This morning I was reading a transcript of a recent Bill Moyers Journal and his guest was author Andrew J. Bacevich, the author of several acclaimed books and his latest is “The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism”. I was a little curious because he begins with a quote from the Bible, the Book of Second Kings, chapter 20, verse one. “Set thine house in order.” I’m not happy about the mixing up of politics and religion that seems to be quite prevalent with Republicans and the Moral Majority – although that does seem a misnomer to me, so I felt the need to find out what he was referring to and why. Apparently, Moyer had the same question – not necessarily for the same reasons, but he did ask him, “How come the admonition?”
Bacevich, said he has been troubled by the course of our foreign policy for a very long time and that the book had been his way of sorting out the problems as he saw them. His conclusion was that our biggest problems are within.
He said, “I think there’s a tendency on the part of policy makers and probably a tendency on the part of many Americans to think that the problems we face are problems that are out there somewhere, beyond our borders. And that if we can fix those problems, then we’ll be able to continue the American way of life as it has long existed. I think that is fundamentally wrong. Our major problems are at home.”
I thought about that for a while and finally had to admit that I felt he was right. I mean I have felt that many of our problems have gotten worse over the last eight years of Bush/Cheney politics, but the more I read, the more I realized that a lot of the problems have been growing steadily for much longer than eight years.
Another thing he said in the book was; “the pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has introduced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people is that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part of through the distribution of largesse here at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad.” Or in other words our foreign policy is the result of a dependence on consumer goods and credit. This may be a little hard line, but I’m afraid it’s a lot closer to the truth than anyone in this country really wants to admit to.
He feels that, “what will not go away, is a yawning disparity between what Americans expect and what they’re willing or able to pay and that one of the ways we avoid confronting our refusal to balance the books is to rely increasingly on the projection of American military power around the world to try to maintain this dysfunctional system, or set of arrangements that have evolved over the last 30 to 40 years. But it’s not the American people in general who are deploying around the world. It is a very specific subset of our people, this professional army. We like to call it an all-volunteer force.”
The more I read, the more depressed I found myself feeling because there was a lot of truth in what he was saying, but at the same time I felt a degree of bitterness and anger. He served in Vietnam and his son was killed in Iraq, he has reasons to feel bitterness and anger. But strangely enough he seems to feel that in the end Iraq may prove to be the source of our salvation as a country because he hopes that in the end it will cause us to ask serious questions about just where this war came from, what has been the cost, where is the money coming from and how else could it have been spent? And for what? Who bears the burden? It was a fundamental mistake. It never should have been undertaken and hopefully we will be able to see ourselves in the mirror and see what we have become. And perhaps we can undertake an effort to make those changes in the American way of life that will enable us to preserve for future generations that which we value most about the American way of life. Suddenly, his biblical quote made sense to me.
I can only hope if we do indeed set our house in order our children can have a better future.