As a regular viewer of Bill Moyer’s Journal, I always find the show intriguing and informative as I learn more than I would with conventional journalism and media. This past Friday’s episode with Andrew Bacevich was one of the best episodes I have seen; this was a difficult determination for me, as I believe many of the shows are absolutely phenomenal.

What struck me most was Bacevich’s notion of the imperial presidency and its past, present, and future inference on America and the American life. Bacevich, a former Army colonel, Boston University scholar, and old school conservative, discussed this construct at length with Mr. Moyers. His most recent book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, was referenced throughout the dialogue, and included implications of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the responsibility of each individual American to turn this nation around. What haunted me even more was the mention of his son who lost his life in the Iraq war. I cannot begin to assert that I understand what he is experiencing at this time, but as a military spouse of a wounded veteran, I found myself completely saddened by his loss, as it was a reminder of how close I cam to losing my husband during the same conflict. I believe, like Bacevich, that we should view war as a last resort: “What we should learn from history is that preventive war doesn’t work. The Iraq War didn’t work. And, therefore, we should abandon notions, such as the Bush Doctrine of preventive war. We should return to the just war tradition. Which sees force as something that is only used as a last resort. Which sees war as something that is justifiable for defensive purposes.”

He mentioned that we have had an imperial presidency since World War II and that the presidency became this colossal entity with undeniable power. “As the imperial presidency has accrued power, surrounding the imperial presidency has come to be this group of institutions called the National Security State. The CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the other intelligence agencies. Now, these have grown since the end of World War Two into this mammoth enterprise.” One might ask how and why this matters in the current political climate. Why should Americans be concerned about this at all?

Bacevich believes that Senator Obama and McCain are running in order to become imperial presidents, not because they possess this great ability to affect profound change for the nation. He doesn’t believe that this type of change will occur. “The elements of continuity outweigh the elements of change. And it’s not going to happen because, ultimately, we the American people refuse to look in that mirror. And to see the extent to which the problems that we face really lie within. We refuse to live within our means. We continue to think that the problems that beset the country are out there beyond our borders. And that if we deploy sufficient amount of American power we can fix those problems, and therefore things back here will continue as they have for decades.” Surmising that the desire for continuity, for a false sense of security, gives us reasons to blame Muslims and Mexicans and others for our tribulations, this is an interesting way to examine culture and politics, to say the least.

Consequently, Bacevich also spoke of the effect that American materialism and consumerism have on this country, and linked it to foreign policy. He stated that “our foreign policy is not something simply concocted by people in Washington D.C. and imposed on us. Our foreign policy is something that is concocted in Washington D.C., but it reflects the perceptions of our political elite about what we want, we the people want. And what we want, by and large – I mean, one could point to many individual exceptions – but, what we want, by and large is, we want this continuing flow of very cheap consumer goods.” Wal-Mart immediately comes to mind, with its cheap prices and cheap products. Accordingly, the conglomerate has put many local stores out of business. It is these businesses that made America strong; Bacevich purports that our desire for things has weakened our economy and our nation. We used to be a nation of considerable production; at present, our “empire of consumption” has made us not dependent on ourselves, but on other countries with cheap labor.

With this in mind, how does this dilemma lend itself to the Iraq war? Moyers asked Bacevich if the Iraq situation was a clear indicator of the expectations of Americans and what they are willing to sacrifice in their personal lives. In a word, oil. “The most obvious, the blindingly obviously question, is energy. It’s oil. I think historians a hundred years from now will puzzle over how it could be that the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world, as far back as the early 1970s, came to recognize that dependence on foreign oil was a problem, posed a threat, comprised our freedom of action.” Bacevich continues: “How every President from Richard Nixon down to the present one, President Bush, declared, ‘we’re gonna fix this problem.’ None of them did. And the reason we are in Iraq today is because the Persian Gulf is at the center of the world’s oil reserves. I don’t mean that we invaded Iraq on behalf of big oil, but the Persian Gulf region would have zero strategic significance, were it not for the fact that that’s where the oil is.” It seems that people have chosen to forget that this great commodity is one of the main reasons why we are in Iraq, as if to speak of this is beyond reproach.

And so we put the yellow “support our troops” stickers on our cars, persist with our shopping and excessive consumerism, and passively disconnect from the social ills of the nation by denying that there are any. We do not want to change our way of life; why should we have to? Because “we’re headed down a path in which not only will we become increasingly dependent upon foreign oil, but we will have opted for a false model of freedom. A freedom of materialism, a freedom of self-indulgence, a freedom of collective recklessness.” Bacevich said that if we take action now, we may be able to repair our economy, our culture, and our nation. But to do this, we cannot continue to allow our arrogance and entitlement to influence policy and politics. To this end, Bacevich is suggesting that we take responsibility as citizens to correct these ills, and not just leave it to the next president to solve the problems of the world.

In sum, Bacevich touched on the current crises that I also believe are affecting our nation: the military, economic and social concerns, and the political arena. To gain a better understanding of these issues, I plan to read The Limits of Power in the very near future. I am fascinated by Bacevich’s perspective and look forward to exploring his viewpoints on the current state of affairs even further.

For more information on his appearance on Bill Moyer’s Journal, please visit the website at for a copy of the program transcript and blog information.

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