West Point graduate. Vietnam War veteran. Retired career officer. Military historian. Father of a U.S. Army First Lieutenant killed in action in Iraq.
Andrew Bacevich believes that Americans overestimate the value of military force. Romantic images do not correspond to the actuality of war.
Bacevich has written insightfully about American Empire, The New American Militarism, and The Limits of Power. In Washington Rules, he critically examines the path that led the U.S. into a state of permanent war. In Breach of Trust, he argues that Americans have failed their soldiers and their country.
Bacevich’s young friend “M,” an aspiring academic, completed two tours in Iraq as an enlisted soldier, a rifleman. He is writing a doctoral dissertation on the subject of insurgencies. The U.S. war in Iraq is one of his case studies.
“Iraq no longer exists,” M bluntly observes. Yet, no policymaker, politician, or pundit inside the Beltway will admit to it, Bacevich contends. Defending Iraq’s existence is a pretense that gives official Washington meaning, a gift to the military-industrial complex that keeps on giving.
The invasion of Iraq broke apart that country, just as Colin Powell predicted, and the U.S. failed to remake it. We lost the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan). Renewed military intervention to stop the Islamic State will not fare any better. To believe otherwise is to engage in wishful thinking, to fantasize in a way that warps U.S. foreign policy throughout the Middle East. American soldiers cannot calm those troubled waters; they can only make themselves—and the U.S.—into a target of opportunity.
M has put his finger on a problem that Washington refuses to grasp. This soldier-turned-scholar will never find employment in the nation’s capital, Bacevich concludes, because people in Washington are “lost in a world of their own.”
We fail ourselves when we identify with soldiers to glorify warfare but ignore the veteran’s lament, the lesson of imperial misadventure.