FDL Book Salon Welcomes Andrew Bacevich, The Short American Century: A Postmortem

Welcome Andrew Bacevich (Boston University) and Host Robert Farley (Lawyers, Gun$ and Money)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

The Short American Century: A Postmortem

In The Short American Century, Andrew Bacevich and a group of distinguished contributors take apart the idea of the American Century. Although Henry Luce was not the first “American Exceptionalist,” his 1941 essay on the role that the United States ought to play in the world provides the contributors with a useful touchstone for modern conceptions of America’s messianic role in the world. Appearing in the February 1941 edition of Life magazine, sandwiched between an advertisement for Havoline motor oil and a profile of Betty Carstair’s private island, Luce’s editorial argued that the path to US hegemony was now open. While the United States had enjoyed the world’s largest economy since the late 1890s and was widely recognized to have the greatest latent military capability of any industrialized country, the US political system had self-consciously rejected a global leadership role after World War I. Luce wanted to make certain that a new generation of US policymakers would not make a similar “mistake” in the wake of the Second World War.

Bacevich and the other contributors to the volume probe the historical, social, intellectual, economic, and political foundations of modern American exceptionalism, investigating how beliefs about a unique American place in the world developed, and how those beliefs affected American foreign policy. While the contributors disagree about the nature and foundations of American exceptionalism, they concur that the American Century, to the extent that it existed, has effectively come to an end. Walter LaFeber contends that the United States never played as dominant a role in global politics as the term “American Century” would suggest. Jeffrey Frieden argues that the United States effectively fell victim to its own “success,” with globalization eventually undermining the foundations of American power. [cont’d.] (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Andrew Bacevich, The Short American Century: A Postmortem

Welcome Andrew Bacevich (Boston University) and Host Robert Farley (Lawyers, Gun$ and Money)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

The Short American Century: A Postmortem

In The Short American Century, Andrew Bacevich and a group of distinguished contributors take apart the idea of the American Century. Although Henry Luce was not the first “American Exceptionalist,” his 1941 essay on the role that the United States ought to play in the world provides the contributors with a useful touchstone for modern conceptions of America’s messianic role in the world. Appearing in the February 1941 edition of Life magazine, sandwiched between an advertisement for Havoline motor oil and a profile of Betty Carstair’s private island, Luce’s editorial argued that the path to US hegemony was now open. While the United States had enjoyed the world’s largest economy since the late 1890s and was widely recognized to have the greatest latent military capability of any industrialized country, the US political system had self-consciously rejected a global leadership role after World War I. Luce wanted to make certain that a new generation of US policymakers would not make a similar “mistake” in the wake of the Second World War. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Reese Erlich, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of US Policy and the Future of Cuba

reese-erlich-dateline-havana.thumbnail.jpg

[Welcome author, Reese Erlich, and host, Robert Farley, Assistant Professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, University of Kentucky – bev]

InDateline Havana, Reese Erlich takes on the central paradox of American attitudes towards Cuba, which is that almost no one in United States, on the right or the left, has a realistic appraisal of the modern Cuban state. The misperceptions and outright distortions of the right have, without doubt, had greater policy import, and are probably held by a greater number of people. However, those on the left often overlook the shortcomings of the Revolution, and the problems afflicting Cuba today. Although Mr. Erlich does not spare those on the left (he was once in solidarity with them) he appropriately reserves most of his criticisms for the right wing interpretation of the Cuban Revolution. It is this interpretation, advanced by Cuban exiles and unrepentant Cold Warriors, that has structured US policy towards the island for the last fifty years.

The strongest aspect of the book is the extended discussion of the Cuba Lobby. The Cuban exile community has engaged in political activity against Cuba since the early 1960s; this activity has extended from a direct invasion of the island, to a campaign of terrorism, to concerted efforts to mold US policy. The last has been most successful. Extremist Cuban-American exiles no longer represent a majority of the Cuban population of the United States. Nevertheless, they wield outsize influence over US policy towards Cuba. Reese argues that the Cuban-American extremist exiles succeed not simply because of the electoral power they wield in Florida, but also because they are the only ones paying attention. In this, as in many situations, a small minority with intense preferences can impose its preferred policies on a majority that just doesn’t care very much. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Juan Cole: Engaging the Muslim World

juan-cole-engaging-the-muslim-world.thumbnail.jpgI’m honored to be part of this FDL Book Salon on Juan Cole’s Engaging the Muslim World. Professor Cole has long provided an invaluable reservoir of expert opinion on the Middle East, and I’m delighted to be able to participate in this discussion of his latest work.

Engaging the Muslim World is part of a debate that has developed in the academy and the mainstream media about the role of Islam in political life. Professor Cole’s purpose is to dispel common myths about Islam, and the relationship of the West with the Islamic world. These myths have, in many cases, been propounded intentionally for political effect. Professor Cole’s argument boils down to this; it is impossible to repair US relations with the Islamic world as long as the United States misunderstands that world.

< Engaging the Muslim World includes two subject focused chapters, and four that discuss specific Muslim countries. The two subjects are oil and Muslim radicalism; Cole gives a good account of the history of oil as a resource, and its importance to the relationship between the West and the Muslim world. The Persian Gulf and the West are bound together by oil; the former is dependent on the latter for funding development and military capability, while the economies of the latter depend on oil to operate. Cole then tells the separate but related story of the emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the political relevance of the Brotherhood across the Arab world. Key to Cole’s account is change; the Muslim Brotherhood does not have a static membership or political meaning across time and space. Cole makes pointed comparisons between Muslim extremists and right wing American extremists, noting that their proportions in the overall population are relatively similar, and the apocalyptic worldview that both share can lead to spectacular terrorism. (more…)