“Hello,” He Lied

…so I’m reading all the books that TG bought me from my Amazon Wish List, and this morning I picked up Andrew Bacevich’s ‘The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.’ I just finished Niebuhr’s ‘The Irony of American History‘ which Bacevich wrote the preface to, and had finished that book mulling over the notion that Bacevich had flatly misread Niebuhr, and that Niebuhr’s book was more in the spirit of Ellul than of Chomsky.

So, anyway, I pick up Bacevich’s own book, and the opening words are:

Introduction:
War Without Exits

For the United States, the passing of the Cold War yielded neither a “peace dividend,” nor anything remotely resembling peace.

And it was like getting slapped. WHAT THE F***?? How can someone make the claim that there was no peace dividend – we’ll talk later about whether there was peace – in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism as a strategic enemy? Did he ever look at the Clinton budgets?

Here’s a handy graph, based on data from Truth and Politics.org (I have superficially checked their numbers and they seem right).

Dividend.jpg

Note that it shows that the percentage of US Gross Domestic Product spent on defense declined from 6.1% in 1983 to 3.0% in 1999-2001. That’s 3.1% of GDP that was freed up from the Reagan peak; from the fall of the wall in 1989, the decline is only 2.6%. To put that in perspective, the entire health sector today comprises about 17% of GDP – so we’re talking about a savings in defense spending of almost 20% of the entire healthcare budget.

Now I know it’s strong to accuse someone of lying. But I don’t know how else to interpret such a willful misstating of elementary fact in support of one’s argument. And while I’ll go on and finish the book, I have to say that I don’t understand how every critic in America didn’t confront Bacevich with the same question.
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7 thoughts on ““Hello,” He Lied”

  1. Sometimes it doesn’t take long, does it? I had the same experience reading the NY Times article analysing the deficit and stopped where the author claimed that Cap and Trade would cost nothing. I didn’t see the point of reading further.

  2. Now I know it’s strong to accuse someone of lying. But I don’t know how else to interpret such a willful misstating of elementary fact in support of one’s argument.

    I wouldn’t say he lies; he’s another victim of politicism – a self-inflicted insanity. His statement bears the same relationship to lying as paranoia does to rational fear.

    Bacevich’s son was killed in Iraq. You couldn’t blame him for lamenting everything to do with Iraq, or for observing that we have not recently been at peace. But for a Vietnam veteran to claim that nothing resembling peace followed the Cold War shows that he has willfully abolished rational perspective.

    Bacevich’s kind of “conservatism” is functionally no different from the John Birch Society’s. In fact, he holds forth in that Tomb of Bircherism, The American Conservative. Here everything melts into uniform hysteria about American Imperialism – and guess who’s to blame for that?

  3. The whole time I was reading this book, I kept going, “You’re not really proposing autarky, are you?” We went astray with our national “energy policy” around the time of Eisenhower, eh? Gack.

  4. I’ll wager he doesn’t understand the concept of “American Exceptionalism” any better than he does the economics of the Cold War, or Niebuhr. He may simply be a mediocre intellect.

  5. To be fair I think Clinton’s cuts went too far. It turns out some of the forces he got rid of might have come in useful in the last few years. However, your point is valid, while the end of the cold war didn’t mean an end to conflicts, including some echos of the cold war, there certainly have been less of late.

  6. Putting aside flawed causality and using a drop in defense spending per GDP as the final word in proof of a “peace dividend”…

    You are going to mention external costs, right? I mean, there’s more to costs than that chart. So you’re going to bring them up? No?

    Oh, it will be fun! I’ll start with just small examples:

    It was the cold war in which we trained, armed and funded bin Laden’s early years so he could take on those dern commies! Still getting a big, heavy, bill for that one.

    I wonder how much the nuke race with the Soviets will cost us in the long run, once you factor in the highly refined, loose/unaccounted fissile material.

    $10T spent on nukes may have been put to better use elsewhere — opportunity costs.

    You can place (leave?) me in the unconvinced column, AL. I do not see his statement as the bald-faced lie you do.

  7. The problem, Jon is that “smaller % of GDP” is pretty much the textbook definition of ‘peace dividend’…

    There’re lots of externalities around defense – you mention a bunch. But … if we hadn’t supported the mujadeen in Afghanistan, would the Soviet Union have imploded?

    If we hadn’t had a nuclear deterrent against the Soviets, how would history have been different? Do you really think that they only built an arsenal in reaction to us?

    It’s useful to read things like George Kennan’s “Long Memo”:http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/coldwar/documents/index.php?documentdate=1946-02-22&documentid=6-6&studycollectionid=&pagenumber=1
    as you think about this…

    Marc

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