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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchThe Endless Fantasy of American Power

The Endless Fantasy of American Power

Author: Andrew Bacevich

Affiliation:  The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft 

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs

Date/Place: September 18, 2020/USA

Type of Literature: Article

Word Count: 1600


 Keywords: The Myth of American Leadership, Militarization of Foreign Policy, Demilitarize Foreign Policy, Interventionism, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden


In this article, Bacevich criticizes the militarism—and interventionism—that has dominated US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, arguing that it is a failed approach when comparing that the goals set and associated costs are more than the expected benefits. His essay urges Americans, both leaders and the public, to make a serious assessment of the past decades and the feasibility of America’s keenness on global military leadership. He proposes a more effective alternative approach. In the beginning, the author refers to the problem of the American citizen’s lack of interest in what is happening offshore, including the wars in which the US army is involved, compared to his/her focus on domestic affairs. This lack of interest prevents sufficient questions about the causes behind the failure of American wars around the world, as well as a re-evaluation of the country’s foreign and security policy. This also provides the leaders of both political parties with the opportunity to constantly ignore the effectiveness and usefulness of the US global military leadership and supremacy that they continue to look for, which the author describes as “fantasy and Chimera.” Moreover, the author affirms the continued effective presence of hawks in Washington, D.C., whose demands are increasing day by day to demonstrate decisive US military leadership across the world despite the devastation it has caused. Hawks see the US as an “indispensable nation” in history, which the author considers as a reason behind America’s infliction of more havoc in the world in the name of freedom, democracy, and human values. In addition to this current, the author points to the existence of an alternative path whose advocates oppose the interventionism, and suggest to reframe politics as global rather than merely international. The spirit of global politics sheds light on the problems that affect all countries, whether strong or weak, rich or poor, in contrast to international politics that focuses on geopolitical competition, which considers the United States as preoccupied only with repelling competitors to its preeminence. In this regard, the author points out that such an alternative would not be recognized by Trump if he wins a second term, just as it does not exist except in Biden’s rhetoric of internationalism, because Biden’s record and his choice of advisors suggest that his administration will be less interested in making real change and more interested in trying to restore the status quo that existed before Trump. Finally, Bacevich proposes an alternative approach to statecraft that focuses on multilateral cooperation rather than unilateralism, uses force only as a last resort, fulfills the treaties it has concluded, and works to strengthen international institutions rather than undermine them. According to the author, it seems that Biden is closer to achieve this approach than his counterpart. But if Biden is serious about making a real change in the country’s foreign policy, he should prioritize issues that pose a direct threat to the safety and well-being of the American people and which do not require military solutions, such as treating the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than focusing on remote threats from hostile actions of geopolitical rivals. The author also recommends Biden to avoid getting involved in armed conflicts and useless wars, as a first step towards building the virtuous America he desires, as war is the first enemy that will prevent Biden from fulfilling what he promised. This will require a radical reorientation of US national security policies and the prioritization of domestic issues rather than the pursuit of imaginary enemies abroad.


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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