ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I've been troubled by the course of U.S. foreign policy for a long, long time. And I wrote the book in order to sort out my own thinking about where our basic problems lay. And I really reached the conclusion that our biggest problems are within.
I think there's a tendency on the part of policy makers and probably a tendency on the part of many Americans to think that the problems we face are problems that are out there somewhere, beyond our borders. And that if we can fix those problems, then we'll be able to continue the American way of life as it has long existed. I think it's fundamentally wrong. Our major problems are at home.
BILL MOYERS: So, this is a version of "Physician, heal thyself?"
ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, yes, "Physician, heal thyself," and you begin healing yourself by looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing yourself as you really are.
BILL MOYERS: Here is one of those neon sentences [highlighted by Moyers]. Quote, "The pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has induced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people," you write, "is that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part of through the distribution of largesse here at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad." In other words, you're saying that our foreign policy is the result of a dependence on consumer goods and credit.
ANDREW BACEVICH: Our foreign policy is not something simply concocted by people in Washington D.C. and imposed on us. Our foreign policy is something that is concocted in Washington D.C., but it reflects the perceptions of our political elite about what we want, we the people want. And what we want, by and large - I mean, one could point to many individual exceptions - but, what we want, by and large is, we want this continuing flow of very cheap consumer goods.
We want to be able to pump gas into our cars regardless of how big they may happen to be, in order to be able to drive wherever we want to be able to drive. And we want to be able to do these things without having to think about whether or not the book's balanced at the end of the month, or the end of the fiscal year. And therefore, we want this unending line of credit.
BILL MOYERS: You intrigued me when you wrote that "The fundamental problem facing the country will remain stubbornly in place no matter who is elected in November." What's the fundamental problem you say is not going away no matter whether it's McCain or Obama?
ANDREW BACEVICH: What neither of these candidates will be able to, I think, accomplish is to persuade us to look ourselves in the mirror, to see the direction in which we are headed. And from my point of view, it's a direction towards ever greater debt and dependency.
BILL MOYERS: And you write that "What will not go away, is a yawning disparity between what Americans expect, and what they're willing or able to pay." Explore that a little bit.
ANDREW BACEVICH: Well, I think one of the ways we avoid confronting our refusal to balance the books is to rely increasingly on the projection of American military power around the world to try to maintain this dysfunctional system, or set of arrangements that have evolved over the last 30 or 40 years.
But, it's not the American people who are deploying around the world. It is a very specific subset of our people, this professional army. We like to call it an all-volunteer force...
BILL MOYERS: Right.
ANDREW BACEVICH: ...but the truth is, it's a professional army, and when we think about where we send that army, it's really an imperial army. I mean, if as Americans, we could simply step back a little bit, and contemplate the significance of the fact that Americans today are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ask ourselves, how did it come to be that organizing places like Iraq and Afghanistan should have come to seem to be critical to the well-being of the United States of America.
There was a time, seventy, eighty, a hundred years ago, that we Americans sat here in the western hemisphere, and puzzled over why British imperialists went to places like Iraq and Afghanistan. We viewed that sort of imperial adventurism with disdain. But, it's really become part of what we do. Unless a President could ask fundamental questions about our posture in the world, it becomes impossible then, for any American President to engage the American people in some sort of a conversation about how and whether or not to change the way we live.
In my opinion, Bacevich is right on the money. And I'd like to think that in his heart of hearts Obama at least half knows it. Perhaps there is simply no avoiding the militaristic pandering we're seeing at this stage in the campaign. But does it really have to continue being this bad-or even worse-in an Obama Administration? I would like to think not.
In all probability, such a set of recommendations would simply be ignored if it was any good, because what is required is simply too profound a change. But what is required by Bacevich's logic is intimately related to what is required by the challenge of global warming, too, so we might want to think about this one long and hard.
Perhaps the best approach would be for such a commission to come up with a set of scenarios, each based on a different set of assumptions about what we are willing to commit to. One scenario might simply be "more of the same than you ever dreamed of." (McCain.) One might be "more of the same, now with nuance added." (Obama, so far.) One might be "replacing the 'War on Terror' with a criminal justice approach-but not changing anything else," and so on. One would be the sort of wholesale reorientation that Bacevich argues for.
And then let us have a great national debate-not on tv with a few talking heads babbling on semi-coherently-but a real national debate in thousands of forums across the land, not just online, but in real life, in each other's physical presence, in flesh and blood, and let us really and truly pour our hearts out about what kind of future we want for our country, what kind of legacy we want to leave to future generations.
Let us have the courage to take back the responsibility for our destiny as a people. Let us act like citizens of a democratic republic once again. Let us stop acting like the subjects of an empire. Let us take back our country.