ARC Review: After the Apocalypse: America's Role in a World Transformed


After the Apocalypse: America's Role in a World Transfigured by Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich is a retired US Army Colonel, an academic (he is Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at Boston University), an author of a number of books, and a persistent critic of "American Empire". After the Apocalypse is Bacevich's latest book urging America's foreign policy leaders to reflect and set a different course.

A bit more background on Bacevich will perhaps help to put his newest book in context. Since the publication of War Over Kosovo in 2002 Bacevich has authored, co-authored and contributed to a number of books and articles, and also appeared on cable news and opinion shows. In all of this work he has been consistently critical of America's foreign policy as practiced through "endless war". His son, Andrew Bacevich, Jr. died serving in the Iraq conflict. He calls himself a "Catholic conservative", yet he endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008 (though he was later critical of many of his administration's foreign policy decisions). Though he thinks Trump was on the right track in identifying a need to break from past policy, he is highly critical that Trump had nothing to offer in terms of a new direction. Nor was he a fan of George W. Bush and the War in Iraq. In short, he's been equally critical of foreign policy as practiced over both Republican and Democratic administrations. In 2019 he founded the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft whose mission statement is to "promote ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace". 

Despite his prolific writing background this is the first book of his which I've read.

At the start of the book Bacevich terms 2020 the Year of Apocalypse. He calls out these "Four Horseman" of America's apocalyptic year - the ever increasing impacts of climate change; the "toxic and divisive presidency of Donald Trump"; a deadly pandemic; and rising anger and unrest at racial injustice. If the purpose of America's foreign policy is to keep Americans safe, Bacevich says, then 2020 shows us that, in a radically changing world, that policy has failed us. From this starting point he is off and running, providing his perspective on how America got to this place. 

Through much of the rest of the book Bacevich builds a cogent argument that American leaders have consistently - at least since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and really for a long time before - misunderstood America's place in the world and the limits of American Power. Thus they have made the wrong decisions on multiple foreign and domestic fronts. It's an argument that is well drawn and one that, in 2021, many of America's citizens would consider almost self evident. Whether liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, you'll find much to agree with in this book, along with some things that will challenge your thinking. 

As with many "policy" books aimed at a large audience this one falls into the trap of spending the bulk of it's time telling us what's wrong, and far to little on a prescription for what to do about it. In this slim book (the paperback is 172 pages plus notes), Bacevich spends just the last twelve pages outlining his ideas for how to right the American ship of State. At twelve pages it is necessarily only an outline. Given that it took a lot to get us into our current state, and understanding the entrenched interests at play (which Bacevich identifies), it's not a stretch to think that it will take a lot to get us out of it.

As an overview of the reasons why we need to think and do differently as a nation in relation to the rest of the world, and with some pointers for a way forward, I rate Andrew Bacevich's After the Apocalypse Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.

NOTE: My Advanced Reviewer's Copy of After the Apocalypse was provided at no cost by LibraryThing and Henry Holt & Co. in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. The book was published on June 8 of this year as part of the American Empire Project by Metropolitan Books, a division of Henry Holt & Co.

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