Reality demands pragmatism. Idealism too often is illusion or delusion. In Twilight of The American Century (University of Notre Dame Press, 504 pp. $125, hardcover; $25, paper; $10.99, Kindle) Andrew Bacevich makes the case that U.S. foreign and military policy has been flawed since before the Cold War, with mistakes accelerating since 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.
He argues for a conservative, pro-American, non-interventionist foreign policy—while at the same time being sharply critical of President Trump and his “America First” and “Make America Great Again” policies. Still, Bacevich believes that the President is the embodiment of what millions of Americans believe about U.S. foreign policy today.
Bacevich supported Barack Obama over John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. But in this book the former Army officer, author, and Boston University history and international relations professor criticizes the Obama Administration for not a foreign policy vision. “Seldom have well-credentialed and well-meaning people worked so hard to produce so little of substance,” he writes.
Those sorts of wry comments are peppered throughout the book.
Bacevich graduated from West Point in 1969 and served for a year (1970-71) in the Vietnam War as the “misguided and unwinnable” war, as he puts it, was winding down. He saw his mission as doing everything possible to prevent the men under his command from being killed.
“It did not pay to reflect too deeply about the predicament into which the Army and the nation had gotten itself,” Bacevich writes. “The demands of duty were enough.”
He remained in the Army for two decades before becoming a senior professor at B.U. in 1998. Twilight of the American Century is a broad collection of essays Bacevich has written since 2001. They deal with “American imperialism, militarism, civil-military relations and the changing meaning of freedom.”
He acknowledges two deeply personal influences. His wife’s brother—his closest friend since high school—who “never got his life on track” after he was badly wounded in Vietnam.” And his son, Andrew Bacevich, Jr., who was killed in Iraq in 2007.
The book is organized in four sections. The first, “Poseurs and Prophets,” dissects diverse thinkers such as former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Tommy Franks, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and the novelist Tom Clancy.
Essays in the second and third sections—called “History and Myth” and ”War and Empire”—critique the nation’s foreign policy and military doctrines. The fourth, “Politics and Culture” maintains—without celebration—that that the “Age of Trump” will endure long after the president retires.
Even so, Bacevich offers what he terms “a new conservative agenda” that includes making common cause with “tree-hugging, granola-crunching liberals” to preserve Earth and—potentially—with “the impassioned antiwar left,” abandon the “conceit” that the United States should exercise “global leadership.” That term, he says, has become “a euphemism for making mischief and demanding prerogatives allowed to no other nation.”
Weighing in at more than 450 pages of text, Twilight of the American Century is a profoundly intellectual, provocative work. It will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of both Democrats and Republicans.
The book is a tough-minded call for liberals and conservatives to come together to “repair our democracy” in the post-Vietnam War, post-Cold War, post-9/11 era.