Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thank you, Comrade Stalin?

So says historian Andrew Bacevich. But, no, I don't think he's been burying himself in Earl Browder pamphlets from the 1930s. (Browder was the head of the US Communist Party back then) Bacevich's world view has much more to do with Catholic Christianity, Niebuhrian ethics and an unsentimental Realist view of international politics. You can judge for yourself if he's advocating Stalinism. Though if you're a FOX News junkie, you probably can't distinguish between socialism, communism, fascism and a Muslim caliphate.

This video accompanies his article Farewell to the American Century Salon 04/30/09. He has also recently written about the foreign policy of the early Obama administration in Obama's sins of omission Boston Globe 04/25/09. Bacevich's criticism of Obama's policy so far doesn't surprise me. Although because I'm fairly familiar with his approach to these things, it probably doesn't sound so sharp to me as it probably does to many readers. Bacevich believes that the US needs to dramatically reduce our military presence and what he would call the militarization of foreign policy. Although the Cheney-Bush administration took it to new extremes, the excessive reliance on war and the threat of war has been a real problem for US foreign policy since the Truman Administration and the early years of the Cold War. I'm very sure Bacevich wasn't expecting that to change radically in the fable first 100 days.

Bacevich is not a screamer or a ranter. It does seem to me that his writing has taken on a more urgent tone and a sharper edge of moral criticism, particularly of the failures of US foreign policy to recognize its own reasonable limits, since the loss of his son in the Iraq War. (See his Globe column I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose. We Were Both Doing Our Duty. 05/27/09)

Being outside the Establishment consensus - as Bacevich is - is not in itself a sign of virtue or insight; all kinds of crackpots also fall into that category. But Bacevich's views are based on a strong intellectual framework and careful research. And when there is a big flaw in the Establishment consensus, being outside it is also not a bad place to be.

Bacevich talks about Reinhold Niebuhr's theological perspectives on US foreign policy in this speech, Illusions of Managing History: The Enduring Relevance of Reinhold Niebuhr in this speech of 10/09/07:

As a student of history, I find President Bush's depiction of the past to be sanitized, selective, and self-serving where not simply false. The great liberating tradition to which he refers is, to a considerable extent, poppycock. As someone who is by temperament a conservative, I recoil from his quasi-demagogic incantations. The president celebrates freedom without defining it and he dodges any serious engagement with the social, cultural, and moral incongruities arising from the pursuit of actually existing freedom. As a believer for whom God remains dauntingly inscrutable, I view the president's confident explication of the Creator's purpose to be at the very least presumptuous, if not altogether blasphemous. ...

Reinhold Niebuhr helps us appreciate the large hazards imbedded [sic] in those myths and delusions.
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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
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-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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