Andrew Bacevich may not be swooning for Barack Obama, but he is going to vote for him. “Obama is no conservative,” the career Army officer who now teaches military history at Boston University wrote last month. “Yet if he wins the Democratic nomination, come November principled conservatives may well find themselves voting for the senator from Illinois.”
As one of those principled conservatives, Bacevich has been a vocal critic of the neoconservative foreign policy agenda and American military adventurism in Iraq. In an April 2007 article in The Nation, he warned of the “profound irrationality and acute narcissism informing the Administration’s response to 9/11.” In April he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, rejecting General David Petraeus’ assessment of the war’s progress and declaring that “the strategic rationale for this war, transforming the Middle East [in order to] eliminate or greatly reduce the threat posed by violent Islamic radicalism…is defunct.”
He repeated that message a few days later in New York, at a conference entitled “Forceful Engagement: The Role of Force in US Foreign Policy,” calling for an end to the Bush doctrine of preventive war and lamenting how the Republican party has hijacked traditional conservatism in the years since 1980. Back in his office at BU’s Department of International Affairs, Bacevich spoke by phone about what conservatives and progressives alike can hope for, post-Bush.
Coming as you do from a military and academic background, what led you to publicly support a candidate in this presidential race?
From an orthodox conservative point of view it became apparent to me that of the three candidates–Hilary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama–Obama was clearly the best. And not because he is a conservative–he is not, he is clearly a liberal–but because I believe he is the one candidate who will end the Iraq War and I see that as the overriding issue.
Electing Obama is not going to put people in his inner circle that reflect my views. But he is going to end the war, which will drive a stake through the heart of these preposterous ideas that came out of the cold war: that we live in a unipolar moment; that we are the world’s indispensable nation; that US global military supremacy is the crucial instrument to advance our interests. An Obama presidency would discredit a set of ideas that I view as malignant, and killing those malignant ideas will lead to a debate over foreign policy that could yield a new set of principles that would be better for conventional conservatives and other people as well.
Do you think that the Democratic Party has a clear foreign policy narrative of its own?
The Democratic narrative and the Republican narrative are remarkably alike. Were it not for the Iraq War–where differences are real–the two parties would be in agreement on 95 percent of the most important foreign policy issues. Both parties subscribe to a broad consensus that revolves around a conviction that there is no alternative to the US exercising global leadership. The Democratic party of Bill and Hillary Clinton subscribes to that as much as the Republican party of both Bushes. Both parties see military power–its possession and its use–as providing the very foundation of American leadership.