Prof. Bacevich on Iraq, ISIS, and More

June 28, 2014

Andrew Bacevich, Professor of History and International Relations at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies and noted public intellectual has been busy discussing the implications of the unfolding developments in Iraq and what the right response to it may be. In a broad-ranging interview on the PBS show Moyers & company, Prof. Bacevich pointed out that “war itself is evil. But war is an evil that should command our respect. War is something that we should not take lightly, that we should not discuss frivolously.”

He went on to make the argument in detail:

“I’m personally not persuaded that further military action in Iraq is actually going to produce an outcome more favorable than the last one. If what we have here on our hands in Iraq, in Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East is a humanitarian catastrophe, then let us become serious about asking ourselves, what is the appropriate response? What can the richest and most powerful country in the world do to alleviate the suffering of innocent people who are caught up in this violence?

And my answer to that question is not air strikes. My answer to that question is, well, if indeed we have a moral responsibility to come to the aid of suffering Iraqis and Syrians, then we better start opening up our wallets to be far more generous and forthcoming in providing assistance that people need.

You know, we live in a country where if you want to go bomb somebody, there’s remarkably little discussion about how much it might cost, even though the costs almost inevitably end up being orders of magnitude larger than anybody projected at the outcome. But when you have a discussion about whether or not we can assist people who are suffering, then suddenly we come very, you know, cost-conscious.”

This is an argument that Prof. Bacevich had begun building in an earlier op-ed in The Los Angeles Times (June 13, 2014), ‘Can Obama Pull a Nixon with the Iraq Crisis?’ where he began by pointing out that “for the United States, the Iraq war ranks as the most consequential foreign policy failure since Vietnam,” and ends by asserting:

“Ending the U. S. diplomatic estrangement from Iran could yield a strategic realignment comparable to that produced by the opening to China, its effects rippling across the greater Middle East. There, rather than in misguided proposals for renewed U.S. military action, lies Obama’s chance to demonstrate that he has grasped the lessons that Iraq (along with Vietnam) has to teach. One can imagine Nixon himself relishing the prospect.”

All of this, for Prof. Bacevich, has to be contextualized in the context of the mindset of a dominant foreign policy entrepreneurs in Washington DC who have been hawkish on war in this instance as well as all others. He lays out this aspect of his argument in a recent essay in Commonweal (June 4, 2014), “The Duplicity of the Idealogues: US Policy and Robert Kagan’s Fictive Narrative,” which he concludes by suggesting:

“When it comes to foreign policy, the president of the United States would be better served to consult a few reasonably informed citizens from Muncie, Indiana, than to take seriously advice offered by [idealogues].”

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