With each passing month, it seems, Andrew Bacevich gains more fans and influence–and turns ever more critical of President Obama’s handling of the war in Afghanistan. Until four years ago, Bacevich was best known as a professor and author, a self-described "conservative Catholic" — Vietnam veteran, career military officer, West Point instructor. Since then, he has appeared widely on top newspaper op-ed pages, and on network and cable programs (Bill Moyers was an especially ardent admirer), and authored three major books, most recently Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War. He teaches at Boston University.
Today at The New Republic he has produced perhaps his hardest shot at Obama, his administration’s lack of "moral core" and the war in Afghanistan. Long a critic of George Bush’s war in Iraq, today he writes, "Obama doesn’t want to be in Afghanistan any more than Benjamin Netanyahu wants to be in the West Bank. Yet like the Israeli prime minister, the president lacks the guts to get out. It’s all so complicated. There are risks involved. Things might go wrong. There’s an election to think about. So the war continues."
You should read the entire piece but consider for now his conclusion: "The question demands to be asked: Who is more deserving of contempt? The commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause, however misguided, in which he sincerely believes? Or the commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause in which he manifestly does not believe and yet refuses to forsake?"
I suppose this is a variation on a piece I wrote for this blog two weeks ago asking who would be the last American to "die for a mistake" in Afghanistan (and identifying exactly who that was in Vietnam). But I think it is relevant to recall at this point one essential and tragic element that makes Bacevich a particularly expert and poignant spokesman on this subject: His own son was killed in Iraq in 2007.
I mention this because Bacevich has reached so many new people in the past couple years and I presume many, or most, do not know about his son’s death, especially since Bacevich rarely if ever mentions it in his writings today (as far as I’ve seen). 1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, 27, of Walpole, Mass., died May 13, 2007, in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat patrol operations.
But I’d caution anyone who wants to draw to straight a line between this personal loss and Bacevich’s views about the current conflict in Afghanistan. Even before his son died, he was writing about other lives being lost, most notably in a piece for the Washington Post — exactly four years ago tomorrow — titled "What’s an Iraqi’s Life Worth? "
He wrote, "Who bears responsibility for these Iraqi deaths? The young soldiers pulling the triggers? The commanders who establish rules of engagement that privilege ‘force protection’ over any obligation to protect innocent life? The intellectually bankrupt policymakers who sent U.S. forces into Iraq in the first place and now see no choice but to press on?"
And: "Unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain."
Finally, take a look at another Bacevich op-ed for The Washington Post, from May 27, 2008: "I Lost My Son to a War I Oppose." Bacevich closes with this: "I know that my son did his best to serve our country. Through my own opposition to a profoundly misguided war, I thought I was doing the same. In fact, while he was giving his all, I was doing nothing. In this way, I failed him."