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Conclusion: The Limits of Power 
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Post Conclusion: The Limits of Power
As JTA said, the obstacles to Obama bringing change to Washington are huge. Bacevich starts off the chapter by detailing the scope of the problem. The problem with our politics is not just the age-old one of politicians lying to us. "The Big Lies are the truths that remain unspoken: that freedom has an underside; that nations, like households, must ultimately live within their means; that history's purpose, the subject of so many confident pronouncements, remains inscrutable. Above all, there is this: Power is finite. Politicians pass over such matters in silence" (p. 172).

Bacevich continues, though, to be toughest on us. "The chief desire of the American people, whether they admit it or not, is that nothing should disrupt their access to those goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of government is to satisfy that desire..." (p. 173). Our dependency on these "goods" even benefits those within authority, granting them more power, so they have no incentive to ask us to kick our addictions.



Fri Nov 28, 2008 9:59 am
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Quote:
"The chief desire of the American people, whether they admit it or not, is that nothing should disrupt their access to those goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of government is to satisfy that desire..." (p. 173
).


A desirous people full of desire, for all the wrong things, concocting Constitutions to facilitate the insane process.

These desires cloud our minds and blur our vision: leading us to make bad decisions that can and often do hurt people.

In the confusion of it all we reach for Power. The Power to control, manage, contain, discipline and enforce my will on the world and myself. We become paranoid that we amy not have enough Power, and that someone may take ours, disempowering and dominating us.

And confused irrational people who are hurting and paranoid are generally dangerous and potentially very harmful to themselves and others.....



Fri Nov 28, 2008 1:05 pm
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Post chickens of the enlightenment
The chickens of the enlightenment are coming home to roost.

The USA was established as a puritan-utilitarian paradise. The Declaration of Independence drank at the well of utilitarian enlightenment with a Christian veneer. Founders such as Franklin and Jefferson saw the atomistic pleasure-maximising rational free individual as their primary myth of human identity. However, this myth, homo economicus, is linked to a distortion of earlier Christian Puritan ideas, primarily the ideas of boundless growth and alienation from nature that were derived from creationist readings of Genesis. Claims such as human dominion over nature, life by the sweat of the brow, 'I am not my brother's keeper', and expulsion from the Garden of Eden are primary ingredients for the Puritan culture which enabled life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as Jeffersonian goals. The current problem is that these goals and the myth of identity that supports them cannot be sustained by the available finite resources.

Like the Roman belief in Jupiter at the time of Christ, the American Empire now relies on belief in false gods. The problem is that an empire under the mandate of heaven requires belief in true gods. The "base energisation campaign" by Sarah Palin was a rather sad and sick indication of this collapse in American credibility - as if she was saying "Believe Genesis to justify drilling for oil in nature reserves." The trouble is that the Palin Doctrine supports an immense military imperial idea of American exceptionalism, but is grounded in delusion. Anyone who disputes the evolutionary scientific account of the emergence of life requires some pretty strongly constructed mental equipment to withstand the barrage of evidence. Conveniently, this mental equipment also enables its true believers to ignore all other inconvenient evidence that undermines the imperial project of endless growth and control.

As I previously argued here, in http://www.booktalk.org/post34537.html , Barrack Obama has some similarities to the Roman tribune Tiberius Gracchus. TG lived from about 180 to 130 BC, and was a decisive figure in the shift of Rome from republic to empire. Rome at that time was still very much under senatorial republican rule, but had already flexed some imperial muscle, notably by totally destroying both Carthage and Corinth in 146BC. TG was a republican and a democrat, and sought to contain the power of the emerging military-agroplantation complex. As a tribune of the people, he was an advocate of change and hope. His ideas of Roman tradition, notably the democratic rights of smallholders, proved incompatible with the emerging imperial dynamic of the seizers. My view is that the USA is at a similarly proto-imperial phase, in that the democratic institutions of republicanism remains intact, but the underlying power trends indicate a dangerous emerging undemocratic effort to control the state by installing an emperor as president, not suddenly, but rather like boiling a frog slowly.

The same religious source that provides much of the imperial myth to justify American exceptionalism also provides resources for America's redemption. Actual study of the Bible, along the lines of Niebuhr and others, can open up better understanding of the predicament and offer paths towards resolution.

RT



Fri Nov 28, 2008 2:29 pm
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Post Re: Conclusion: The Limits of Power
DWill wrote:
(quoting Bacevich) Above all, there is this: Power is finite.

Back when the Iraq war was being debated, many opponents argued that the war wasn't winnable. After considering what happened to the US in Vietnam, France in Algeria, and England in Iraq, the reality-based community didn't see how an invasion of Iraq could possibly be as successful as the proponents predicted.

Subsequent events demonstrated again how extraordinarily difficult and costly is is to occupy another nation and establish a reasonable government. Sadly, the governmental and media leadership dismissed that difficulty, and most Americans had no idea what we were getting into when the US invaded Iraq.
DWill wrote:
(quoting Bacevich) "The chief desire of the American people, whether they admit it or not, is that nothing should disrupt their access to those goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of government is to satisfy that desire..." (p. 173).

That attitude isn't specific to the US. Many wars are motivated, directly or indirectly, by the quest for greater wealth. Greed and the willingness to be violent occur throughout world history; it doesn't need to be explained by peculiarities of the US belief structure.



Sat Nov 29, 2008 2:16 pm
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Post Re: Conclusion: The Limits of Power
JulianTheApostate wrote:
That attitude isn't specific to the US. Many wars are motivated, directly or indirectly, by the quest for greater wealth. Greed and the willingness to be violent occur throughout world history; it doesn't need to be explained by peculiarities of the US belief structure.

That may be. You'd think Bacevich would be aware of greed as a common motivator of war. He seems to think there is something different about consumer demand in the U. S. driving an acquisitive foreign policy. We had our imperialistic wars before, but he doesn't think these were fueled by consumer demand. Because we have become so much a consuming society, as contrasted with the producing society we were, perhaps he has something here.



Sat Nov 29, 2008 5:48 pm
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Actually, this is one of the few parts of the book I disagree with. In my mind, greed was not the primary motivation behind recent US wars. The US invaded Afghanistan because Osama bin Laden, and others behind the 9/11 attacks, were based there. While oil is the main motivation for US interest in the Middle East, other factors were more important to the people who pushed for an invasion of Iraq.

Now, the US has been involved in imperial wars, as have, it goes without saying, the original imperialists of Europe in past centuries. It just seems a little oversimplistic to attach so much blame to the current consumer-based society. Besides, when it comes to economic concerns, the national leaders are more focused on wealthiest individuals and corporations, as opposed to the living standards of the general population.



Sat Nov 29, 2008 11:26 pm
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JulianTheApostate wrote:
Actually, this is one of the few parts of the book I disagree with. In my mind, greed was not the primary motivation behind recent US wars. The US invaded Afghanistan because Osama bin Laden, and others behind the 9/11 attacks, were based there. While oil is the main motivation for US interest in the Middle East, other factors were more important to the people who pushed for an invasion of Iraq.

Afghanistan was more a case of an immediate defensive reaction.
Bacevich says that a grand scheme to remake the Middle East in the image of America was our stated reason for going into Iraq. Yet, his whole thesis does seem to rest on the crisis of profligacy; that's why it comes first in the book. "Greed" is perhaps not the right word to describe the motivation. In a perverse way, the leadership of the U.S. is responding to the people's concerns by making sure we have the means to keep our consumption growing. So, democracy merges with, almost becomes identical to, the consumer economy. And our idealistic pronouncements about showing the Middle East the way to democracy conveniently serve our economic self-interest as well, because they secure our oil supplies.

I'm sure that Niebuhr's ideas are behind this one that individual consumption is the engine behind foreign ploicy. I picked up Niebuhr's The Irony of American History, and will try to see if this idea is elaborated any more clearly.



Thu Dec 04, 2008 10:05 am
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Bacevich closes the book with four points.
1. The threat of Islamic terrorism is serious but "not exisitential." I agree with what I see as his common-sense strategy to combat this extremism. Our best course is containment, he says, which is actually an active process that might include selective use of military force. But he tells us that the Muslims living in theocracies will have to be the ones to decide to demand different leaders; we cannot force a billion of the world's people to change the way they think.
2. We need to refocus on eliminating nuclear weapons. This topic has been way on the back burner for a while now. It is very important for us to show the world our good faith in doing as we say others should do. We tend to be blind to apperances, believing that of course in our case everyone accepts that we'd never use them (again).
3. The trillions that we will have to spend to reduce the effects of global warming will do much more for us than the trillions we might spend to remake the Middle East.
4. We're not likely, in his pessimistic view, to take effective action on any of these fronts. He appears to see the U.S. as inevitably in decline, as willing to sacrifce the future in order to prolong the way things currently are for just a while longer.

Bacevich impressed me in this book with the unity of his argument and what I might call his passionate objectivity. That his thinking is not classifiable as either liberal or conservative in today's tems is an indicator that he has not been influenced by partisan politics. One thing I did wonder about: his son was killed in Iraq in July of 2007. Did that have the effect of rendering his judgment of the war to be harsher than it would have otherwise been? That tragedy did not alter his overall outlook on American foreign policy, however. It is clear by his other titles that he has always had a minority view.



Fri Dec 05, 2008 8:06 pm
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DWill wrote:
Afghanistan was more a case of an immediate defensive reaction.

Actually, Afghanistan was about punishment more than defense. Most Americans would be outraged if the people behind the 9/11 attacks got away with it. The goal of preventing future terrorist attacks, though relevant, was secondary.
DWill wrote:
Bacevich says that a grand scheme to remake the Middle East in the image of America was our stated reason for going into Iraq. ... And our idealistic pronouncements about showing the Middle East the way to democracy conveniently serve our economic self-interest as well, because they secure our oil supplies.

Though many opponents of the Iraq War argued that it was about oil, I'm not convinced that oil was the main motivation. The public rhetoric in favor of the war emphasized WMDs and terrorism. Others discussed the viciousness of Saddam's regime and the desire to spread democracy & human rights. The neo-conservatives sought to increase US geopolitical power, which is related to oil but not identical. Were the enormous costs of the war invested in the infrastructure and other programs in the US, the country would be a lot better off economically.



Sun Dec 07, 2008 2:33 am
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