Wednesday, February 29, 2012

End of the American Century

Professor Andrew Bacevich has a new book out, a collection of essays entitled The Short American Century. Bacevich is well known by the barkeeps here and to our readers as well I assume. His is one of the few voices of reason heard in contemporary America today, which says a lot.

On this post I would like to introduce Bacevich's new book as well as point out two other articles one from November 2011 and the other published this month. The book provides necessary context while the two articles provide an analysis of our current situation. I'll start with the older article, then proceed to the newer article and finish with an extract from the book which ties the two together.


The first article, from 2011, entitled Big Change Whether We Like It or Not provides a thoughtful analysis of America going into the current year. Perhaps the worst aspect of the situation is not the overwhelming change we are facing, but the attitude of the current political/economic elite:

In Washington, meanwhile, a hidebound governing class pretends that none of this is happening, stubbornly insisting that it’s still 1945 with the so-called American Century destined to continue for several centuries more (reflecting, of course, God’s express intentions).

Here lies the most disturbing aspect of contemporary American politics, worse even than rampant dysfunction borne of petty partisanship or corruption expressed in the buying and selling of influence. Confronted with evidence of a radically changing environment, those holding (or aspiring to) positions of influence simply turn a blind eye, refusing even to begin to adjust to a new reality.

With the onrush of political, economic, environmental, even military changes happening now, our national leadership prefers to pass off bromides, sound bits of past glories and worn-out boilerplate from chicken dinner speeches to the people as if they offered some sort of proper response.

Bacevich lists "four converging vectors involved" although he admits there may be more. They are:

First the Collapse of the Freedom Agenda which was Washington's response to 9/11 in the form of Bush's invasion of Iraq:

Intent on accomplishing across the Islamic world what he believed the United States had accomplished in Europe and the Pacific between 1941 and 1945, Bush sought to erect a new order conducive to U.S. interests -- one that would permit unhindered access to oil and other resources, dry up the sources of violent Islamic radicalism, and (not incidentally) allow Israel a free hand in the region. Key to the success of this effort would be the U.S. military, which President Bush (and many ordinary Americans) believed to be unstoppable and invincible -- able to beat anyone anywhere under any conditions.

Alas, once implemented, the Freedom Agenda almost immediately foundered in Iraq. The Bush administration had expected Operation Iraqi Freedom to be a short, tidy war with a decisively triumphant outcome. In the event, it turned out to be a long, dirty (and very costly) war yielding, at best, exceedingly ambiguous results.

In retrospect it seems amazing that there was so little resistance to this "policy" which was more the nature of corruption mixed with systemic failure at a whole variety of levels. None of the elite come out looking even halfway competent or even trustworthy here which is why they would just a soon sweep it all under the rug. "Next war please!" As it is "history's actors" got bitch slapped by reality, as if it could have turned out any other way . . .

Second, the Great Recession:

Instead of being a transitory phenomenon, it seemingly signifies something transformational. The Great Recession may well have inaugurated a new era -- its length indeterminate but likely to stretch for many years -- of low growth, high unemployment, and shrinking opportunity. As incomes stagnate and more and more youngsters complete their education only to find no jobs waiting, members of the middle class are beginning to realize that the myth of America as a classless society is just that. In truth, the game is rigged to benefit the few at the expense of the many -- and in recent years, the fixing has become ever more shamelessly blatant.

This realization is rattling American politics. In just a handful of years, confidence in the Washington establishment has declined precipitously. Congress has become a laughingstock. The high hopes raised by President Obama’s election have long since dissipated, leaving disappointment and cynicism in their wake.

This vector is probably the most difficult to deal with since it affects our every day existence. An economic system and money itself rests on trust, trust that bills will be paid and that the money used as payment will be accepted as payment. So if more and more people think they are being scammed and that there are powerful interests who are making fortunes off this crisis/their misfortune, then what do you do?

The American view of history up to now (with a short hiatus during the Great Depression) was that if you work hard you can get ahead and that if you provide for your family, getting them for instance a good education, they will be better off economically than you were. That used to work in enough cases where it was believable, but now? Tell a young family that now and see their reaction. This type of social economy has been on the way out for a long time, but the current crisis has lifted the veil for a lot of people which explains the current Populist response. Today we have the economy as casino and our political "representatives" have stood back or actively supported this change before our very eyes. To get an idea of the change I'm talking about we have to think of the economy not as money but as a value system. Consider the closing scene from Executive Suite of 1954 which adequately describes the clash between two perspectives. I would add to this the thought of the novelist Ayn Rand who remains widely (or "wildly") popular today.

In effect a new faith has taken over, "the Market" (portrayed as a synthesis of accounting principles/financial management and Ayn Rand), but that faith is breaking apart against the rocks of an ever more brutal reality. While those in power profit from the current situation, how much longer will it be taken as fact by the American public?

Third is the Arab Spring:

Although Washington abjured the overt colonialism once practiced in London, its policies did not differ materially from those that Europeans had pursued. The idea was to keep a lid on, exclude mischief-makers, and at the same time extract from the Middle East whatever it had on offer. The preferred American MO was to align with authoritarian regimes, offering arms, security guarantees, and other blandishments in return for promises of behavior consistent with Washington’s preferences. Concern for the wellbeing of peoples living in the region (Israelis excepted) never figured as more than an afterthought.

What events of the past year have made evident is this: that lid is now off and there is little the United States (or anyone else) can do to reinstall it. A great exercise in Arab self-determination has begun. Arabs (and, arguably, non-Arabs in the broader Muslim world as well) will decide their own future in their own way. What they decide may be wise or foolish. Regardless, the United States and other Western nations will have little alternative but to accept the outcome and deal with the consequences, whatever they happen to be.

This is only the most recent manifestation of what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls the Global Political Awakening. This is a "worldwide yearning for human dignity" that has been ongoing since at least the French Revolution. What it triggers is populist activism which can be channeled in different ways to quite different effects. Dictators can rise by popular acclaim, even be voted into office . . . What we have here is not the decline of the state, but the overthrow of the last vestiges of Western imperialism in the Arab world, which will usher in new political forms and thus new state apparatuses. The state is simply the apparatus of political control, how the leadership in fact rules, is not something that can simply disappear. Our influence in regards the Arab Spring is limited, even negligible, or counter-productive to our interests, and for that reason our responses have to be considered in that light.

But then what are the chances of that? We see that our attitudes in regards to the first two vectors actually preclude it, and along with our still intact assumptions as to the infinite application of military force actually determine our seemingly self-defeating response.

The Fourth and last Vector that Bacevich lists is Europe:

Today, Europe has once again screwed up, although fortunately this time there is no need for foreign armies to sort out the mess. The crisis of the moment is an economic one, due entirely to European recklessness and irresponsibility (not qualitatively different from the behavior underlying the American economic crisis).

Will Uncle Sam once again ride to the rescue? Not a chance. Beset with the problems that come with old age, Uncle Sam can’t even mount up. To whom, then, can Europe turn for assistance? Recent headlines tell the story:

“Cash-Strapped Europe Looks to China For Help”
“Europe Begs China for Bailout”
“EU takes begging bowl to Beijing”
“Is China the Bailout Saviour in the European Debt Crisis?”

The crucial issue here isn’t whether Beijing will actually pull Europe’s bacon out of the fire. Rather it’s the shifting expectations underlying the moment. After all, hasn’t the role of European savior already been assigned? Isn’t it supposed to be Washington’s in perpetuity? Apparently not.

Shifting expectations is again the point here. Since all these assumptions are based on US dominance, we see that this dominance in fact no longer exists, as if we needed yet another example to prove that.

I think Bacevich overstates the case and misses the real turnaround. How much of the current crisis was the result of Europe "screwing up" and how much was a direct result of the economic "heresy"/scams coming out of the US? Would this current crisis have happened at this time without the Wall Street implosion? The view I see as gaining ground in Portugal is that the Wall Street "vandals" sucked what they could out of the US and then came to Europe to do the same . . . this accepting that plenty of mistakes had been made on this side of the Atlantic. It was the gaming of the crisis which has destroyed a lot of European faith in US business methods and economics. Add to this, the profound disappointment in Barack Obama and how he utterly failed to deal with the financial crisis, essentially co-opting to the banks. The "US", although few will say this openly, is now seen by many Europeans as akin to a highway robber, operating outside the "rule of law".


The second and more recent article, From Liberation to Assassination, Scoring the Global War on Terror describes how the Global War on Terror has evolved. From the Shock and Awe of the Rumsfeld Era we proceeded to the COIN of the Petraeus Era and are now in what Bacevich calls the turn to assassination by RPA/Special Operations Forces. Instead of a high-profile official like Rumsfeld or Petraeus, the "emblematic figure of the war formerly known as the Global War on Terror (WFKATGWOT)" is a relatively unknown figure by the name of Michael Vickers.

Bacevich concludes this article:

How round three will end is difficult to forecast. The best we can say is that it’s unlikely to end anytime soon or particularly well. As Israel has discovered, once targeted assassination becomes your policy, the list of targets has a way of growing ever longer.

So what tentative judgments can we offer regarding the ongoing WFKATGWOT? Operationally, a war launched by the conventionally minded has progressively fallen under the purview of those who inhabit what Dick Cheney once called “the dark side,” with implications that few seem willing to explore. Strategically, a war informed at the outset by utopian expectations continues today with no concretely stated expectations whatsoever, the forward momentum of events displacing serious consideration of purpose. Politically, a war that once occupied center stage in national politics has now slipped to the periphery, the American people moving on to other concerns and entertainments, with legal and moral questions raised by the war left dangling in midair.

In other words chronic strategic confusion as a result of possibly terminal political dysfunction. At least that is how I would read it.

The glowing Washington Post piece I linked above had this to say:

Today, as the top Pentagon adviser on counterterrorism strategy, Vickers exudes the same assurance about defeating terrorist groups as he did as a 31-year-old CIA paramilitary officer assigned to Afghanistan, where he convinced superiors that with the right strategy and weapons, the ragtag Afghan insurgents could win. "I am just as confident or more confident we can prevail in the war on terror," Vickers, 54, said in a recent interview, looking cerebral behind thick glasses but with an energy and build reminiscent of the high school quarterback he once was. "Not a lot of people thought we could drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan."

Vickers joined the Pentagon in July to oversee the 54,000-strong Special Operations Command (Socom), based in Tampa, which is growing faster than any other part of the U.S. military. Socom's budget has doubled in recent years, to $6 billion for 2008, and the command is to add 13,000 troops to its ranks by 2011.

Senior Pentagon and military officials regard Vickers as a rarity -- a skilled strategist who is both creative and pragmatic. "He tends to think like a gangster," said Jim Thomas, a former senior defense planner who worked with Vickers. "He can understand trends then change the rules of the game so they are advantageous for your side."

Emphasis mine. The first highlighted item could as well be said of us, but I doubt if the irony was as potentially obvious in 2007 when the article was written. Also notice the term "strategist" linked with "gangster".

Have we ever really had a coherent strategy at all? That is if we consider strategy as using military means to achieve a military aim in support of a political purpose. Our goal all along has seemingly been simply to impose and maintain dominance. The secondary goal of achieving permanent and complete security (essentially the 1% Doctrine) is not really an achievable goal since total security is never possible.

So why does the GWOT go on? Is it because it has gained a constituency with a personal interest in its further continuance no matter how much it costs or how many foreigners it kills or lives it destroys? Especially under the new version it could go on for some time irregardless of the backlash it is building against us . . . Perhaps the answer is in the four vectors discussed in the first article.


The last Bacevich piece I will include here is a short essay from the new book, The American Century Is Over - Good Riddance. In it besides proclaiming the obvious end of American dominance we also see the end of the American claim to global leadership, what Henry Luce referred to in 1941 as the great mission of the US. That mission has now come to an end.

For me the money paragraphs were these two:

But I suspect that's not going to happen. The would-be masters of the universe orbiting around the likes of Romney and Obama won't be content to play such a modest role. With the likes of Robert Kagan as their guide—"It's a wonderful world order," he writes in his new book, The World America Made (Knopf)—they will continue to peddle the fiction that with the right cast of characters running Washington, history will once again march to America's drumbeat. Evidence to support such expectations is exceedingly scarce—taken a look at Iraq lately?—but no matter. Insiders and would-be insiders will insist that, right in their hip pocket, they've got the necessary strategy.

Strategy is a quintessential American Century word, ostensibly connoting knowingness and sophistication. Whether working in the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon, strategists promote the notion that they can anticipate the future and manage its course. Yet the actual events of the American Century belie any such claim. Remember when Afghanistan signified victory over the Soviet empire? Today, the genius of empowering the mujahedin seems less than self-evident.

Strategy is actually a fraud perpetrated by those who covet power and are intent on concealing from the plain folk the fact that the people in charge are flying blind. With only occasional exceptions, the craft of strategy was a blight on the American Century.

So "strategy" as scam, con game for the suckers who are only expected to foot the bill.

Strategy as marketing. But the marketing of dominance through domestic propaganda. Next new product out . . . war with Iran . . .


"Gloomy". That's what this perspective is called: not by those here, us barkeeps or the readers, not imo. The ones who refer to us as "gloomy" post on their own Neocon or Robbish doctrinal speculation blogs. They then comfort themselves with the self-serving notion that we don't really understand how tough it could get . . . the "warriors" know far better than we lesser mortals could ever . . .

The "warriors" don't listen to Bacevich either, which puts us in good company. It also indicates what we all have in common . . . the simple understanding that any reform/change will require acknowledgment of the problems and suitable solutions. Avoiding the painfully obvious with faith in "balance" or Randian "objectivity" is a decedent even nihilistic response.

We, the opposition to the "warriors", simply keep chipping away, like Andrew Bacevich does . . .

Like Publius does, like Al does, like FDChief does, like jim does, and everyone else reading who understands and agrees with my words.


  1. Excellent post, Seyditz. Much to think about.

  2. Well, as long as Europe blames US for their problems and failures, we don't have to worry about them. The Goldman Sachs way of thinking can and does infect China, just like it did Japan. And look how relevant they are.

    So my bet is we'll be a shadow of what we could be, but our shadow will still be bigger than the rest. The only thing we really have to do is maintain Hollywood to provide the cultural window dressing to attract the best and brightest.

    That would be trivial, if it weren't for the streak of xenophobia inhabiting the angry-white-male minority.

  3. Seydlitz.
    All of your cmts can be summed up as-faulty assumptions accepted as fact. The basis of US policy is based on quicksand rather than rock.
    Per the ME,they may go their own way, but how will we react?
    I surmise that our attitude to Iran will be the template.We hate them not for what they do, but what they don't do. They won't suck up, and this is unacceptable to our crummy leaders.
    What if the Iranian leaders are more reality based than the US puhbahs?
    What if the world does split into a 12th century mindset-Muslim V. Christians? It could happen,but now they have large patrol bases within our societies. This affects our actions/responses.
    The key is energy efficiency and we've been screwing that pooch since 1975 with no apparent progress. As i look out the window the parking lot is filled with 300 HP vehicles. Solar power is ignored , as is cutting our consumption of power.
    This is all inter related, and none of our stellar candidates for President have a clue as to the problem , or the solution.

  4. Seydlitz,
    Indeed we've created a class that is dependent on the PWOT. I laugh when we say that SOCOM/JSOC is on the dark side. They are sucking up the green , and slap filled with careerist west pointers looking for bullets on their collars. When did these guys sign on-after the billets became diamond studded.
    Specops isn't. It's now criminal and this is not dark side. It's crap. Asasination is not a military tactic. It's CIA junk. Socom is not a way around international law just b/c we slap the nomenclature BLACK OPS onto them.
    ISTM that the flow of history is passing us by and we're clueless.
    In closing. Military power is meaningless in the pwot if a strategy and morality is missing. Throw in heaps of ignorance and that's where we are today. The question that i have is -where/how will real leaders emerge in the US?
    Is being a suck ass our new template?
    Think of the people that guide our policy.
    Your article is very good reading and nicely tied together.

  5. Seydlitz,
    I think i'll try to write an essay.
    I'll call it -SOCOM AND GOMORAH.

  6. Arch Druid comes from a comes from a long way out, but has some interesting things to say.

  7. Sorry about the typos in the previous comment. What I meant to say is that the Arch Druid, whatever his religious predilections, is an old-fashioned intellectual -- amazingly well read, honest and, for the most part, quite humble. His take on imperialism seems worth thinking about.

  8. Seydlitz-

    As to Europe viewing the US as a source of help, European attitudes toward the US as a friend and/or pillar of strength began a long downhill slide beginning in Nov 2000 and the Three Stooges episode called the Presidential Election of 2000. The champion of democracy decided an election without recounting all the votes, simply because the Supreme Court ruled that meeting an arbitrary date was more important than counting all the votes - for this election and this election only. We were in the UK at the time, and the reaction of friends was, well, shock. Rather than call the deadline for getting the counting done arbitrary, the court essentially said a proper count was arbitrary - knowing at the time the election results that would entail. So much for champions of democracy and the ability to manage one's internal affairs.

    9/11 was an event that gained the US great sympathy and empathy from the rest of the world, yet that was soon squandered as we turned into a paranoid police state.

    The invasion of Iraq and the denigration of the countries that didn't choose to join this ill advised adventure left many wondering exactly what it meant to be an "Ally" of the US. Dragging out the admission that there were no WMDs to begin with set us back even further, not to mention how the whole affair was botched.

    While the world thought the new president would return the US to a more sane and enlightened course, we showed them that if you polish a turd, it's still a turd. "Health care reform" devolved into a new insurance scheme that would still leave 10's of millions without regular access to health care, not the universal access considered a basic human right by every other developed nation. And, of course, the organized effort to overturn even a flawed step in the right direction does not paint us as very civilized.

    Speaking of civilized, following the profound damage to the world economy of the mortgage fiasco, we then staged the great debt ceiling joke, using a threat of further harm to the rest of the world as a club in internal financial gutter fights. At least the European debt crisis, in which default is not wanted, is based on a potential inability to pay, where the threatened debt ceiling defaults were from a country that was fully able to pay.

    In short, we have shown an increasingly cavalier attitude towards the rest of the world, no less human rights. Why would it even flash through their minds as an even remote possibility that we might be of assistance to them? To restate a piece of wisdom from jim, "we are goof balls". That alone would not be so bad, but we are also not very nice goof balls.

  9. I think that the reality of the problem can be found in the financial health of each nation.

    Europe is thoroughly fucked...they are discussing forgiveness of Greece's debt, and probably Spain, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, France...and for those of you not savvy to what "forgiveness" is the same as default, but without the hard feelings of "you fucking bastard...what happened to that money!?!"

    The outcome though is the same, and it is that outcome which is setting the stage for the larger problem that no one in the financial markets wants to touch...someone, somewhere is going to eat that loss.
    Whether it is a nation, or several nations...a whole shit-ton of money is going to disappear off the books.
    Gone...never to come back.

    And for American investors...there is going to be a cost to them too.

    As much as everyone in Government thinks "oh yeah, we're in the green now" the truth is...we're not out of that hole yet...we have a long way to go, but, but some would say...the dow is over 13000...just because a few companies make a few dollars in a short period of time doesn't mean everyone is making money.

    I think it's temporary...I think it's the quiet before the storm.

    This is why I'm not paying attention to the primaries, and little if any attention to anything Obama me, it's about the financial markets...if countries can't pay off their debts, someone is going to lose a lot of money which...which will have a direct effect on that country as well.

    Financial's our future, and it's going to be a landslide of epic proportions.

  10. Hokay.

    Now what?

    Seriously - accepting all of Bachevich's points, what's a smart, involved citizen of the post-American-Century U.S. to do?

    (And my caveat would be that for all that we may be "post", the U.S. still has a ton of military and economic muscle; I can foresee a long imperial twilight wherein American troops will turn up in all sorts of places farkling about smartly in pursuit of those "strategies" beloved of the people you mentioned...)

    Is there a role to play for those of us here in trying to find a worthwhile sort of role for a post-global-hegemon U.S., or is the U.S. political process so thoroughly fucked (along the lines of Bush v Gore, 2000) that the individual citizen - or even the citizen in groups - just utterly fucked and along for the death-spiral ride?

    jim seems to think the latter. Me, I'm pessimistic but still not sure; guess that's the irrepressible kid in me.

  11. Chief

    Not so sure there economic "muscle", as the atrophy is pretty well advanced. Perhaps is a "relative" atrophy as compared to China? We simply cannot compete, as Apple's operations exemplify:

    Google "Myths of Small Business" and find that no nation, not even the US can drive a robust economy on the basis of these "heroes". They may be votes worth pandering to, but they are not a major jobs engine and tend to be the hallmark of lesser economies (ever been to Greece?)

    I don't know the answer, but am concerned that now that China and India, for example, are mobilizing hundreds of millions of low cost minds and hands to produce the world's needs, we can't catch up. Can the US match even 1/4 of the kind of industrial response described in the Times article:

    A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.

    Apple's market valuation hit $500 billion the other day, equal in numbers (although not long terms value) to the GDP of Poland. Apple provides jobs for 43,000 US residents. Apple turns profits of about $400,000 per employee. If half that profit were turned into $20/hr full time jobs - without benefits, that would result in some 150,000 jobs. What would Apple do with those 150,000 jobs other than expense away profit? Can they get set up Chinese style campuses and get a similarly responsive labor pool? Or a "company town"? Would they even want to operate one when they can contract it out?

    It is time to see what we can do to simply sustain ourselves as we see more and more of the population earning lower and lower wages selling routine goods and services to each other in a quasi-barter environment. The financial services folks may continue to rake in the bucks, and a few select industries that are more readily amenable to production on our soil may remain, but not much more.

  12. Chief,
    The only option to men like us is to be responsible for ourselves and to live as we both do.
    Within our means with no frivolity.
    We cannot control anything except what we are.
    That is the constant which O,GWB, etc.. lack.
    we are what makes/made America great, and come what may we always have that in our kit bag.

  13. To all,
    I was thinking that we do not understand where we stand in history , and this is a extreme fault.
    We substitute phony wars and religion for logic and intelligence.We forget our values and prefer to discuss gun control, abortion and all the other hot button issues that have no relevence to survival as a society, let alone as a nation.
    If our society won't survive then surely the rest is obvious
    We are treading water.
    Bacevich is great w. what he says, but as Chief points out -SO WHAT!? What do we do about it?
    If Presidential elections are smoke screens then we are truly f---ed.We've not had a statesman in the white house for a looong time.
    Cock hounds and religeous zingos yes, but no one of any stature.What does that say about the process?
    When thinking of guys like Bacevich one must ask-why was he so lowly in rank?
    Even the services don't recognize brilliance unless it's partisan.

  14. To all,
    I mention gun control because that lone issue was the thing that got BWB into the white house.
    Without the NRA he would not have made it.
    Try reading any of the gun mags to incude the National Rifleman, and they are all right wing screeds. The dems called this fire down on their own heads.
    This is true of the service orgs like AM LEG/AMVETS/VFW/et al.
    All of the above are slap filled with working class men hood winked into believing that a liberal vote is the kiss of the spider woman.

  15. jim -

    You are right about the American Legion but wrong on the VFW. I am not a member of AMVETS and do not know where they stand. The Legion monthly magazine is rife with articles written by neocons and right-wing whackos. The VFW monthly mag stays out of politics completely except for an occasional letter-to-the-editor rant and those are generally split between left and right. The members of my local VFW post are a snapshot of the local community - some right, some left (one of our elected post officers was recently honored by the county Democratic Party for heroic efforts in voter registration and for actively promoting social and environmental change), and most in the middle.

    We have had this discussion previously. But you have never changed your mind on the VFW and apparently think I am trying to blow smoke up your butt for some unknown reason.

    If your local VFW post is fiercely right wing then I suggest it is because the community you live in is of the same political persuasion. You should join that post and change a few minds with rational discussion and actions. Instead you seem to have chosen to damn the entire organization for the actions of some of the members. That smells like a GWB/RushLimbaugh tactic to me.

  16. Gee, guys...remind me never to come to you for a buck-up when I'm REALLY depressed...

    I hate to pound this drum, but I think it's important to pound on; the reason Apple, like Nixon, goes to China has a LOT to do with what's going on here as much as it does there.

    ISTM that we have - and by "we" I mean "the people who benefit from having" - gimmicked our tax, tariff, labor, and commerce codes and regulations so as to favor the rentier rather than the maker, the "investor" rather than the creator; Steve Jobs outsources his product to China and India in large part because "we" helped make him profitable to do so.

    We forget that for decades - for much of the 10th Century and a lot of the 20th - we had massive tariffs designed to keep "cheap foreign goods" out of the U.S.; our textile and furniture industries developed because our tariffs kept lower-priced English cloth woven from Southern cotton from competing with cloth woven in New England mills, or cheaper French furniture, the IKEA of its day, from underselling our own cabinetry industry...

    I'm not advocating a unilateral return to defensive tariffs...but a wholesale look at the policies and programs that put the interests of the "investor" and the balance sheet above the overall good of the country in the form of living wages...

    Still dunno if it means we're going to do more than lengthen the imperial twilight, but if anything can help...

  17. Chief- "a wholesale look at the policies and programs that put the interests of the "investor" and the balance sheet above the overall good of the country in the form of living wages"

    You mean things like an industrial policy, energy policy, transportation policy, labor policy, all mutually supporting and leading towards a defined goal? That would mean a requirement for enlightened governance, and somehow we have one half the population not wanting a government, no less governance, and the other half too fragmented in an uncoordinated "fight for the little guy" to be effective. Even though we have regulation of aspects of the above, we still don't have a focused policies with coherent implementation directives that look to the future.

    Hell, let's take transportation. We are in love with the automobile, yet have a steadily deteriorating road network and bridges. Everyone wants cheap gasoline so that we can put more and more wear and tear on roads and bridges. The federal tax of 18.4 cents per gallon hasn't changed since 1983, even though "reducing fuel consumption" has been a stated goal - because inexpensive gasoline has also been a goal. To maintain a constant tax adjusted for inflation, that would have to be 42 cents/gal today. Even of we take rising consumption into account (approx 50%), net tax lagged behind unit costs of maintenance by some 35%. Ever wonder why we run a deficit and still have deteriorating infrastructure? The federal tax does nothing to encourage conservation, and is continuously diminishing in effectiveness in address highway maintenance costs. But the "consumer" is spared a "direct burden", and oil companies are having record profits. While state level taxes are higher, they too, have not kept pace with inflation. Ever wonder why formerly paved roads are being converted to gravel in several states?

    If consumption is the driving force, the focus will be on the here and now. Air travel is a good example. To increase "consumption" travel has to be cheaper. For travel to be cheaper, labor costs have to be reduced. Consequently, skilled maintenance jobs have been moved overseas. The vast majority of them. As more and more of the consuming population earns less and less, prices have to be reduced further to sustain demand, or consumer debt increased to pay for the demand. Reduced prices can only be offset by reduced labor costs - often masked as "increased productivity" - doing more with fewer employees. Our consumer oriented economy is entering a death spiral. It is reactive, not proactive.

    Even Alan Greenspan had to finally admit that "The Market" was indeed fully capable of acting in a manner counter to it's own best long term interests.

  18. mike,
    I acknowledge your point.
    I left the VFW a few years ago and have not read their mag since.However the locals here in Fl/Al/Ga, if their members are representative are very conservative. This as you point out does not condemn the whole.
    I respect your input and will so modify my future comments.
    I guess i'm just overly wary of patriotic groups, and will probably remain so, but i'll back off on the VFW.
    Why not?

  19. Chief,
    You touch a fine point.
    A ww2 friend of mine says that i depress him and so i try to be up beat around him. This is a no go and even then i bum him out.
    So i just avoid commo w. him. It's also a problem w. the blogging as it is always the appearance of pissing and moaning. This does not attract readers.
    Nice bowl of gruel.
    We are what we are.

  20. Aviator,
    Transportation infrastructure problem is real, but at least is visible. The water infrastructure, most of it buried underground, is in even worst shape. American utilities lose seven billion gallons of potable water every day to leaks. It is not unusual to pump 30% more water than consumers receive. Some older U.S. cities, with an infrastructure dating back to the Wilson administration and earlier, cannot account for half of the water they pump.

    Treatment plants are in a similar state of disrepair. Raw sewage discharges total 900 billion gallons a year.

    According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, repairing and upgrading the water infrastructure will require $84 billion in new funding by 2020.

    And the goddamned Cato Institute is pushing for water privatization.

  21. Ranger,
    You know I respect you, regularly follow your blog and agree with 99% of your views, including those about the American Legion and VFW. But we part ways on gun control. On an individual level, possession of lethal weaponry can be useful. An H&K 9-mm saved my bacon twice. But on societal level militias of one merely add to the chaos.

    Here in Mexico, even with our problems, it’s good that few ordinary people are armed. Drivers dispute, curse each other, wives and husbands fight, but few get killed. And when confronted with real, military-style violence, anything you can pack is not going to be of much help.

    Guess it's your day in the barrel, Ranger.

  22. Thanks for all the interesting comments. Postscript added.

  23. Paul,
    i'm not a cherry when it comes to the barrel.
    As for guns i agree in theory with what you say and i understand your concerns,BUT,either we believe in the Bill of rights or we don't. If we don't believe in the right to own and BEAR arms then why don't we repeal the 2nd amendment, or just shit can it and admit that all of the rights listed are not rights IF THEY CAN BE CHANGED OR ABRIDGED, OR SHORT CUTTED. OR ANYTHING ELSE.
    Either we are or we ain't.
    As i always say-if the police can have auto wpns then why not honest citizens.?I'll gladly disarm if the police/govt agents do so also.

  24. jim

    I do not "believe in" the Constitution, but do accept it rationally as a reasonably well crafted document for guiding a nation. I reserve "belief" for the religious arena.

    A major reason I find the Constitution to be "reasonably well crafted" is the inclusion of Article V, as well as the subsequent so called "Bill of Rights". Not only did the authors of the Constitution admit that the document was a product of human frailty, and thus must be capable of being amended to address errors, omissions, changing times, etc (Article V), but shortly after ratification fo the Basic Constitution, they chose to cover some points they had deferred (Amendments 1 through 10), to allow robust debate.

    Nothing is "sacred" about the first 10 Amendments, and it took some subsequent Amendments to correct what were later seen as "deficiencies" in the "Bill of Rights" to begin with. For example, The Bill of Rights applied to white men who owned property and excluded most Americans. Free blacks were excluded from The Bill of Rights because they were not citizens. Also excluded were all women, Native Americans, immigrants and white men who did not own land.

    Where many Americans lose sight of the Constitution is in thinking that it is somehow the immutable word of a diety. It is the work of men who knew that they were fully capable of error and were not able to see the future, and in wisdom, wrote Article V into the original document.

    Now, the second Amendment begins with a qualifying statement which refers to a "militia", which is a bit afield from modern practice:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    Do we have a "well regulated militia"? What is it? Since it is a proper noun in the original wording, why isn't there a body called the "US Militia"? By owning a firearm, do I become a member of this "Militia", and if so, how is the Militia and it's members "well regulated"? The courts have been wrestling with this for decades.

    In short, the Second Amendment was written in late 18th Century terms to address a late 18th Century concept. There is nothing "eternally sacred" about it, except the misconception that it its inclusion in the Bill of Rights makes it so, even though several of the other 9 Amendments have been found to be lacking and were corrected over time. Is the Constitution intended to be the express will "We, the People", or the irrevocable will of people who have been dead for nearly 200 years?

    Unfortunately, I do not think it is sociologically within the realm of the possible to alter the Second Amendment. Another piece of wisdom of the framers was to make the Constitution difficult to amend, lest it become as subject to momentary whim as our dysfunctional legislature. It would probably be easier to amend the Constitution of take suffrage away based upon race than to alter the Second Amendment in the slightest manner. The framers were not infallible, and perhaps we just have to make do with one of their pieces of fallible writing. A lasting monument to the reality of human frailty?

  25. Seydiltz,

    Thanks for a very thoughtful post and summary of Bacevich's continuing work. At this point, he is just about the only recognized "thinker" I will read (Michael Brenner is another).

    Barkeeps and flies,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. If you seem negative (pissing & moaning) or depressed, it is because we have reason to be depressed. Most (all?) emerged from backgrounds steeped in service to a greater good. And we live in a schizophrenic society that idolizes such service while believing anyone who serves to be suckers. A place where the "I" has infinitely more value than "we." It was not always thus and I believe generational dynamic has a great deal to do with today's zeitgeist. As jim says -living within our means, as ourselves, providing the example of citizenship - this is perhaps the only real salvation our nation has. By our examples, and our lonely voices, we educate, influence, and we change those coming behind us - our nation's future.

    "We the People" was replaced by "ME" a long time ago. It will take a long time to bring "we" back. And as Bacevich points out, the rest of the world is not waiting (nor should they). To make it in the changed and changing world, WE have got to be together or we'll end up under the boot of plutocracy like pretty much everyplace else on the globe.


  26. Aviator,
    Al,i acknowledge your points. I wasn't a constitutional law professor, but my degree is in American Studies, but that was long ago and far away.
    If you want to get technical the 2nd amendment doesn't mention firearms, does it? It simply says arms which is interpreted as Firearms. The 2nd allows the switchblade in my pocket even though the National Switch blade Act criminalizes switchblades. Do militias carry switchblades?
    Strangely for interpretation from day 1 policy and precedent was that citizens had the right to own and bear, which means to shoot. The intent was not to hunt squirrels, but to counter balance a standing army or to resist tyranny from any direction.Killing indians and stealing a nation would've been difficult w/o an armed citizenry. When the militia was off playing mel gibson who guarded the farm??Additionally the 2nd meant that the citizenry have weapons as good as or better than the standing army. There is no sporting clause.The army didn't get rifled muskets as standard issue long after every civilian rifleman had a rifled piece.Remember the 1840 mississipi rifle of jeff davis fame? Remember the DCM used to sell sniper rifles to the shooting public in the 50's and 60's. The Cmp sells m1's to citizens even today.
    I have no religous belief and believe in my front sight when and if i need it. God has never given me any support.
    I reckon i believe in the Constitution since i find little else to warm my cockles.

  27. Ret'd Patriot,
    I can never understand simple things.
    I'll never acceptunderstand that the gov't has policies EXACTLY the opposite of what we do at family level. Things like living within our means , only spending if you have the funds, or if you can repay the loan. Keeping a reserve for emergency etc..
    Thanks for coming around,

  28. jim-

    Since I do not think the 2nd Amendment will ever be modified, it will, as I stated, be subject to court interpretation over and over again. After all, no court ruling is eternally binding, or the first of many on the subject of firearms would have settled it long ago. You do present one argument. A look at objective history shows that the framers of the amendment had diverse opinions, and the proposals varies, with many of the initial proposals adding a prohibition from forcing anyone with contrary religious convictions from bearing arms. However, the "militia" element was ever present. And while much historical evidence shows that the anti-federalists wanted protection against a federal standing army (allow for insurrection against tyranny), section 8 of Article One of the Constitution empowers Congress to : provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions Interesting conflict of stances. Of course, the Constitution itself in no way legitimizes insurrection, while the history of the debate on the subject does see it as legitimate. Clearly there is not a "when insurrection is allowed clause", as that would give license to endless violence, yet the court support for the individual right to bear arms clears alludes to such an implied OK to insurrection to fight "oppression".

    That said, I am no Constitutional scholar, and if I were, there would be as many opposing any view I might adopt as those agreeing. Unfortunately, the wording of the amendment was a bit general and vague, ultimately resulting in job security for lawyers and justices.

    Do I think it's wisely written? Not really. But it was a compromise solution designed by committee. I do think that if the overwhelming majority of the people of Cleveland wish to regulate firearms, they have a right to so so. Funny that the advocates of states' rights will not grant to a state the right to place limits on firearms ownership, regardless of how overwhelming the support for same might be in a given state. Yet we have cries for an Amendment baring same sex marriage. But, as you so aptly put it, "we are goof balls".

  29. RP-

    Thanks for commenting. Yes, that pretty much is how I see it as well. Agree too in regards to MB and SST in general.

    I would only add that part of the problem also is the fact that officially there is not "grand narrative", but in reality there is . . .

    Grand narratives supposedly ended with the Cold War since they were the product of "ideologies" or rather stuff that we didn't agree with. So, we had only "reality" left, which was essentially the way we did things since we had "won" the Cold War. This is what all that "end of history" jazz was about back in the early 1990s imo.

    So, the blatant fact that we actually do have a whole series of ideologically-based assumptions that drive US policies is something our elite would rather not admit, since to admit the existence of that (schizophrenic) ideological perspective, that bias, even that blindness, would lead to it being questioned.

  30. Seydlitz,

    I agree about the unstated ideological biases out there in our society. And further agree that the elites have absolutely no intention of having them questioned. Why else would we have celebrity stardom, sports and the "culture wars" shoved down our collective throats all day long? Maybe the answer is to try and force the uncomfortable questions out there. And to get them answered!


  31. I like most of Bacevich's perspectives.

    I do not sign up to his Obama bashing - even though I used to do some of that myself. We (Baceivich and I) seem to be on diametric courses re Obama. Bacevich supported him in 08 while I opposed him in the primaries and voted for him while crossing my fingers and holding my nose in the general election. Bacevich now castigates Obama with contempt as being politically cynical for his own re-election purposes. He may be right about Obama not wanting to appear as a National Security wimp, but I feel that O's moves are more geared to ensuring no takeover by the crazy wing of the opposition party as he knows they will bring the country down.

    As for the 2nd Amendment, God bless it. And I am about as liberal as you can get in this day and age. I'll keep my shotguns. I deep-sixed my antique FN 9-mm as it was older than I am by far and I never did take good care of it. The last time I fired it - 30 years ago when I still had good eyesight and a steady hand - the spread at a 15 yard range was almost 15 yards wide. The modern NRA I believe is a pool of scheisse. They do more harm to the reputations of legitimate gun owners than the most gun unfriendly politician. They should shut up about politics, stop attacking the ATF (even Bush couldn't stomach their sliming of BATFE) and stick to their charter.

  32. We live in an era of "givens" versus rigorous analysis and exposition of fact. Those granted the "authority" to state "givens" are the high priests of the various ideologies. Statements go unchallenged. Want to ensure no one checks the facts in your spurious, non-factual e-mail? Simply say, "This is true. It's been checked by Snopes." That very statement lends sufficient authority for it to be accepted by those whose "givens" are being reinforced.

    An acquaintance recently sent me an article from the right wing "American Spectator". He was "providing data" to show that Europe's "socialism" was the sole reason for the current debt crisis. In a section referring to a World Bank report, the author wrote:

    The report also notes that Europe, with just 10 percent of the world's population, accounts for an astonishing 58 percent of the entire world economy's spending on social protection.

    I asked the acquaintance if this was a direct quote from the report, as it had not been placed in quotes, underlined nor italicized. Further, I pointed him to some source data that showed that the population of the "undeveloped world" was nearly 7 times the population of the developed world, and that based upon references I provided him, conservative Texas (pop 25 million) spent 10 times more than The Congo (pop 68 million) on social programs. I also suggested that perhaps he should track down the World Bank report, which was conveniently not identified for such purpose and see if they used the word "astounding". He was at a loss for words.

    To be frank, I would guess that posters on MilPub are more diligent providing links to cited sources than many leading commentators. But then, if your are "authoritative" and stating "givens, veracity and intellectual honesty are not required. GOOF BALLS!

  33. Al,
    I think that the states do have the authority to regulate firearms within the range markers of the 2nd, but not cities.
    The whole system set up is called federal and state.
    State rights does not translate out to city rights.
    Why do i have to pay excise taxes, carry permit fees to execute my right to own, but you don't have to pay poll taxes to vote?
    It's all a contradiction.
    Now here's my most imp. point.
    The powers that you noted re; the militia should be true for the NG since they are todays equivalent, and they carry the old colors. None of the requirements for calling out the militia were met in the pwot.
    This imo is more imp. than the gun argument. This pales by comparison.

  34. jim: The whole "militia" issue is tough to resolve simply because we don't HAVE the equivalent of what in the 18th Century would have been "militia"; the "select companies" or "trained bands" that we inherited from the old English fyrd.

    IMO what the Framers intended was to ensure that they had a continued supply of Minutemen for when the Brits returned, then Washington (who hadn't liked the old state troops system in the first place) pretty much ensured that the old militia set-up got screwed, blued, and tattooed.

    The way we do things now, though, pretty much insures that some whacko with a hogleg will get on the evening news once or twice a week. I think we need to think of it in those terms, rather than the notion that this reservoir of firearms is some sort of firewall of Liberty; we've managed to keep every loose round we had in 2001 and yet we've managed to do a damn fine job selling our "liberties" down the river.

    So for me, at least, it's a simple equation; does the individual right to bear arms cancel the inevitable number of poor bastards who are going to take one in the brain housing group because of that right. I like to hunt and I like to shoot, so I say yes.

    But - unlike the NRA and (apparently a huge chunk of the GOP) - I don't look at the people who disagree with me as traitors or commies or some sort of unConstitutional freaks; they just do that math and come to a different answer.

  35. Chief

    I'm not sure exactly what the framers intended, at least as to the present day. They specifically wrote in the Constitution that Congress was to "suppress insurrection", yet in many writings outside the Constitution some of them refer to "bearing arms to prevent oppression" by government. Just as the wording of the Second Amendment leaves room for debate, when does "preventing oppression" cross the line to being insurrection?

    If the basis for the amendment is to keep the government in check, do you think that concept is really driving government decisions today? Have firearms been used by the populace to resist governmental oppression, or have firearms more commonly been used by segments of society to "oppress" other segments? Surely the KKK in the 50's and early 60's were not resisting "government oppression". The federal government didn't show one rat's ass of interest in protecting Blacks. More realistically, the behavior of the KKK resulted in what they perceive as "government oppression", when the federal government took great measures to protect the rights of blacks. If my friend, Mickey Schwerner, had routinely carried a fire arm, would his use of it that fateful night been to resist "government oppression"?

    I don't claim to know the answer to the firearms question. I do know that the framers were not cognizant of street gangs, armed robbery, organized crime "hits" and many other relatively recent arenas involving firearms being used to injure and oppress the innocent. So claiming they created an unlimited, "sacred right" because they were so wise, is pure folly. Instead, I see much greater wisdom and forethought in Article V than the Second Amendment. However, as I said above, I doubt that "We, the People" can come to a measured decision that would use Article V to clarify the question, and thus we surrender the current will to 9 jurists' interpretation of what a bunch of dead people are thought to have intended. Explain that to the poor bastards who are going to take one in the brain housing group because of that right.

  36. Al,
    The SC has refused to hear 2 gun control /2 amendment issues.
    Just before an election neither party wants to kick a bad dog.
    Our current arrests/cases indicate that the law will put you in jail for carrying outside your home.
    How did having a militia convolute into being allowed to have a gun only for home defense?
    Anyway enuf, i'm OT.
    This thread was well done. Thanks for starting the flow.

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