Bacevich on CSPAN

Boston University history professor Andrew Bacevich, of whose increasingly anti-American drift I wrote last Saturday, gave an absorbing, hour-long interview on CSPAN-2 on Sunday about his new book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Bacevich is an intelligent man, and he presents a complicated case that cannot be summarized easily. Also, he is a West Point graduate and a retired Army colonel, and has the dignity and self-possession of a military bearing; and that, combined with his intellectuality, makes him an impressive figure, not the sort of personality one would think of as anti-American, though a friend who also saw the interview strongly disagreed with me on that. Bacevich’s main idea is opposition to American exceptionalism, which he defines as the construction of an informal American empire through the spread of liberal values. Bush’s Democracy Project has of course been the epitome of this ideology. Bacevich says that the age of American exceptionalism is over, and now America must become a nation like any other.

I as much as anyone oppose the Democracy Project and want America to see itself as a nation, not as a global crusade. There Bacevich and I would seem to be in agreement. The problem is that he defines American exceptionalism in reductive and purely negative terms, as a neoconservative, universalist ideology which requires that America keep trying to spread its power over the world. From this crabbed and toxic view of American exceptionalism it follows that once American exceptionalism has been discredited, there is nothing special left about America. But of course there is more to American exceptionalism—or, better, American uniqueness—than is dreamt of either in Bacevich’s sour philosophy or in the neocons’ hyped-up dreams of empire. Bacevich’s fatal error is that he implicitly accepts the neocons’ universalist definition of America and merely reacts against it, rather than having a positive, traditionalist vision of America of his own to uphold against the neocons’ false idea. Thus the net effect of his presentation is to leave America with nothing good or admirable—an attitude that is reflected not just in his words,—as my friend pointed out, in the course of the hour-long interview he did not utter a single positive thing about America—but in his dour, sad, and perhaps subtly angry demeanor. There are “no blacks and whites” about America, Bacevich intoned, just “shades of grey.” If that is not an alienated, relativist view of our country, depriving it of any true values worth affirming, I don’t know what is.

Thus, though Bacevich in this interview did not strike obvious anti-American chords, and in some ways has the air of a traditional conservative, his core stance is a negativity toward America that has made him welcome at such leftist venues as the Bill Moyers Journal and the The Huffington Post, where last week (see first link above) he attacked Colin Powell in wildly intemperate terms for having opposed President Clinton’s policy of allowing open homosexuality in the military. And let’s not forget Bacevich’s article in the June 27, 2007 Christian Science Monitor, where he wrote:

In contrast, we owe the Iraqis whose lives we have blighted quite a lot…. As we depart, they can come along. To Iraqis seeking to escape the brutality and chaos that we have helped create, the “golden door” into the New World should open. Call it Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

How many Iraqis will accept this invitation is impossible to say. In all probability, they will number in the millions.

A man who lashes American “empire” and calls for America to become a normal nation again, while simultaneously telling America to open its doors to a mass immigration of millions of hostile and unassimilable Muslims as a payment for American guilt, is not a conservative, is not a patriot, and is not even minimally coherent. He is a man with a simmering anger against America, a man who will find any means he can, whether subtle (as in his CSPAN interview) or obvious (as in his Christian Science Monitor column), to express that anger.

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October 30

Gregory F. writes:

When you noted that Andrew Bacevich was a West Pointer, I took note because I am also a graduate. I also noted that he was on CSPN a few days ago after I had read your comments about his shift to the left. I decided to look him up, and here is an interesting wikipedia quote from him, ” Bacevich depicts Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama as the best choice for conservatives in the fall. Part of his argument includes the fact that “this liberal Democrat has promised to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq. Contained within that promise, if fulfilled, lies some modest prospect of a conservative revival.”

I don’t necessarily agree with his opinions about war and the use of military force over diplomatic force, but I can say that it probably stems from experiences from his time in Viet Nam. It was also probably reinforced by his son’s death in Iraq in 2007. I suppose the best book to read is Anton Myrer’s Once An Eagle in order to understand how a war veteran could become opponents of War.

I won’t presume to speak to his politics or views, only to empathize with a man with whom I shared an experience, albeit at different times.

LA replies:
So he supports Obama.

Well, if one’s main or only issue is ending the Bush-neocon policy, I guess that makes sense.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 28, 2008 07:37 PM | Send

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