Rhonda's Reviews > The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism

The Limits of Power by Andrew J. Bacevich
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's review
Jun 13, 09

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bookshelves: read-in-2009

Author writes a compelling book on the need for America to get back to its realist tradition before it's too late.

Lots of good "stuff" in here...all backed up by sources.

Favorite quotes:

"...define what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century. If one were to choose a single word to characterize that identity, it would have to be more. For the majority of contemporary Americans, the essence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness centers on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge, and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavors. ... It would be misleading to suggest that every American has surrendered to this ethic of self-gratification. Resistance to its demands persists and takes many forms. Yet dissenters, intent on curbing the American penchant for consumption and self-indulgence are fighting a rear-guard action, valiant perhaps but unlikely to reverse the tide. The ethic of self-gratification has firmly entrenched itself as the defining feature of the American way of life. The point is neither to deplore not to celebrate this fact, but simply to acknowledge it. The ethic of self-gratification threatens the well-being of the United States.......because it saddles us with the costly commitments abroad that we are increasingly ill-equipped to sustain while confronting us with dangers to which we have no ready response. The present-day gap between requirements and the means available to satisfy those requirements is neither contrived nor imaginary. It is real and growing. This gap defines the crisis of American profligacy.
The restless search for a buck and the rughless elimination of anyone---or anything---standing in the way of doing so have long been central to the American character. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications."

Secretary of Defense donald Rumsfield aptly summarized the prevailing view in October 2001: We have two choices. Either we change the way we live, or we must change the way they live. We choose the latter."

"Long accustomed to thinking of hte United States as a superpower, Americans have yet to realize that they have forfeited command of their own destiny. The reciprocal relationship between expansionisn, abundance, and freedom---each reinforcing the other---no longer exusts. If anything, the reverse is true: Expansionisn squancers American wealth and power, while putting freedom at risk."

"The chief attribute of the actually existing system---all of the institutions, structures, and arrangements implied by the word Washington ---is dysfunction. As the federal city emerged as the center of Ameraican power, it was occupied by a gang that couldn't shoot straight. Regardless of which party is in power, the people in charge don't know what they are doing. As a consequence, policies devised by Washington tend to be extravagant, wasteful, ill-conceived, misguided, unsuccessful, or simply beside the point."

"Faced with a choice of acknowledging an uncomfortable truth or finding some was to conceal, spin, or deny that truth, those who preside over the institutions of the national security state invariably choose the latter."

"But the propblem lies less with the army that we have---a very fine one, which every citizen should wish to preserve---than with the requirements that we have imposed on our soldiers. Rather than expanding or reforming that army, we need to treat it with the respect that it deserves. ... America doesn't need a bigger army. It needs a smaller---that is, more modest---foreign policy, one that assigns soldiers missions that are consistent with their capabilities."

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06/13/2009 page 122

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