Andrew Bacevich

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Andrew J. Bacevich is Professor of International Relations and History at Boston University. He is a retired United States Army colonel, who commanded the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. While he has been a consistent critic of the Iraq War, he had the added personal motivation of his son, 1LT Andrew J. Bacevich Jr., was killed in action in Iraq on 13 May 2007.

In his 2005 book, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, he tells about experiences that formed him, and how he does not fit into any neat ideological category: [1]

  • "I am a Vietnam veteran...Vietnam provides the frame of reference within which I interpret much else, a tendency that some readers may well judge excessive...this book represents one manifestation of a continuing effor to sift through the wreckage left by that war and reckon fully with its legacy."
  • After the Vietnam War, he became a professional in the U.S. Army, during the last half of the Cold War, when "our purpose was self-evident: it was to defend the west against the threat posed by Communist totalitarianism."
  • He is a latecomer to politics; "to be a serving soldier in my day was to be apolitical. " After leaving the Army, well into middle age, he described himself as a conservative, but found he had a satisfactory relationship with conservatism only "un denouncing the foolishness and hypocrisies of the Clinton became clear to me, at least, that conservatives were susceptible to their own brand of foolishness and hypocrisy...I still situate myself culturally on the right, by my disenchantment with what passes for mainstream conservatism, embodied in the (George W. Bush Administration) and its groupies, is jut about absolute
  • Their abandonment of what he considers authentically conservative beliefs have brought him to agree somewhat with the critique offered by the radical left: it is the mainstream of "professional conservatives" and "professional liberals" that define the problems. He is disenchanted with the Democratic Party (United States) and the Republican Party (United States).

In current strategic debate, Andrew Exum contrasts Bacevich as of the "realist" school as opposed to David Kilcullen's "counterinsurgency" school, but observes they have more in common than they realize. [2]

"Wilsonians under arms"

As does Francis Fukuyama, in his discussion of "neoconservatism and successor doctrines" in America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy,[3] he finds the current approach based in Wilsonian ambition and Wilsonian certainty, but with a "pronounced affinity for the sword." He regards Ronald Reagan as Wilson's truest disciple, as one who meant to put America on the right side of history, and that Bill Clinton there was a continuation of the idea that there was no alternative to democracy. Even George W. Bush was a product of a Wilsonian revival.

The difference was that mainstream politicians treat American military supremacy as an unmitigated good and an evidence of American exceptionalism.[4] Where there were six major military actions abroad between 1945 and 1986, they became almost annual after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Gulf War and the Military at Bay

Many Army officers regarded the Gulf War as the end of the long night after Vietnam. GEN Barry McCaffery, who commanded a fast-moving mechanized division, told the Senate Committee on Armed Forces: "This war didn't take 100 hours to win. It took 15 years to win." The Army had to vanquish its internam Vietnam-era demons, transition to the all-volunteer force, and revolutionize training and discipline.[5]

He sees the Gulf War as having been carried out consistently with the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine, and the ideas of Creighton Abrams such as the Total Force Concept. Its apparent success, however, led to a trend of assuming the military could do anything, and a subsequent series of overcommitments with unclear goals and inadequate resources.

Bacevich is critical of Colin Powell's role, especially:

  • Early termination of the war to avoid the impression of gratuitous killing, yet leaving Saddam Hussein's key forces damaged but functioning
  • Giving too free a hand to H Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. in setting peace conditions, "perhaps confusing his role with Grant at Appomattox", and being magnanimous in such things as allowing Iraqis the use of helicopters, later employed in suppressing popular uprisings

Containment vs. Counterinsurgency

He is a critic of what he regards as an overemphasis on counterinsurgency in the U.S. military, which he sees as a revisionist belief that the Vietnam War could have been won with the right long-term approach, which he terms that of the "Crusaders" for the new view. He sees a more appropriate lesson as the "Conservative" one from the Weinberger-Powell Doctrine. [6] He favors a "defensive strategy" of "containment." [7]

Speaking at a conference held by the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that is a stronghold of counterinsurgency theory, he challenged,

If threat of armed insurgencies and drugs and protecting natural resources and the U.S sphere of influence is so vital in determining our “semi-permanent occupation and pacification of foreign countries,” Bacevich asked, “why not a have a goal of ‘fixing’ Mexico?” [8]

Drawing "long war" analogies with the Soviets, Bacevich suggests another Cold War might be the right model. Leaving the analogy to Communism as a secular religion implicit, he describes the conflict between theocratic and non-theocratic models to be fundamentally insoluble by force. "A strategy should emphasize three principles: decapitate, contain and compete. An approach based on these principles cannot guarantee perpetual peace. But it is likely to be more effective, affordable and sustainable than a strategy based on open-ended war." Decapitation is essentially the counterterrorist raiding doctrine.

Containment is economic. "As during the Cold War, a strategy of containment should include comprehensive export controls and the monitoring of international financial transactions. Without money and access to weapons, the jihadist threat shrinks to insignificance: All that remains is hatred. Ideally, this approach should include strenuous efforts to reduce the West's dependence on Middle Eastern oil, which serves to funnel many billions of dollars into the hands of people who may not wish us well."

"During the Cold War, containment did not preclude engagement, and it shouldn't today. To the extent that the United States can encourage liberalizing tendencies in the Islamic world, it should do so -- albeit with modest expectations. Sending jazz musicians deep into the Eastern Bloc in the old days was commendable, but Louis Armstrong's trumpet didn't topple the Soviet empire." [9] By competition, he means demonstrating that the Western system is superior in meeting human needs.

Local model

He is not completely opposed to involvement in Afghanistan, but he insists that the objectives must be clearly and modestly defined, and methods traditional and appropriate to Afghanistan used. His view is that the objective is to prevent the country from being used as a terrorist sanctuary, which does not require it to be a modern Western state with a strong central government. Power there has been at the level of tribal leaders and warlords. The U.S., therefore, should be "decentralization and outsourcing", offering incentives to local leaders who will keep terrorists out of their areas. "This doesn't mean Washington should blindly trust that Afghan warlords will become America's loyal partners. U.S. intelligence agencies should continue to watch Afghanistan closely, and the Pentagon should crush any jihadist activities that local powers fail to stop themselves. [10]


Before joining the faculty of Boston University in 1998, he taught at West Point and at Johns Hopkins University.

Education and Research


  1. Andrew Bacevich (2005), The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195173384pp. ix-xi
  2. Andrew Exum (2 March 2009), "Bacevich on Kilcullen", Abu Muquwama Blog
  3. Francis Fukuyama (2006), America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300113994
  4. New American Militarism, pp. 9-17
  5. New American Militarism, pp. 44-58
  6. Andrew J. Bacevich (October 2008), "The Petraeus Doctrine: Iraq-style counterinsurgency is fast becoming the U.S. Army’s organizing principle. Is our military preparing to fight the next war, or the last one?", Atlantic
  7. Jon Wiener (28 August 2008), "Obama's Limits: An Interview With Andrew Bacevich", The Nation
  8. Kelley Vlahos (11 June 2009), "Prof. Bacevich Deflates COIN-Happy Crowd of 1,400", The American Conservative
  9. Andrew J. Bacevich (27 September 2009), "Let's Beat the Extremists Like We Beat the Soviets", Washington Post
  10. Andrew J. Bacevich (29 November 2008), "Afghanistan: What's Our Definition of Victory?", Newsweek