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More to inflame than to extinguish

December 10, 2009 - Jim Anderson
Andrew Bacevich is a Vietnam veteran, a retired U.S. Army colonel, and a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

His son, also named Andrew J. Bacevich, was killed in action in Iraq in May 2007.

The elder Bacevich has long been a critic of the war in Iraq. In March 2003, he wrote in The Los Angeles Times that "if, as seems probable, the effort encounters greater resistance than its architects imagine, our way of life may find itself tested in ways that will make the Vietnam War look like a mere blip in American history."

Perhaps the professor’s fears were overstated. Perhaps the jury is still out.

Tragically, it’s fair to say that Iraq has been far from the “cakewalk” envisioned by many in the Bush administration.

Writing again in the Los Angeles Times (“Obama’s Folly,” Dec. 3), Bacevich says it is “an illusion” that the war in Iraq is ending in a great American victory:

“Forget the fact that the arguments advanced to justify the invasion of March 2003 have all turned out to be bogus: no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction found; no substantive links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda established; no tide of democratic change triggered across the Islamic world. Ignore the persistence of daily violence in Iraq even today.”

Bacevich maintains that in electing Barack Obama over John McCain, the American people acknowledged that President Bush’s effort to transform the greater Middle East through war had failed. But Obama, he writes, is still trying to “win” in Afghanistan.

In any event, our leaders are reluctant to consider how broader U.S. policies toward the Middle East have contributed in recent decades to a rise in terrorism.

And our wars, Bacevich says, do more harm than good:

“To double down in Afghanistan is to ignore the unmistakable lesson of Bush's thoroughly discredited ‘global war on terror’: Sending U.S. troops to fight interminable wars in distant countries does more to inflame than to extinguish the resentments giving rise to violent anti-Western jihadism.”

That’s our nation's anguished political divide in a nutshell. If you believe, as many apparently do, that terrorism is best battled through invasions in distant lands, you’re on board with more troops, more contractors, more bloodshed, trillions of dollars ...

If you’re a doubter, you’ll likely accept Bacevich’s blunt summary:

“Under the guise of cleaning up Bush's mess, Obama has chosen to continue Bush's policies. No doubt pulling the plug on an ill-advised enterprise involves risk and uncertainty. It also entails acknowledging mistakes. It requires courage. Yet without these things, talk of change will remain so much hot air.”


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