Bacevich Instinct

February 11, 2009

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Andrew Bacevich displays his customary wisdom and civic-mindedness in his latest piece in Commonweal, pronouncing a post-mortem on the Colonel Blimps who’ve contributed most of the hot air inflating the War Party since 1989. As he aptly observes:

Ideas have consequences. Post-cold war triumphalism produced consequences that are nothing less than disastrous. Historians will remember the past two decades not as a unipolar moment, but as an interval in which America succumbed to excessive self-regard. That moment is now ending with our economy in shambles and our country facing the prospect of permanent war.

Don?t expect triumphalists to recant or apologize. Yet their time has passed. The Age of Triumphalism has ended. The Age of Muddling Through has commenced.

America, in short, stands where Great Britain stood circa 1932. Having poured its lifeblood and treasure into a titanic struggle for dominance against a foreign rival it came to see as evil incarnate, it found itself saddled with vast and sprawling commitments it could not afford—an empire that bled red ink. Its economy stagnant, it couldn’t afford the military might required to keep pith helmets bobbing from Bombay to Bingo-Bango, and even its Bertie Woosters were starting to feel the pinch. It feared, but knew it couldn’t really restrain, rising powers that challenged its dominance—but the national ideology with which it had saddled itself (in place of a sane love for Little England) forced it to meddle and muddle along, pretending to a Great Power status incommensurate with its powers. Happily for England, and for all of us, there was the U.S. waiting in the wings—a friendly junior cousin that spoke the lingo and prayed to the same household gods. Absent the hope of American intervention, it’s hard to see how Britain would have held out in 1940; as it was (according to Ian Kershaw) the Brits came perilously close to proposing terms of peace with Hitler in the time between the Fall of France and the miracle of Dunkirk. It was mainly the prospect of American rearmament and intervention that convinced Churchill’s war cabinet not to cut a deal.

As China rises without restraint and Islam continues to send its spies and saboteurs (unrestrained) into our cities—all goaded by our delusions of unending Empire—we’ll find ourselves alone… wishing that we had, somewhere, a mighty American cousin.

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