The End of the American Century

Justin Webb at the BBC speculates whether this interesting article at by Andrew Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University, illustrates the “secret underpinning” of Obama’s foreign policy.

Bacevich’s article takes issue with the idea of the American century, as famously put forward by Henry Luce in a 1941 issue of Life magazine, which suggested that America should be “the Good Samaritan to the world”. Bacevich writes:

In its classic formulation, the central theme of the American Century has been one of righteousness overcoming evil. The United States (above all the U.S. military) made that triumph possible. When, having been given a final nudge on Dec. 7, 1941, Americans finally accepted their duty to lead, they saved the world from successive diabolical totalitarianisms. In doing so, the U.S. not only preserved the possibility of human freedom but modeled what freedom ought to look like.

The idea was obviously a defining influence on neo-con thinking, like the Project for a New American Century.

Bacevich suggests:

The problems with this account are twofold. First, it claims for the United States excessive credit. Second, it excludes, ignores or trivializes matters at odds with the triumphal story line.

The net effect is to perpetuate an array of illusions that, whatever their value in prior decades, have long since outlived their usefulness. In short, the persistence of this self-congratulatory account deprives Americans of self-awareness, hindering our efforts to navigate the treacherous waters in which the country finds itself at present. Bluntly, we are perpetuating a mythic version of the past that never even approximated reality and today has become downright malignant. Although Richard Cohen [a Washington Post columnist] may be right in declaring the American Century over, the American people — and especially the American political class — still remain in its thrall.

Meanwhile, the Republican party has renewed its attack of Obama’s first 100 days of foreign policy, in an advert that looks like it was made by Adam Curtis, maker of The Power of Nightmares.