The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy since World War II

By Killebrew, Robert B. | Parameters, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy since World War II


Killebrew, Robert B., Parameters


The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy since World War II. Edited by Andrew J. Bacevich. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. 608 pages. $75.00.

After a successful career as an Army cavalry officer, Andrew Bacevich turned to academia and is enjoying a distinguished second life as a professor, author, and frequent critic of US foreign policy. This volume, subtitled "A New History of U.S. National Security Policy since World War II," sets out, as Bacevich says in the Preface, to see the "Long War"--that period from the end of WWII to the present--as it really is. The reader gets the author's point when he lambasts the United States' "foreign policy elite" which, he says, is "dedicated to the proposition of excluding democratic influences from the making of national security policy." What follows is a series of uneven essays generally advocating the theme that the growth of the American national security apparatus since the end of WWII endangers the freedom of the nation it professes to protect.

This claim is not a new idea, of course. The explosive entry of the United States into WWII and America's leadership in the Cold War justified a huge and costly national security establishment now devoted to fighting new threats from international terrorist movements. There are reasonable arguments, many of them made recently, that the national security establishment has gotten too large, that the nonmilitary organs of foreign policy have grown too weak, and that civil liberties have been imperiled by security measures believed necessary to meet the threat of the moment. The transformation of US foreign policy following the Second World War, our leading role in opposing Soviet expansionism, and the current campaign against the disintegrative forces of international terrorism have long run contrary to the deep and historic strains of American isolationism. Additionally, even committed internationalists have from time to time opposed policies they believed to be overly militaristic or dangerous to fundamental American principles. One of the most famous examples being George Kennan's opposition to the development of muscular containment policies in the 1950s. This latter group accepts the fact of American leadership in the world but disputes specific policies. The isolationist strains disagree fundamentally with America's international role and, as presented in this series of essays, attribute the distortion of US policy to an out of touch, and out of control, foreign policy elite.

The volume's writers fall into both camps. An example of the former is Tami Davis Biddle, a professor at the US Army War College, who produced "Shield and Sword," an excellent history of the growth of US strategic forces since 1945 and the development--some might say overdevelopment---of US nuclear weapons and policy. Likewise, John Prados's "Intelligence for Empire" is a workmanlike, though incomplete in some respects, history of US intelligence in the Cold War era, primarily focused on the Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Operations. (More could have been said, for example, about the Agency's successful recruitment of spies behind the Iron Curtain. …

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