When my friend Gary recommends a book on US foreign policy, I listen. After all, he spends most of his year living in Afghanistan trying to help in the slow rebuilding of that country. I can theorize from this side of the world. He sees the results of US foreign policy in action.
It must be said that The Limits of Power is not a particularly balanced book. Bacevich has a very strong viewpoint on the failings of US foreign policy and he isn’t afraid to share that viewpoint. However, this appears to be a very well researched and thought out book, looking at the evolution of US imperialism over the past 100 years. Having grown up in Canada, I wasn’t aware of a lot of the nuances of the Reagan era and the first Iraq war under Bush I.
I really found this book helpful in achieving a high level view of the patterns of thought and behavior in US foreign policy. Bacevich is equally hard on both the Republican and Democratic presidents, but seems most disappointed with the Bush II administration and how they have used propaganda to promote violence in the world.
While I have read many books criticizing government policy (after all, I did study policy), this book feels less like a criticism and more ‘prophetic’. Bacevitch gets at the motives below the motives to talk about the type of society US foreign policy seeks to create.
Though I’m sure the book would upset those who support the current direction of the US in the world (and particularly the post 9/11 actions of the US), I still think it’s worth a read to help understand the vision for the US in the world that under lies the foreign policy.
Unfortunately, I read this book over 6 weeks, which leaves my memory of the early parts patchy. Given the size of the book, I would recommend reading it over a shorter period so that you can take it in as a complete thought, rather than a series of chapters.