University of California, Irvine historian Emily Rosenberg likewise dissents from Bacevich’s dissent. “During the Cold War, U.S. strategy exported to the world the assumptions and practices of America’s consumer republic,” she writes. American elites mistakenly assumed that the practices that made America wealthy would do the same for the rest of the world, but there is little doubt the American way of buying and selling had a tremendous impact.
Historian Walter LaFeber is more in line with Bacevich’s thinking. “The American Century was stillborn,” he writes. U.S. “military power could not create an American century in Central and Eastern Europe, China or the Soviet Union itself, any more than comparably overwhelming military power some sixty years later could incorporate Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Georgia, or other parts of the Middle East and central Asia into an American Century.” To which one might retort that Europe and China, with their robust capitalism, look far more like visions of America than the Communists who ruled them ever would have liked.
Still, even if LaFeber, like Bacevich, overstates the follies of American foreign strategies in the 20th century, the essayists’ humility and pessimism is more than welcome. Especially since 9/11, the failures of American power have outweighed the successes. Every single essay in this book is thought-provoking and engaging, however much one agrees or disagrees with their specific analyses. Though not filled with policy prescriptions, The Short American Century implicitly suggests that the country would benefit from lowered sights. Paradoxically, an America less focused on international dominance would find itself in a better position in the world. If the book’s lessons are heeded, Americans may find that decline is no more inevitable than are delusions of international dominance.
Correction: The original version of this piece misspelled the first name of the seventh prime minister of Canada. He is Wilfred Laurier, not Wilfrid. The relevant sentence has been corrected. CJR regrets the error.
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