COMPELLING CRITIC Andrew Bacevich
continues to offer a passionate and intellectual
critique of US foreign policy.
More than 10 years have passed since the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003. According to the "Costs of War" project out of Brown and Boston universities (see "The Cost of War" by David Scharfenberg, March 22), 189,000 deaths can be directly attributed to the Iraq conflict; almost 8000 of those are US military or contractors and more than 130,000 are civilian deaths.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, in a sweeping speech last week, stated his desire to "determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing . . . Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don't need to fight," he said, "or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states."
Boston University international relations professor Andrew Bacevich, a retired career US Army officer, has engaged in such disciplined critique from the start. In 2003, he wrote in the Los Angeles Times that depending on how it unfolded, the war in Iraq had the potential "to make the Vietnam War look like a mere blip in American history."
In advance of his upcoming appearance in Maine, the Phoenix checked in with Bacevich to see how his assessment has evolved. It seems his criticism has not abated; rather, it has become both more pointed and more resigned.
IN YOUR LETTER TO [FORMER US DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE] PAUL WOLFOWITZ, PUBLISHED IN THE MARCH 2013 ISSUE OF HARPER'S MAGAZINE, YOU WONDER "HOW DID PREVENTATIVE WAR UNDERTAKEN BY OSTENSIBLY THE STRONGEST MILITARY IN HISTORY PRODUCE A CATACLYSM?" YOU PREDICT THAT FEW, IF ANY, OF THE MAJOR PLAYERS WOULD INCLINED (OR ABLE) TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION. HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER IT? War is risk and uncertainty. Compared to war, roulette is a sure thing. After the Cold War, US policymakers lost sight of this fundamental truth. In contemplating the invasion of Iraq, people like Wolfowitz and others in the Bush administration thought that a quick easy victory was a sure thing. They were wrong.
ON JUNE 14, YOU ARE GIVING A TALK TO PEACE ACTION MAINE ENTITLED "THE END OF THE AMERICAN CENTURY" — WHAT DOES THAT MEAN TO YOU? DO YOU HAVE A VISION OF WHAT ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT COULD LOOK LIKE IN THE FUTURE, AFTER THIS PARADIGM SHIFT? I don't know that I am in a position to advise the peace movement. But my own reading of events suggests to me that it is not even remotely realistic to imagine that the United States is capable of shaping the course of world events. That's what the concept of an American Century was all about — we manifest the future, we create the future, we follow and all others lead. It would be far more accurate to say that surprises will occur — the Arab Awakening offering a good example — and we will have to cope as best we can.