Sunday, November 22, 2009

Our Official Ideology of National Security

This is very much worth as is the entire book.

Selection from Andrew Bacevich’s The Limits of Power

“Aspirants to high office likewise testify to the core tenets of this [unofficial] ideology, hoping thereby to demonstrate their essential trustworthiness. Here is the version offered in December 1991 by the then-governor of Arkansas, a liberal Democrat whose foreign policy credentials were nonexistent but who had his sights trained on the White House.

'I was born a half-century ago, at the dawn of the Cold War, at time of great change, enormous opportunity, and uncertain peril. At a time when Americans wanted nothing more that to come home and resume their lives of peace and quiet, our country had to summon the will for a new kind of war – containing an expansionist and hostile Soviet Union which vowed to bury us. We had to find ways to rebuild the economies of Europe and Asia, encourage a worldwide movement toward independence, and vindicate our nation’s principles in the world against yet another totalitarian challenge to liberal democracy. Thanks to the unstinting courage and sacrifice of the American people, we were able to win that Cold War.'

This was a rendering of history with all the details airbrushed away – no allusions to Vietnam, no reference to CIA coups and attempted assassinations, no mention of collaborating with venal autocrats like Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista, Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza Debayle, or the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos. Yet the passage served Bill Clinton’s purposes precisely, allowing him to situate himself well within the American political mainstream. Clinton understood, quite correctly, that were he to stray too far from that mainstream – as, for example, George McGovern did in the presidential campaign of 1972 when he summoned America to ‘come home’ – he would doom his candidacy. Although Clinton himself had done absolutely nothing to win the Cold War – he had actually labored mightily and successfully to avoid military service – through his repeated use of the term we he established his personal identification with that struggle. He was one with ‘us,’ and ‘we’ had prevailed in a historic contest, thereby gaining a great victory for freedom.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and another would-be president wih sketchy foreign policy credentials unhesitatingly ripped a page out of the Clinton playbook. ‘At moments of great peril in the last entury,’ declared Senator Barack Obama,

'American leaders such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy managed both to protect the American people and to expand opportunity for the next generation. What is more, they ensured that America, by deed and example, led and lifted the world – that we stood for and fought for the freedoms sought by billions of people beyond our borders. As Roosevelt built the most formidable military the world had even seen, his Four Freedoms gave purpose to our struggle against fascism. Truman championed a bold new architecture to respond to the Soviet threat – one that paired military strength with the Marshall Plan and helped secure the peace and well-being of nations around the world.'

Like Clinton, Obama was intent on identifying himself with the cause that ‘we stood for and fought for.’ Like Clinton, in recounting the heroic narrative in which Roosevelt, Truman, and their successors had figured so prominently, he was testifying to the narrative’s essential truth and continuing validity.

Yet almost inescapably he also subscribed to George W. Bush’s own interpretation of that narrative. As Obama went on to explain, ‘The security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders.’ Like Bush – like those who preceded Bush – Obama defined America’s purposes in cosmic terms. ‘The mission of the United States,’ he proclaimed, ‘is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity.’

Clinton’s rhetorical sleight of hand, mimicked by Obama, illustrates the role that the ideology of national security plays in shaping electoral politics. That role in chiefly to provide a reductive and insipid, if ultimately reassuring view of reality. Accept the proposition that America is freedom’s tribune, and it becomes a small step to believing that the ‘peace process’ aims to achieve peace, that Iraq qualifies as a sovereign state, and the Providence has summoned the United States to wage an all-out war against ‘terrorism.’ Indeed, to disagree with these sentiments - as the Washington consensus sees it – is to stray beyond the bounds of permissible opinion.” [pp. 78-81]

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