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Limits of Power Hardcover – Aug 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1st Edition edition (Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805088156
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805088151
  • Product Dimensions: 14.9 x 2.2 x 21.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 859,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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America is at a turning point. Can it rebuild its reputation in 2009 and beyond? In The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich, uniquely respected across the political spectrum, offers a fresh perspective on American illusions and looks to the future. He examines the myths that have governed US actions since 1945. Shared by policy-makers and citizens alike, these have culminated today in a triple crisis: an economy in disarray, an imperial-style government, and a military force engaged in endless war. This is a dazzling account of how and why America has taken the wrong path, by an acclaimed historian and former military officer. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By MGR on 16 May 2009
Format: Paperback
The Limits of Power is perhaps the most accurate study of recent American political and military history, written by someone who offers as balanced an insight as any you may receive today. I read the review of this in the Washington Post and had to buy it. At less than 200 pages this reads as easily as a novel but is packed with perceptive observations about the American people and those who run (or aspire to run) the country. The exposition of Congress today is perhaps one of the best pieces and is well worth close study. Equally gritty is the study of military leadership from someone who truly understands strategy. Bacevich pulls no punches yet it is not all negative. His closing summation is masterful. It is a book that I have recommended to many people - no one has been disappointed.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Philip on 13 Oct. 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first heard of this book through a streamed interview that the author gave on the Bill Moyers show. That interview was impressive, and I'm not someone who is easily impressed, least of all by Americans.

But the book is something else entirely. The author explains the history of the present in about 196 pages, and boy does he make a truly excellent job of it! His written style is fluent, succinct, concise, intelligent but never boring or dry. He is a Professor of International Relations at Boston University, and his students must love him! Not only that, but he is a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam, and subsequently served in the US Army for 22 years.

He survived Vietnam, but ironically and very poignantly, he lost his son, a 1st Lieutenant, in Iraq. The book is dedicated to his son's memory. And it is an immensly worthy dedication. He writes with intelligence, passion and clarity. He shoots from the hip but, like the Zen archer, hits all his targets without fail; at the same time he doesnt hit anything he's not aiming at. Though it is an academic work, there is an almost spiritual profoundness and power about it, together with an almost military realism. He knows what he is about, and is not afraid to say it, no matter whose toes get trodden on.

If I had a million pounds (2 million dollars) I would buy every copy of this book I could find, and distribute it for free on every university and college campus in the US. It is that good an investment, and that important.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 242 reviews
597 of 628 people found the following review helpful
Cliche or not, this is a "Must Read" book 15 Aug. 2008
By David R. Cook - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the bluntest, toughest, most scathing critique of American imperialism as it has become totally unmoored after the demise of the Soviet Communist empire and taken to a new level by the Bush administration. Even the brevity of this book - 182 pages - gives it a particular wallop since every page "concentrates the mind".

In the event a reader knows of the prophetic work of the American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, you will further appreciate this book. Bacevich is a Niebuhr scholar and this book essentially channels Niebuhr's prophetic warnings from his 1952 book, "The Irony of American History". The latter has just been reissued by University of Chicago Press thanks to Andrew Bacevich who also contributed an introduction.

In essence, American idealism as particularly reflected in Bush's illusory goal to "rid the world of evil" and to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East or wherever people are being tyrannized, is doomed to failure by the tides of history. Niebuhr warned against this and Bacevich updates the history from the Cold War to the present. Now our problems have reached crisis proportions and Bacevich focuses on the three essential elements of the crisis: American profligacy; the political debasing of government; and the crisis in the military.

What renders Bacevich's critique particularly stinging, aside from the historical context he gives it (Bush has simply taken an enduring American exceptionalism to a new level), is that he lays these problems on the doorstep of American citizens. It is we who have elected the governments that have driven us toward near collapse. It is we who have participated willingly in the consumption frenzy in which both individual citizens and the government live beyond their means. Credit card debt is undermining both government and citizenry.

This pathway is unsustainable and this book serves up a direct and meaningful warning to this effect. Niebuhrian "realism" sees through the illusions that fuel our own individual behavior and that of our government. There are limits to American power and limits to our own individual living standards and, of course, there are limits to what the globe can sustain as is becoming evident from climate changes.

American exceptionalism is coming to an end and it will be painful for both individual citizens and our democracy and government to get beyond it. But we have no choice. Things will get worse before they get better. Bacevich suggests some of the basic ways that we need to go to reverse the path to folly. He holds out no illusions that one political party or the other, one presidential candidate or the other, has the will or the leadership qualities to change directions. It is up to American citizens to demand different policies as well as to govern our own appetites.

While this is a sobering book, it is not warning of doomsday. Our worst problems are essentially of our own making and we can begin to unmake them. But we first have to come to terms with our own exceptionalism. We cannot manage history and there are no real global problems that can be solved by military means, or certainly not by military means alone.

Fellow citizen, you need to read this book!
94 of 98 people found the following review helpful
Without Exception 24 Sept. 2008
By Edwin C. Pauzer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is one of those books you might find yourself sitting down to read chapter and verse over and over again, only because the writing is so intelligent and so profound. "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism," by Andrew Bacevich, is one of those works that will enthrall the reader with its insight and analysis.

According to the author, the US has reached its limit to project its power in the world. His rationale for this conclusion are three central crises we now face: economic and cultural, political, and military, all of which are our own making.

The first crisis is one of profligacy. Americans want more, whether it is wealth, credit, markets, or oil, without consideration for cost or how these things are acquired. There is complete apathy in what policies are being produced as long as they provide plenty.

The political crisis was born of our mobilization in World War II to meet the threat of tyranny, and from the Cold War to meet the challenge of the Soviet Union. Both gave rise to unprecedented presidential power, an ineffectual Congress, and a disastrous foreign policy. Bacevich contends that our legislature no longer serves their constituents or the common good "but themselves through gerrymandering, doling out prodigious amounts of political pork, seeing to the protection of certain vested interests" with the paramount concern of being re-elected. Our presidents have been willing accomplices in keeping the American dream or greed alive by using our military as part of a coercive diplomatic tool to feed and fuel the first crisis.

Bacevich traces the end of the republic to the start of both wars, which gave rise to the "ideology of national security." The mission of the new Department of Defense is not defense, but to project power globally where we will view any nation as a threat that tries to match us in military might. At the same time, the largest intelligence agencies in the world are created to afford us more security, but after seventy years are unable to defend our cities and buildings in the US while it worries about intrigues worldwide. Competition and rivalry lead to a lack of cooperation, intelligence, and security when it was needed most.

The third crisis is our military which has been employed to satisfy the neuroses of the first and second crises. The author puts much of the blame squarely at the feet of inept military leadership, which he believes has confused strategy with operations. Content with the resilience of the American fighting man or woman, he is scathing in his critique of their leadership finding them "guilty of flagrant professional malpractice, if not outright fraud." He illustrates how improvised explosive devices that cost no more than a pizza have checked a military that is designed for speed and maneuver--that was considered invincible.

Andrew Bacevich contends that nothing will change as long as Americans are told to go to Disney World instead of making sacrifices, as long as the same one half percent of our population continue to populate the military that the president sees as his personal army, as long as an apathetic public and an ineffectual Congress continue to make periodic, grand gestures of curbing presidential power, the United States will have reached the limits of its power and exceptionalism.

This book profoundly moved me, and I was impressed by the insight that Professor Bacevich could bring in such few pages. Passages of this book should be plastered in the halls and offices of Congress, as well as the West Wing.

This book really stands out as a jewel in a sea of mediocre publications by radio and TV personalities who think they know what they are talking about when it comes to economics or geopolitics. The difference is that Andrew Bacevich does

--without exception.

Also Recommended:

Mayer, Jane, "The Dark Side, The Inside Story How The War on Terror Turned into a War on America's Ideals."

Schlesinger, Arthur, "War and the American Presidency."

Mann, Thomas & Ornstein, Norman, "The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track."

Zinni, Tony (Gen. Ret.), "The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America's Power and Purpose."

Niebuhr, Reinhold, "The Irony of American History."

Anything else by this author.

One hundred seventeen days and a wake-up until someone else's power is thankfully limited forever.
256 of 279 people found the following review helpful
both liberals and conservatives need to listen to Bacevich 16 Aug. 2008
By D. Stamatis - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's amazing how much PALEO-conservatives, like Col. Bacevich (and Pat Buchanan), have in common with progressives, especially when it comes to foreign policy.

My wife and I are very progressive (I'm a Democrat; my wife's a Green), but after watching Moyers' interview with Col. Bacevich, we were blown away. We agreed that if Bacevich was running for president as a Republican, we could see ourselves crossing party-lines to vote for him: that's how profound his effect was.

I hope both sides of the aisle listen to him, because Bacevich is absolutely dead-on in what he's saying.

I'm buying this book and telling everyone I know to read it, or at least watch the Moyers interview.
51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Paying the price for a distorted idea of "freedom" 24 Aug. 2008
By Andrew S. Rogers - Published on
Format: Hardcover
When I read books like this one about America's descent into empire, the threshold question for me is always, to what extent does the author blame George W. Bush (or related bugaboos like Cheney, Rumsfeld, John Yoo, the Weekly Standard, etc.) for the state of the nation and the world today. For while all those worthies do deserve no small measure of vilification, the baseline insight for coming to grips with it all has to be that the roots of America's national security, welfare-warfare state far, far predate September 11, 2001. Andrew J. Bacevich, of course, knows this fact very well -- which is one reason I consider him one of the finest analysts of American empire, and why "The Limits of Power" is so worth reading.

In fact, Bacevich goes well beyond blaming Bush to point the finger, fundamentally, at the American people themselves (ourselves). Far more than a simple "You voted for the guy," Bacevich argues that Americans now understand "freedom" to mean unlimited consumer choice. The American calling to "promote freedom abroad" thus now really means doing whatever is required to ensure Americans never have to face cutting back, doing without, or otherwise living within our means. As one example of the implications of this new, twisted definition of "freedom," Bacevich asks us to consider the military consequences alone of substantially reducing our dependence on imported oil. For one thing, he argues, the whole structure of America's military presence in the Persian Gulf region, including Centcom and the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, would become redundant. Bases could be closed, soldiers brought home, ships mothballed, and "weapons contracts worth tens of billions of dollars would risk being canceled" (p. 173). Well, when you put it that way, is there any wonder there's no real leadership for "energy independence" coming from the Imperial Capital?

Interesting as this is, though, it's just one small point among the many important observations Bacevich crams into fewer than 200 pages. Other writers have covered individual points in more detail (I particularly thought of the work of Chalmers Johnson, as well as Gene Healy's essential new The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power while reading Bacevich's second chapter, "The Political Crisis"), but this author excels at pulling history and insight together in one quickly digestible package. One grounded, somewhat surprisingly in this case, in the teachings of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

Less often covered, in my experience at least, are the arguments Bacevich makes in his third chapter, "The Military Crisis." I was intrigued by his criticism of America's post-Vietnam generation of military and naval commanders, and particularly by his assertion that the Vietnam-era "lesson" of keeping politics and war separate has led to the death of strategy, or strategic thinking, as something military commanders know how to do. As an example, he describes General Tommy Franks' "basic grand strategy" for winning the Iraq War, which Franks "proudly reprints" in its original, single handwritten page in his memoirs American Soldier. "Yet even a casual examination of Franks' matrix," Bacevich writes, "shows that it did not remotely approximate a strategy. For starters, it was devoid of political context. Narrowly focused on the upcoming fight, it paid no attention to the aftermath. ... it ignored other regional power relationships ... it was completely ahistorical and made no reference to culture, religion, or ethnic identity ..." (pp.166-167). Strongly worded letter follows.

Again, though, this is just one of many points Bacevich makes about improperly-learned "lessons;" about false assumptions on the efficacy of military power; about how the deadweight of the national-security state complex leads presidents to try to find ways around it; about how solutions like restoring the draft are simple, obvious, and wrong; and (returning to my original point) about how thinking "we'll elect a new president to fix the problems created by the old one" never, ever works. It's an awful lot to think about, and "The Limits of Power" would repay frequent re-reading both before and after the first Tuesday in November. Recently, my mother bought copies of The Shack and handed them out to many of her friends and relatives. Were I tempted to do such a thing for people I loved and respected, "The Limits of Power" might very well be the volume I'd choose.
178 of 199 people found the following review helpful
Would we be free by the truth or from the truth? 16 Aug. 2008
By Barrie W. Bracken - Published on
Format: Hardcover
If you read the excellent review by Mr. David R. Cook, you probably wonder why I am bothering with one. Good thought. I am so impressed with this work, it is impossible not to praise it. When a book like Obama Nation can be pushed by false sales to the best seller list, and this book will probably never make it, we can only hope those who bought the Obama smear are too stupid to read it. Frankly this book offers more hope for the future than I see. We have had warnings of this condition we are now facing and ignored them long ago. Mr. Cook points to the book by Reinhold Niebuhr which was ignored because as the author here says Americans are too consumptive led to be willing to change. I must agree and would add that Americans have shown in the past several presidential elections they are afraid of change. As he points out we blindly believe the universe revolves around us and as the chosen of God's creation, no harm can come to us.

As Dr. Bacevich points out we are complacent about the outside world. We are unconcerned for the most part about the welfare of our armed forces. The American people are great at giving lip service, especially since World War II, but we stop far short when it comes to sacrifice. Our president, who has committed so many men and women to danger, flies around the world dancing with dictators and making bad jokes. The hope of our time, the Democratic congress has sold out to the select few who own the nation's future and use it for their own retirement program.

Until we reach that point in our economic and political situation when we are willing to face the truth that if our government is going to do its job, protecting its citizens, we must face the truth and not listen to palatable political pabulum, we are doomed. Anyone who can read and think should read this work. Let's take a bold step and show the ridiculous religious right, the most dangerous of all right-wing groups, that a book of real quality can be a best seller in America again.
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