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How to Dismantle the American Empire Before This Country Goes Under

America's role in the world should not be to prescribe some specific world order or police the planet by force of arms. It's to save itself.

Editor's note:The following is excerpted from WASHINGTON RULES: America's Path To Permanent War by Andrew J. Bacevich, published this month by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company, LLC. Copyright (c) 2010 by Andrew J. Bacevich. All rights reserved. With permission of Henry Holt and Company.

The world -- we are incessantly told -- is becoming ever smaller, more complex, and more dangerous. Therefore, it becomes necessary for the nation to intensify the efforts undertaken to “keep America safe,” while also, of course, advancing the cause of world peace. Achieving these aims -- it is said -- requires the United States to funnel ever greater sums of money to the Pentagon to develop new means of projecting power, and to hold itself in readiness for new expeditions deemed essential to pacify (or liberate) some dark and troubled quarter of the globe.

At one level, we can with little difficulty calculate the cost of these efforts: The untold billions of dollars added annually to the national debt and the mounting toll of dead and wounded U.S. troops provide one gauge.

At a deeper level, the costs of adhering to the Washington consensus defy measurement: families shattered by loss; veterans bearing the physical or psychological scars of combat; the perpetuation of ponderous bureaucracies subsisting in a climate of secrecy, dissembling, and outright deception; the distortion of national priorities as the military-industrial complex siphons off scarce resources; environmental devastation produced as a by-product of war and the preparation for war; the evisceration of civic culture that results when a small praetorian guard shoulders the burden of waging perpetual war, while the great majority of citizens purport to revere its members, even as they ignore or profit from their service.

No doubt the case can, and probably will, be made that the obligations of global leadership demand that the United States take on the problems besetting Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, much as it has addressed those besetting Afghanistan and Iraq.

Little evidence exists to suggest that such efforts are likely to have a positive effect, however. No evidence exists -- none -- to suggest that U.S. efforts will advance the cause of global peace. If, as many suspect, Washington’s actual aim is something more akin to dominance or hegemony, then evidence exists in abundance demonstrating that the project is a self-defeating one.

Critics of U.S. foreign policy questioned the wisdom and feasibility of forcibly attempting to remake the world in America’s image. They believed that even to make the attempt was to court corruption in the form of imperialism and militarism, thereby compromising republican institutions at home. Representing no one party but instead a great diversity of perspectives, they insisted that, if America has a mission, that mission is to model freedom rather than to impose it.

The famed diplomat-turned-historian George Kennan, a cultural conservative, was one such critic. Senator J. William Fulbright, a died-in-wool liberal internationalist, was another. The influential social critic Christopher Lasch, a self-professed radical, was a third. Martin Luther King, arguably the dominant moral figure of the American Century, was a fourth.

Writing to an acquaintance in the midst of the Korean War, Kennan argued that Americans had for too long subjected their garden to abuse. “It seems to me,” he wrote, “that our country bristles with imperfections -- and some of them very serious ones -- of which we are almost universally aware, but lack the resolution and civic vigor to correct.” Here lay the real danger. “What is at stake here is our duty to ourselves and our own national ideals.” In a contemporaneous lecture, Kennan returned to this theme. To observers abroad, he suggested,

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