BILL MOYERS: You dedicate the book to your son.
ANDREW BACEVICH: Yeah. Well, my son was killed in Iraq. And I don't want to talk about that, because it's very personal. But it has long stuck in my craw, this posturing of supporting the troops. I don't want to insult people.
There are many people who say they support the troops, and they really mean it. But when it comes, really, down to understanding what does it mean to support the troops? It needs to mean more than putting a sticker on the back of your car.
I don't think we actually support the troops. We the people. What we the people do is we contract out the business of national security to approximately 0.5 percent of the population. About a million and a half people that are on active duty.
And then we really turn away. We don't want to look when they go back for two or three or four or five combat tours. That's not supporting the troops. That's an abdication of civic responsibility. And I do think it - there's something fundamentally immoral about that.
Again, as I tried to say, I think the global war on terror, as a framework of thinking about policy, is deeply defective. But if one believes in the global war on terror, then why isn't the country actually supporting it? In a meaningful substantive sense?
Where is the country?
BILL MOYERS: Are you calling for a reinstatement of the draft?
ANDREW BACEVICH: I'm not calling for a reinstatement of the draft because I understand that, politically, that's an impossibility. And, to tell you the truth, we don't need to have an army of six or eight or ten million people. But we do need to have the country engaged in what its soldiers are doing. In some way that has meaning. And that simply doesn't exist today.
BILL MOYERS: Well, despite your loss, your and your wife's loss, you say in this powerful book what, to me, is a paradox. You say that, "Ironically, Iraq may yet prove to be the source of our salvation." And help me to understand that.
ANDREW BACEVICH: We're going to have a long argument about the Iraq War. We, Americans. Not unlike the way we had a very long argument about the Vietnam War. In fact, maybe the argument about the Vietnam War continues to the present day. And that argument is going to be - is going to cause us, I hope, to ask serious questions about where this war came from.
How did we come to be a nation in which we really thought that we could transform the greater Middle East with our army?
What have been the costs that have been imposed on this country? Hundreds of billions of dollars. Some projections, two to three trillion dollars. Where is that money coming from? How else could it have been spent? For what? Who bears the burden?
Who died? Who suffered loss? Who's in hospitals? Who's suffering from PTSD? And was it worth it? Now, there will be plenty of people who are going to say, "Absolutely, it was worth it. We overthrew this dictator." But I hope and pray that there will be many others who will make the argument that it wasn't worth it.
It was a fundamental mistake. It never should have been undertaking. And we're never going to do this kind of thing again. And that might be the moment when we look ourselves in the mirror. And we see what we have become. And perhaps 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.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
The End of American Exceptionalism
Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism is the title of a new book by Andrew J. Bacevich. Bacevich served 23 years in the Army. Since his retirement the West Point graduate has been teaching international relations and history at Boston University. Bacevich was recently a guest on Bill Moyers Journal. In the interview Bacevich gives a spot-on analysis of what is ailing our country, including a consumer culture, an addiction to foreign oil, growing amounts of personal and national debt, and an imperial presidency. Interestingly, although he identifies as a conservative he praises the infamous "malaise" speech of Jimmy Carter as being one of the brief moments in recent American history when a President told the country the truth it needed to hear, and the country responded by kicking him out of office. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, told the country what it wanted to hear and was anything but a conservative. He says he voted for the Democrats in 2006 because they promised to end the war and then they were completely unwilling to stand up to the President and bring the war to an end. As is usually the case, Moyers teases out an inspiring and challenging conversation. It is well worth the read. Here is how it ends: