth would be manifestly unfair. Yet from the era of Forrestal and Nitze to the present, they have repeatedly misconstrued and exaggerated existing threats, with perverse effects.”
“Yet if presidents have accrued too much power, if the Congress is feckless, if the national security bureaucracy is irretrievably broken, the American people have only themselves to blame. They have allowed their democracy to be hijacked. The hijackers will not voluntarily return what they have stolen.”
“Nuclear weapons are unusable. Their employment in any conceivable scenario would be a political and moral catastrophe. For the United States, they are becoming unnecessary, even as a deterrent. Certainly they are unlikely to dissuade the adversaries most likely to employ such weapons against us—Islamic extremists intent on acquiring their own nuclear capability.
“For the United States, abolishing nuclear weapons ought to be an urgent national security priority. So too should preserving our planet. These are the meta challenges of our time. Addressing them promises to be the work of decades. Yet ridding the world of nuclear weapons is likely to prove far more plausible and achievable than ridding the world of evil. Transforming humankind’s relationship to the environment, which will affect the way people live their daily lives, can hardly prove more difficult than transforming the Greater Middle East, which requires the way a billion or more Muslims think.”
“By retaining a strategic arsenal in readiness (and by insisting without qualification that the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities in 1945 was justified), the United States continues tacitly to sustain the view that nuclear weapons play a legitimate role in international politics—this at a time when our own interests are best served by doing everything possible to reinforce the existing taboo against their further use.”
A Thread of Hope
Although he is self-proclaimed conservative, Bacevich comes across as a genuinely human person (I’ve seen him speak in a video) he makes one extremely telling comment: "Pick the group: blacks, Jews, women, Asians, Hispanics, working stiffs, gays, the handicapped--in every case the impetus for providing to equal access to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution originated among pinks, lefties, liberals, and bleeding-heart fellow travelers. When it came to ensuring that every American should get a fair shake, the contribution of modern conservatism has been essentially nil. Had Martin Luther King counted on William F. Buckley and the National Review to take up the fight against racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, Jim Crow would still be alive and well."
A word from Benjamin Franklin
In a May 9 1754 newspaper Franklin produced this editorial cartoon. The object was to encourage the states to band together.
So it is today, but on a global scale. And the joiners have to be the American people. They have to decide to join the rest of the human race on the planet instead of staying with the pig-headed belief that everyone must fit them. We have and have had so-called Rogue States like Libya and North Korea, but after reading Bacevich’s analysis, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that the United States is biggest Rogue State of all. And if the United States doesn’t reform it ways and attitudes, and that right smartly, then there’s only one thing left to say:
God help everyone else on the planet!
Based on what Bacevich has said I believe that the future of America rests in the hands of the "pinks, lefties, liberals, and bleeding-heart fellow travelers". They are the only group of people, despite their differing approaches, who want to drag the rest of American society, kicking and screaming, into the future and toward a better world for all.
Daniel Johnson was born near the midpoint of the twentieth century in Calgary, Alberta. In his teens he knew he was going to be a writer, which is why he was one of only a handful of boys in his high school typing class — a skill he knew was going to be necessary. He defines himself as a social reformer, not a left winger, the latter being an ideological label which, he says, is why he is not an ideologue. From 1975 to 1981 he was reporter, photographer, then editor of the weekly Airdrie Echo. For more than ten years after that he worked with Peter C. Newman, Canada’s top business writer (notably on a series of books, The Canadian Establishment). Through this period Daniel also did some national radio and TV broadcasting. He gave up journalism in the early 1980s because he had no interest in being a hack writer for the mainstream media and became a software developer and programmer. He retired from computers last year and is now back to doing what he loves — writing and trying to make the world a better place
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