Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War By Andrew J. Bacevich, Metropolitan Books / Henry Holt and Co., 2010, 290 pages. Hardcover, $25.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For decades, American presidents have done little or nothing to challenge foreign policy decisions made and promoted by the Washington elite, becoming "little more than the medium through which power is exercised."
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a rare exception, when he warned the nation about the growing military-industrial complex in his January 1961 Farewell Address.
Today, most Americans pay little attention to foreign policy. They do so at their own risk.
Massive debts accumulated by ongoing military campaigns in places like Iraq and Afghanistan will plague the economic prosperity of future generations of Americans.
"The curtain is now falling on the American Century," warns Boston University Professor Andrew C. Bacevich in his new book, "Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War."
Bacevich offers broad historical insights into how our foreign policies have been formulated during the past century and who benefits from those policies.
A major source of our problems, Bacevich points out, is that people in power in Washington, whether Republicans or Democrats, invariably depict every foreign policy "problem as appearing out of the blue, utterly devoid of historical context."
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are also at fault. Self-absorbed, they show "little interest in cultivating virtue, preferring instead the frantic pursuit of happiness, defined more often than not in terms of wealth, celebrity and personal license.
"Washington meanwhile concerns itself less with the well-being of the republican institutions than with feathering its own nest, relying on adventurism abroad to divert attention from chronic dysfunction at home," Bacevich writes."
After graduating from West Point in 1969, Bacevich served in Vietnam and retired as an Army colonel after serving for more than 20 years. Since then, he has taught at West Point, Johns Hopkins and Boston University.
Bacevich has already published five books, including: "The American Empire," "The New American Militarism" and "The Limits of Power".
While serving in Iraq, his son Andrew Jr., 27, was killed by an improvised explosive device on May 13, 2007.
"Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008," Bacevich wrote in a "Washington Post" column two weeks later, in memory of his son.
"When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, and bellicose evangelical and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought."
In Washington Rules, Bacevich said his own views changed dramatically in the years after he left the military.
Bacevich has high praise for leaders such as Sen. William J. Fulbright, D-Ark., who headed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 1960s.
In his 1966 book, "The Arrogance of Power," Fulbright wrote: "Maybe it would profit us to concentrate on our own democracy instead of trying to inflict our own particular version of it" on other countries.
Fulbright believed it to be "unnatural and unhealthy for a nation to be engaged in global crusades for some principles or ideals while neglecting the needs of its own people."
Bacevich repeatedly stresses the impact past events have on the future, an impact the Central Intelligence Agency has called "blowback."
But Americans repeatedly fail to recognize the impact past policies have had on generating future hostilities.
Bacevich criticizes the role the U.S. played in the 1953 overthrow of the democratically-elected Mohammad Mossadegh, replaced by a dictatorial shah, in Iran; continuing U.S. deference to Israel since the 1960s; and funding jihadists to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.