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Combat Veteran and Military Historian Tells Bill Moyers, "No Way" Do We Go Back into Iraq

"Invading and occupying countries in the Islamic world is a pretty dumb idea," says Andrew Bacevich.
 
 
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Screenshot of Andrew Bacevich from Moyers & Company.
Photo Credit: Moyers & Company

 
 
 
 

The escalating bloodbath in Iraq has triggered renewed debate on how muscular America’s foreign policy should be. Speaking about the crisis earlier, President Obama recently said that the US is ready for “targeted and precise military action” against advancing Islamists if needed, adding that “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq.”

This week, Bill speaks with combat veteran and historian Andrew Bacevich about the events unfolding in Iraq and what they say about America’s role in the world in a two-part interview.

While some neoconservatives lament that our “world order shows signs of cracking, and perhaps collapsing,” thanks to Obama’s inclination to engage less in other countries, Bacevich sees things differently.

“We have been engaged in the Islamic world at least since 1980, in a military project based on the assumption that the adroit use of American hard power can somehow pacify or fix this part of the world. We can now examine more than three decades of this effort.

"Let’s look at what U.S. military intervention in Iraq has achieved, in Afghanistan has achieved, in Somalia has achieved, in Lebanon has achieved, in Libya has achieved. I mean, ask ourselves the very simple question. Is the region becoming more stable? Is it becoming more democratic? Are we alleviating, reducing the prevalence of anti-Americanism?”

Watch part one of a video interview with Bacevich, followed by a transcript.

 

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. They said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that could turn the smoking gun into a mushroom cloud, and they were wrong. They said Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda, and they were wrong. They said the war would be a cakewalk, and they were wrong. Over and again they were wrong, yet 11 years, thousands of lives, millions of refugees, and trillions of dollars later, the very same armchair warriors in Washington who from the safety of their Beltway bunkers called for invading Baghdad, are demanding once again that America plunge into the sectarian wars of the Middle East.

A chorus of kindred voices fills the echo chamber: the same old faces, the same old arguments, never acknowledging the phony premises and fraudulent intelligence that led to disaster and chaos in the first place. A headline at the website ThinkProgress sums it up: “The People Who Broke Iraq Have A Lot of Ideas About Fixing It Now.”

Among the most celebrated of these hawks is Robert Kagan, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. A darling of the neocons, he's been a foreign policy adviser to John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton. In 2002, he and William Kristol wrote that for the war on terrorism to succeed, Saddam Hussein must be removed. When George W. Bush set out to do just that, Kagan cheered him on, and then, in 2006, called for a surge in American troop levels to prevent Iraq's collapse.

Now Robert Kagan is stirring controversy again with this lengthy article in “The New Republic,” “Superpowers Don’t Get To Retire: What our tired country still owes the world.” He calls for America to return to muscular, global activism.

Kagan's much-discussed article brought a sharp riposte from another scholar and historian who sees the world and America's role differently. Andrew Bacevich has seen the horrors of war too closely to advocate more of the same policies that failed in Vietnam and Iraq. A graduate of West Point with 23 years in the military, including time in Vietnam, he teaches history at Boston University, writes best-selling books on foreign policy, and articles and essays in journals both liberal and conservative, like this critique of Kagan in “Commonweal” magazine titled, "The Duplicity of the Ideologues." Welcome back.

 
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