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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Legacy of 9/11 and the Limits of American Power

Your Head Trucker very much admires the forthright clear-headedness of conservative Catholic, Vietnam veteran, retired U.S. Army colonel, and Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich, whose discussion of the Syrian crisis with Phil Donohue I posted last Sunday.  Here, in a highly pertinent clip from 2008, Bacevich incisively dissects the hubris and failure of the Bush response to 9/11, which continues to shape today's events in the Middle East and American foreign policy, even under President Obama:

Bacevich continues his provocative argument in this clip about his 2009 book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism:

If you are interested in hearing a fuller exposition of his views - and I wish every member of Congress and of the Obama Administration could be required to do so - you can watch this dialogue between Bacevich and Massachusetts School of Law Dean Lawrence Velvel:

For what it's worth, former KGB officer and Russian President Vladimir Putin has written about American exceptionalism too, in a New York Times op-ed that was published today - and though Putin's remarks, coming from a foreign head of state engaged in a diplomatic contest with our government, must be weighed on a different scale from those of Bacevich, it is perhaps instructive to compare the two points of view. A rhetorically adroit excerpt:
It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.” . . .

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Notice how smoothly he has turned the tables on us, with the oblique reference to our founding philosophy in the Declaration of Independence. Putin's remarks may or may not be insincere, but they do offer a window into how we are perceived abroad - a corrective to our own admiring gaze in the mirror, perhaps.

And isn't that one of the big things we castigated Bush and his cronies for - being utterly indifferent, if not actually blind and deaf, to America's standing and reputation in the eyes of the world? Putin is not an entirely trustworthy writer, but there is much food for thought here, if the bright boys in Obama's West Wing can digest it.


Tim said...

I'm sure Putin is comfortable with his own version of history, which reads a little differently to mine. His piece is more interesting for it's omissions rather than it's content. Who, for example has been supplying Assad with weaponry and military spares throughout the current conflict? Who, for example, tried, and similarly failed, to win a previous war in Afghanistan, as many have before. And forgive me for saying so, but I think both America and the USSR also had some allies during WWII, or have they been edited out from the history books too?

But of course he is a godly man, so I wonder what his version of the story of the snake and the apple in the garden of Eden is? I suspect this wonderful 'Russian' plan is something of a rotten apple, no prizes then for guessing who plays the snake.

Davis said...

While I often find Bacevich's ideas compelling, one always knows so much of his thinking is colored by the very personal loss of his own son in Iraq.

Russ Manley said...

Tim - Putin's hands are not clean, nor his motives pure. But one has to admire the rhetorical virtuosity of his editorial - a momentary triumph over our fumbling, stumbling, sputtering team. You just have to hand it to the KGB for sheer brazen effrontery.

And oh, didn't you people get a thank-you note in '45? We superpowers are always grateful to our small, insignificant allies for their miniscule help. Do check with Whitehall on this - if the card wasn't received, I shall write my Congressman at once and have that rectified. It was awfully good of you all to come to the war.


Davis - Colored, or clarified?

Stan said...


Davis said...

"Colored" might in fact mean clarified or something else.

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