Fall 2003 - Volume 6 Number 1
American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of U.S. Diplomacy
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002
This methodical and masterful book offers a remorseless critique of the foreign policies of both President William J. Clinton and President George W. Bush. He does so by holding both up to the standards and principles of Thomas Jefferson. This may seem odd for a number of reasons, not least that Jefferson was the first American president to acquire (some say unconstitutionally) a vast amount of land through the instrumentality of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Thus, some claim, he was the fountainhead of American imperialism. It is also odd because Bacevich is a self-described conservative whose work was favourably reviewed in Foreign Affairs, hardly a left-wing journal.
Bacevich sets the recent record against Thomas Jeffersons four principal beliefs about an activist foreign policy: (1) it mainly serves the interests of corporate greed; (2) it is a threat to democracy at home and abroad; (3) it robs the treasury and leads to economic ruin; (4) it ultimately puts the security of the nation at greater risk than if foreign threats had been ignored. By these lights, both Clinton and Bush would be hard pressed to respond.
What is interesting is the source of the critique. According to Bacevich, the replacement of policies of containment and deterrence by one of military expansionism combined with a desperate desire to vacate occupied lands as soon as possible is not just implausible but self-defeating. Bacevich has no problem with the ideal of an American liberal democracy guiding an increasingly capitalist global order. He merely wishes that the US would be more transparent in its methods and objectives and, thus, offer itself as a plausible beacon of liberty, while simultaneously restoring basic civil rights to its own citizens.
Howard A. Doughty, Book Review Editor
• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
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