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A review of “The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory,” by Andrew J. Bacevich (Metropolitan Books, 256 pages, $27)

The End of the End of History

In the end, the most fervent believers in the god that failed were anti-Communists. They failed to anticipate the end of Soviet Communism.


- January 28th, 2020
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Between the promise of peace and the hell of war, between the day of the Lord and two decades of fighting in the forever war, between the paradise of the future and the pain of the present, between the commands of the Scriptures and the demands of conscription—between the cross and the sword—stands a witness to history.

Stoic in his suffering and steadfast in his devotion, this witness chronicles the tragedy of American foreign policy.

He bears witness to our loss, while he endures a loss like no other.

His name is Andrew Bacevich, professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University.

His new book, The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered Its Cold War Victory, is a series of profiles in political folly. The follies of presidents both blind to history and blasé about the end of history, in spite of the history of history itself: that it is an argument without end.

The argument continues, in spite of the rightness of certain unalienable rights. The argument rages, in spite of this unarguable truth, that we cannot thrive anywhere if our troops are everywhere.

The argument also worsens our judgment with bad intelligence, in spite of the money we lavish on our intelligence agencies—because of the money we lavish on our intelligence agencies.

Because of what we know about the Pentagon and CIA, because of the things we know we know—the known knowns, according to Donald Rumsfeld—we should just say, “No.”

We should not spend more money to know the obvious, that the permanent bureaucracy is stronger than any president, because all presidents are temporary residents of the White House.

No matter what they say—that all free men are citizens of Berlin; that the greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker; that freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace—presidents do not convert the religious.

In the end, the most fervent believers in the god that failed were anti-Communists. They failed to anticipate the end of Soviet Communism.

Professor Bacevich acknowledges his own failure to envision the end not only of a war but a way of life.

He describes the healing of a wound and the reversal of a scar. He details the disappearance of a 27-mile-long incision between East and West Berlin. He depicts the resurrection of a people and the death of a crude form of open-heart surgery on the German body politic.

He sees division in the post-Cold War world of technology and trade. He sees two worlds, separate and unequal, where the color line is green.

He sees how politicians comfort the upper class by promoting policies that threaten the middle class. He sees how Bill Clinton undermined the working class. He sees how George W. Bush and Barack Obama finished the job.

He sees their vision of hope and change for what it is: an illusion.

He sees how Donald Trump came to power.

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