Tom Engelhardt and Andrew J. Bacevich argue that it is time for the United States not only to deal with the future of their disastrous foreign policy, but also with its past, debunking the myth of the great “American Century.”
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 December 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 central problem with this narrative, of course, is that it’s patently false. Bacevich, author of The Limits of Power, lists the situations involving Cuba, nuclear weapons, Iran, and Afghanistan as a few brief examples of instances in which America has hardly guarded and modeled a policy of freedom. In remedy, he suggests real contrition:
The temptation may be to avert our gaze, thereby preserving the reassuring tale of the American Century. We should avoid that temptation and take the opposite course, acknowledging openly, freely, and unabashedly where we have gone wrong…Only through the exercise of candor might we avoid replicating such mistakes. Indeed, we ought to apologize…
The United States should do these things without any expectations of reciprocity…for our own good –- to free ourselves from the accumulated conceits of the American Century and to acknowledge that the United States participated fully in the barbarism, folly, and tragedy that defines our time…
To solve our problems requires that we see ourselves as we really are. And that requires shedding, once and for all, the illusions embodied in the American Century.
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