Greatness is neither a guarantee of goodness nor a grant for do-gooders to remake the world. Try they nonetheless have, at home and abroad, from the 19th century to the first two decades of the current century, in which the handprints of presidents and the footprints of soldiers have left their respective marks throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East; in which the Great War begat not the end of war but its expansion; in which the combined shadow of so many bad wars threatens to darken the legacy of the last good war, World War II.
To recognize the temptations of greatness—to resist the urge to pursue it—is to know the costs of fighting forever, in an unwinnable war, against an indefatigable enemy: ourselves.
It is better to acknowledge the obvious, that America is great, than it is to obfuscate the truth by perpetuating a bankrupt foreign policy.
Andrew Bacevich’s latest book, Twilight of the American Century, speaks to that point. That I differ with some of Bacevich’s proposals does not mean he is wrong about the consequences of American foreign policy.
I care less about his opinion of the greatness of America than I care that he has an opinion—that he is more practical than polemical—regarding the perpetuation of an empire whose existence is undeniable and whose expense has become indefensible.
I care that he is a combat veteran, who is not personally combative. That is to say, he has as much a right to be angry as he does to write angrily; to rage against the death of his only son and namesake who died fighting in the Iraq War.
That he writes honestly and well—that his casus belli is to stop America’s search for another war—is a testament of Bacevich’s integrity and a tribute to his son.
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