‘Mr. Y’ and the Decline of the American Empire

While the rest of the "news" media was busy covering the Great Birth Certificate Drama, Rachel Maddow spared her audience yet another hour of having to watch that walking hairpiece make a fool of himself (and us), and instead focused on the real news: a US-trained Afghan pilot had turned on his trainers and killed 9 Americans – the biggest single casualty report since 2005. Not only did Rachel report this story, she also wondered aloud at its implications – the doubtful feasibility of a policy that assumes the Afghans will "stand up" as we "stand down – and wryly noted how the Obama White House is even utilizing the same phraseology we all remember from the Bush years.  

My ears perked up. Is someone who often seems like a dyed-in-the-wool Obama cultist and partisan hack finally rebelling against the Great and Glorious Leader? Well, maybe, maybe not: in any case, she proceeded to give a platform to Prof. Andrew Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, and, most recently, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. Bacevich is a retired US Army colonel who graduated from West Point, fought in Vietnam, and now teaches at Boston University: he lost a son in Iraq and has become an eloquent conservative critic of our foreign policy of global intervention.  

Bacevich spent a good deal of his time talking about an article recently released by the Wilson Center, "A National Strategic Narrative," [.pdf] signed by "Mr. Y." He started out by saying that the publication of the article is important less for the actual content of the piece and more because of who wrote it – "Mr. Y" is a pseudonym for U.S. Navy Captain Wayne Porter and U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Mark Mykleby, who both work for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. As he describes it, "What they are saying is our approach to national security policy has been excessively militarized, we really need to pay more attention to what goes on inside the country."  

Bacevich went on to note that these two officers are not alone. Rather than being resistant to change – that is, to a substantial cut in our misnamed "defense" budget, and the demilitarization of our foreign policy – quite the contrary seems to be the case. He cites the many emails he gets from serving officers basically agreeing with his non-interventionist views, and indeed many in the military hierarchy raised objections to the Iraq war, to such an extent that the neocons were screaming at one point about keeping the soldiers in their barracks and out of "politics."  

It was great to hear Bacevich lay into the Democrats for not having "the necessary moral courage to take the sort of political risks that are involved in saying we are not going to dominate the world, we are going to bankrupt the country and squander our moral standing" – on MSNBC! That almost makes up for Chris Matthews forgetting he’s supposed to be a journalist.  

And so, excited at hearing this news of a prominent defection from the War Party, and coming from inside the Pentagon, no less, I eagerly sought out the actual text [.pdf] that had Prof. Bacevich so enthused. I have to confess to being a bit disappointed: I should have taken to heart his caveat about the authorship being more important than the content. Outside of the most reified academic journal, I’ve never tried to navigate prose so clotted with coined phrases and indecipherable jargon: the authors torture their readers with phrases like "sustainable interdependence," "national strategic narrative," and other coined phrases of such ethereal vagueness that one is drawn into a semi-hypnotic state in which individual words no longer seem to have much meaning, but only via accumulation do they impart a blurred but recognizable impression.  

What’s recognizable is not anything new: it’s the same old transnational progressivism that has animated the "internationalist" wing of the War Party since the days of Woodrow Wilson, albeit leavened with the spice of declinism – an admission that, for purely economic reasons, we simply cannot sustain our foreign policy of untrammeled imperialism and global dominance. It is a sigh of exhaustion coming from the pinnacle of power, a warning that our over-extended and obscenely expensive "defense" budget is diverting vital resources away from more productive uses.  

Of course, this being the Obama administration, the authors cannot bring themselves to say where this purloined wealth is being diverted from – instead, they point to our lack of "infrastructure," and cuts in the education budget, and the straitened circumstances of our increasingly threadbare Welfare State. Yet they do manage to acknowledge what is obvious to everyone: that the entrepreneurial spirit that built America’s great wealth is in some pretty sad shape:  

"Many of us have forgotten that rewards must be earned, there is no ‘free ride’ – that fair competition and hard work bring with them a true sense of accomplishment. We can no longer expect the ingenuity and labor of past generations to sustain our growth as a nation for generations to come." 

Well said – yet we are never told what is the source of this complacency and expectation of a "free ride." Perhaps it’s best not to delve into that too deeply, because the authors have other concerns – that is, aside from making a pitch for more "infrastructure" and "investing" more federal dollars in the teachers’ lobby and the rigidly bureaucratic state-monopoly system over which they preside. Their chief concern is this: 

"For forty years our nation prospered and was kept secure through a strategy of containment. That strategy relied on control, deterrence, and the conviction that given the choice, people the world over share our vision for a better tomorrow. America emerged from the Twentieth Century as the most powerful nation on earth. But we failed to recognize that dominance, like fossil fuel, is not a sustainable source of energy." 

In short, we are not going to conquer the world, and it’s time our rulers recognized the economic and military reality: so give it up, guys! America’s fifty-year global rampage is about to come to an end, whether we like it or not.  

This is precisely what libertarians such as Ron Paul have been saying for years, and this is the real key to a left-right, progressive-libertarian alliance. As Paul has pointed out on numerous occasions, we could fund all the lefty-liberal pet projects like government-run death panels healthcare and free Twinkies for all if only we would give up the Empire.  

I have to add, however, that there are some major problems with Mr. Y’s woozy-globalist worldview. Reading this prose, one is reminded of a late-night campus bull session fueled with a liberal dose of psychedelics, in which the "interconnectedness" of Everything is often and solemnly noted. This latter-day Woodstockian worldview all too easily translates, in "national security" terms, into the by-now-familiar language of "humanitarian" intervention. It’s no accident that Mr. Y’s prescription is prefaced by Anne-Marie Slaughter lecturing us that we are an "exceptional nation" because we are committed "to universal values – to the equality of all human beings, not just within the borders of the United States, but around the world." 

Ms. Slaughter, until recently a top official in the Pentagon’s policy department, was one of the loudest agitators for US military intervention in Libya – a testament to this administration’s militant defense of "universal values." That this lays down a tripwire for yet another prolonged war in the Middle East is rendered no less dangerous because it is done in the name of "multilateralism" and "humanitarianism" rather than unilateralism and "fighting terrorism."  

I’m hardly shocked that Porter and Mykleby in effect modify the concept of sovereignty to suit their own purposes: America is committed to "sovereignty without tyranny," they aver, and go on to attack the Treaty of Westphalia as a hopelessly outdated standard which must be discarded by a new doctrine of "interdependence." After all, the US military has been heedlessly violating the sovereignty of other countries since the Mexican-American war, and never more brazenly or massively than with our global "war on terrorism" –  so is it any surprise these two worthies, immersed in the culture of the Pentagon, disdain the traditional concept of sovereignty, as such? 

At the heart of this Wilsonian – or, really, [Franklin D.] Rooseveltian – vision is a scheme to make imperialism work on the cheap. Recognizing the limits of American power, and yet still trying to maintain some façade of a "world order" – one that favors the US and its alleged "interests" – this is the task the transnational progressives have set for themselves. What they want, most of all, is a soft landing when the supporting structures of the Empire begin to crack. Since I live in that Empire, I, too, hope our fall will be sufficiently cushioned, but my sense of realism – call it pessimism conditioned by history – warns me to prepare for the worst. 

Professor Bacevich is right: neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have the will to pull this country back from the abyss of financial and moral bankruptcy. The collapse, when it comes, will prove the case against Empire – but by then it will be too late.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].