A Patriotic Officer Confronts Bush — And the Democrats

I’ve long admired Andrew Bacevich’s analyses and commentary on the Bush Administration’s misadventures in the Middle East. Bacevich, a moderate Republican veteran of Vietnam and graduate of the U.S. military academy has taught in various strategic studies centers has written thoughtfully on contemporary U.S. militarism, and represents an enlightened voice of rationality from within the ranks of the military officer class that could see from the get-go that the Iraq war would be the unmitigated disaster it has, in fact, proved to be.

More than a year ago, he told Tom Engelhardt,

“It’s become incontrovertible that the Iraq War is not going to end happily. Even if we manage to extricate ourselves and some sort of stable Iraq emerges from the present chaos, arguing that the war lived up to the expectations of the Bush administration is going to be very difficult. My own sense is that the officer corps — and this probably reflects my personal experience to a great degree — is fixated on Vietnam and still believes the military was hung out to dry there. The officer corps came out of the Vietnam War determined never to repeat that experience and some officers are now angry to discover that the Army is once again stuck in a quagmire. So we are in the early stages of a long argument about who is to be blamed for the Iraq debacle. I think, to some degree, the revolt of the generals reflects an effort on the part of senior military officers to weigh in, to lay out the military’s case. And the military’s case is: We’re not at fault. They are; and, more specifically, he is — with Rumsfeld being the stand-in for Robert McNamara. Having said that, with all the speculation about Bush administration interest in expanding the Global War on Terror to include Iran, I suspect the officer corps, already seeing the military badly overstretched, doesn’t want to have any part of such a war. Going public with attacks on Rumsfeld is one way of trying to slow whatever momentum there is toward an Iran war. I must say, I don’t really think we’re on a track to have a war with Iran any time soon — maybe I’m too optimistic here — but I suspect even the civilian hawks understand that the United States is already overcommitted, that to expand the war on terror to a new theater, the Iranian theater, would in all likelihood have the most dire consequences, globally and in Iraq.

“… There are a couple of important implications that we have yet to confront. The (Iraq) war has exposed the limited depth of American military power. I mean, since the end of the Cold War we Americans have been beating our chests about being the greatest military power the world has ever seen. Overshadowing the power of the Third Reich! Overshadowing the Roman Empire! Wait a sec. This country of 290 million people has a force of about 130,000 soldiers committed in Iraq, fighting something on the order of 10-20,000 insurgents and a) we’re in a war we can’t win, b) we’re in the fourth year of a war we probably can’t sustain much longer. For those who believe in the American imperial project, and who see military supremacy as the foundation of that empire, this ought to be a major concern: What are we going to do to strengthen the sinews of American military power, because it’s turned out that our vaunted military supremacy is not what it was cracked up to be. If you’re like me and you’re quite skeptical about this imperial project, the stresses imposed on the military and the obvious limits of our power simply serve to emphasize the imperative of rethinking our role in the world so we can back away from this unsustainable notion of global hegemony.”

But coming from a family with a tradition of military service, he found his own son deployed in a war he strongly opposed. He saw his son’s service, and his own opposition to the war, as a case of both men doing their patriotic duty.

And in a tragic echo of the case of David Grossman, the Israeli writer, in last year’s Lebanon war, Bacevich lost his son in a war he opposed.

In a moving Washington Post op-ed, Bacevich asks whether his own efforts to oppose the war had been sufficient. He answers thus:

I did nurse the hope that my voice might combine with those of others — teachers, writers, activists and ordinary folks — to educate the public about the folly of the course on which the nation has embarked. I hoped that those efforts might produce a political climate conducive to change. I genuinely believed that if the people spoke, our leaders in Washington would listen and respond.

This, I can now see, was an illusion.

The people have spoken, and nothing of substance has changed. The November 2006 midterm elections signified an unambiguous repudiation of the policies that landed us in our present predicament. But half a year later, the war continues, with no end in sight. Indeed, by sending more troops to Iraq (and by extending the tours of those, like my son, who were already there), Bush has signaled his complete disregard for what was once quaintly referred to as “the will of the people.”

To be fair, responsibility for the war’s continuation now rests no less with the Democrats who control Congress than with the president and his party. After my son’s death, my state’s senators, Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry, telephoned to express their condolences. Stephen F. Lynch, our congressman, attended my son’s wake. Kerry was present for the funeral Mass. My family and I greatly appreciated such gestures. But when I suggested to each of them the necessity of ending the war, I got the brushoff. More accurately, after ever so briefly pretending to listen, each treated me to a convoluted explanation that said in essence: Don’t blame me.

To whom do Kennedy, Kerry and Lynch listen? We know the answer: to the same people who have the ear of George W. Bush and Karl Rove — namely, wealthy individuals and institutions.

Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008. When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.

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28 Responses to A Patriotic Officer Confronts Bush — And the Democrats

  1. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Yes, Grossman comes to mind.

    So maybe there’s a god after all — a god who’s given up on us (who could blame him?) and likes to indulge his sadistic streak (that Isaac stunt, man, wasn’t that fun?)

    I, too, have long admired Bacevich’s commentary on the war and what it says about American democracy or whatever it is that goes by that name. Merely a “means of recording dissent” ?? The 2006 midterms surely looked like that. The antiwar platform “won” so effectively that, 7 months on, the killing has escalated and Congress voted overwhelmingly for more, more, more.

    And now we find that Cindy Sheehan has given up. That heroic lady did more against the war than the rest of the antiwar movement combined.

    Sheehan, Grossman, and Bacevich all share a common bond now: the loss of a son. Maybe Bush can tell his “favorite philosopher,” next time the two of them happen to be chatting together, just how proud he is.

  2. Alex Morgan says:

    I totally understand the frustration with the Democrats.


    There are some unavoidable truths: the public, while strongly against this war, would not support an immediate cutoff of funds: in polls a majority want the troops funded. Meanwhile, Bush will veto any funding bill which includes any kind of a deadline. Democrats don’t have the votes to overturn the veto. Bottom line: Demos did only what they could do while keeping an eye on 08.

    I think it will be a different ballgame come end of September with Petreaus reporting on the “surge”. This will be the real battle of “spin”. The “surge” will fail, but will it fail spectacularly enough so it can’t be spun as “we have notable successes, and all we need is just a bit more time”. If the perception is clear failure, I think the Demos may find it possible to simply cut off funding, and retain public support. That will be the real endgame.

    It’s too soon to mourn the “failure” of the Demos. We don’t have to wait too long for the real test – just another 4-5 months… that’ll tell us where the public and the Demos stand.

  3. bob k says:

    Thank you for the moving tribute for the young men’s
    sacrifice in this criminal war for the PNAC.
    I suggest the following link to the Fall of Saigon as
    a glimpse at the future fate of the American military in Bagdhad, Iraq. http://www.fallofsaigon.org/frmain.htm

  4. saifedean says:


    The problem with your argument is that you assume that the Democrats actually DO want to end the war. I think there’s strong evidence to suggest the opposite. And that is what Bacevich said in his last paragraph: “When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.”

    Did you notice how Dems removed language requiring the President to need authorization to launch a war on Iran? It was openly admitted by countless members of the parliament of whores that this was at the express request of Aipac.

    The bottom line is that the process of selecting politicians for office is determined by money and special interest; the same money and special interest that got Bush into the war is the force that is needed to win any seat in Congress. And so the people can speak like they did last November, but the DemoWhores know that they need to cozy to the special interest groups in order to get the money to get reelected, safe in the knowledge that they will not be outflanked to the left by the Republicans.

    It will take much more determined political involvement by the American people and enforced accoutnability to get the politicians to finally listen.

  5. saifedean says:

    Bacevich: “When it comes to Iraq, money ensures that the concerns of big business, big oil, bellicose evangelicals and Middle East allies gain a hearing. By comparison, the lives of U.S. soldiers figure as an afterthought.”

    By comparison, the lives of millions of Iraqis do not even figure as an afterthought.

  6. Jorge says:

    “And the military’s case is: We’re not at fault. They are; and, more specifically, he is — with Rumsfeld being the stand-in for Robert McNamara.”

    I’m not a fan of Rumsfeld and I am a lesser fan of GW. But this “throwing the political leadership” under the bus is getting old.

    The officer corps needs to grow a collective pair.

    It is in charge of leading men, not just watching out for personal careers. If it have doubts about the mission, that needed to be expressed in no uncertain terms before the mission was undertaken. If that means losing stars or dropping a rank or two, so be it. Good men are counting on you to make an honest assessment and make it clear what can and cannot be done, especially to those who have never been in combat.

    As a former enlisted man, I can tell you from experience that the least favorite officers were the ones that kissed ass first and realized they were clueless later. All soldieres want to be positive and want to believe they “can do” what is being asked of them. But when it comes to being an officer, you are in charge of the well-being of hundreds of men, not just your careers.

    And rewriting history isn’t going to fly with me, either. The military was fixin’ for a fight in Vietnam. My guess is that a president who wasn’t as keen about proving his mettle as a “war president” like GW lost his life trying to avoid that conflict. He is the real hero of Vietnam, not officers who later realized the only thing they knew about fighting an insurgency is that they were wholly ignorant about fighting an insurgency.

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  18. The Democrats actually DO want to end the war. I think there’s strong evidence to suggest the opposite.

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