By: Greg Mitchell
He last appeared in The Washington Post on April 29, in an article by Tom Ricks revealing that many military experts and policymakers are now saying that the Iraq war is actually worse for the U.S. than the Vietnam conflict ? not in death toll but in harm to our longterm interests. The man, retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich, now a professor of international relations at Boston University, didn?t quite go along with that, although he has come to oppose the Iraq war. ?Those who argue about Iraq being worse than Vietnam,? he said, tend to make ?worst-case assumptions.?
Before that he?d been interviewed for other Post articles and written op-eds for the paper, with titles like, ?We?ve Done All We Can Do in Iraq? (2005) and ?What?s An Iraqi Life Worth?? (2006). He?s been quoted in The New York Times, as well, most recently by Frank Rich on March 18. He?s also written an acclaimed book, ?The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.?
His name was back in the Post today, or rather, it was his name but it belonged to his son. The Post revealed, ?Army 1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, 27, Walpole, Mass., died Sunday in Balad after an explosive detonated near his unit in Salahuddin province.?
The Associated Press reported his death tonight this way: ?His father — Andrew J. Bacevich — is a Boston University professor and a vocal critic of the war.
?The younger Bacevich’s sister, Jennifer, says her brother joined the Army after he wasn’t able to enroll in ROTC because of his asthma. When the military eased its restrictions, he went on to train to be an officer.
?She says Bacevich was active, athletic, humorous and liked to be with friends and play soccer. He was single at the time of his death.?
In a March 1 op-ed for the Boston Globe, Bacevich Sr. wrote that “our reckless flirtation with preventive war qualifies as not only wrong, but also stupid. Indeed, the Bush Doctrine poses a greater danger to the United States than do the perils it supposedly guards against.”
But he had warned about the war from the start, writing in the Los Angeles Times in March 2003 that “if, as seems probable, the effort encounters greater resistance than its architects imagine, our way of life may find itself tested in ways that will make the Vietnam War look like a mere blip in American history.”
Retired Major General William Nash, who served with young Bacevich, also known as Skip, in Kuwait, told the Globe: “Service to country was obviously a family trait. Skip was a great role model for young officers.”
Boston Unviersity professor William Keylor said faculty members were “devastated….They knew how close the two Andys had been and, particularly those of us who have children, just identified so strongly with him,” Keylor told the Globe.
An excerpt from his ?What?s An Iraqi Life Worth?? follows. The man cared so much about the deaths of Iraqis, and ended up losing his son to the war, as well. He concluded that op-ed: “Unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain.”
As the war enters its fourth year, how many innocent Iraqis have died at American hands, not as a result of Haditha-like massacres but because of accidents and errors? The military doesn’t know and, until recently, has publicly professed no interest in knowing. Estimates range considerably, but the number almost certainly runs in the tens of thousands. Even granting the common antiwar bias of those who track the Iraqi death toll — and granting, too, that the insurgents have far more blood on their hands — there is no question that the number of Iraqi noncombatants killed by U.S. forces exceeds by an order of magnitude the number of U.S. troops killed in hostile action, which is now more than 2,000.
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? The culture that, to put it mildly, has sought neither to understand nor to empathize with people in the Arab or Islamic worlds?
There are no easy answers, but one at least ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression of U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity. To assert that “stuff happens,” as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is wont to do whenever events go awry, simply does not suffice.
Moral questions aside, the toll of Iraqi noncombatant casualties has widespread political implications.
Misdirected violence alienates those we are claiming to protect. It plays into the hands of the insurgents, advancing their cause and undercutting our own. It fatally undermines the campaign to win hearts and minds, suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians — and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally — are expendable. Certainly, Nahiba Husayif Jassim’s death helped clarify her brother’s perspective on the war. “God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here,” he declared after the incident. “They have no regard for our lives.”
He was being unfair, of course. It’s not that we have no regard for Iraqi lives; it’s just that we have much less regard for them. The current reparations policy — the payment offered in those instances in which U.S. forces do own up to killing an Iraq civilian — makes the point. The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments — about the price of a decent plasma-screen TV.
For all the talk of Iraq being a sovereign nation, foreign occupiers are the ones deciding what an Iraqi life is worth. And although President Bush has remarked in a different context that “every human life is a precious gift of matchless value,” our actions in Iraq continue to convey the impression that civilian lives aren’t worth all that much.
That impression urgently needs to change. To start, the Pentagon must get over its aversion to counting all bodies. It needs to measure in painstaking detail — and publicly — the mayhem we are causing as a byproduct of what we call liberation. To do otherwise, to shrug off the death of Nahiba Husayif Jassim as just one of those things that happens in war, only reinforces the impression that Americans view Iraqis as less than fully human. Unless we demonstrate by our actions that we value their lives as much as the lives of our own troops, our failure is certain.