Monday, May 23, 2016

on frameworks for understanding American foreign policy since the late 19th century

From Andrew Bacevich in Harpers...


Bacevich opens with a nice summary of his thesis: "Republicans and Democrats disagree today on many issues, but they are united in their resolve that the United States must remain the world’s greatest military power...In its most benign form, the consensus finds expression in extravagant and unremitting displays of affection for those who wear the uniform. Considerably less benign is a pronounced enthusiasm for putting our soldiers to work “keeping America safe”...more or less permanently engaged in hostilities abroad, even as presidents from both parties take turns reiterating the nation’s enduring commitment to peace."
Sure, there are critics, but they're on the fringes. So, as usual, "this November, voters will choose between rival species of hawks". In terms of "national security" policy, "the outcome of the general election has already been decided...the status quo will prevail, largely unexamined and almost entirely intact..."
Bacevich blames historians for popular blindness in these matters. And he describes the American "meta-narrative" that includes major doses of isolationism and appeasement, but with our periodic and righteous activity resulting in the U.S. as the last and best superpower remaining on the stage. As Bacevich notes, "Whatever the defects of current U.S. policy, isolationism and appeasement do not number among them." With a military presence in more than 150 countries, the claim does not hold any water.  
Bacevich continues by noting that most of the public can't even imagine policy alternatives. In this, one is reminded of our country's massive excursions into K-12, Social Security, and health care/insurance. Few people can imagine provision through alternative means-- and believe that moving somewhat on the public/private spectrum is tantamount to government leaving the field. Ahh, the isolationists and the anarchists! Who would build the roads? Who would police the world? 
Instead, Bacevich encourages a different narrative with four episodes: 
1.) a "Hundred Years’ War for the Hemisphere", starting in 1898; 
2.) a "War for Pacific Dominion", also beginning in 1898, fading in the 1970s, and perhaps reviving again today; 
3.) a "War for the West", joined by the U.S. in 1917 and continuing until the Fall of the USSR in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and 
4.) a "War for the Greater Middle East", started in the post-World War I land grab of the preceding "war", but joined by the U.S. in the late 1970s and continuing unabated.

A lot of good nuggets as he develops his case. But in particular, on #2, Bacevich added some knowledge to my understanding of China, Japan, and the U.S. pre-WWII. It now makes more sense why Japan would attack us, given or interventions in episodes with Japan and China in the 1930s. 

His conclusion: "Among other things, the narrative demonstrates that the bugaboos of isolationism and appeasement are pure inventions...Since 1898, apart from taking an occasional breather, the United States has shown a strong and consistent preference for activism over restraint and for projecting power abroad rather than husbanding it for self-defense..."

3 Comments:

At June 29, 2016 at 12:55 AM , Blogger Donya Hocket said...

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At July 4, 2016 at 4:46 AM , Blogger Donya Hocket said...

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At July 8, 2016 at 2:35 PM , Blogger Dr Mrs marry said...

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