A leading critic of American military expansionism has written a critical open letter to Paul Wolfowitz on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War.
Andrew Bacevich, a West Point graduate and Vietnam war veteran, is a foreign policy academic who has long argued against American global hegemony. In the wake of the Cold War, Bacevich contends, Americans were emboldened to believe in the supremacy of their worldview. "History had rendered a verdict: The future belonged to America and to those who embraced the American way," Bacevich wrote in a 2011 Washington Post op-ed.
"For anyone unwilling to accept that verdict, there was U.S. military power."
To Bacevich, no one personifies this misconception and its potential consequences more than Paul Wolfowitz, who served as under secretary of defense during President George W. Bush's first term and was a key architect of the invasion of Iraq.
Bacevich worked for Wolfowitz in the 1990s, while the latter was dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
In his open letter, published in Harpers, Bacevich remembers his former boss' cunning. "You had a knack for framing things creatively. No matter how daunting the problem, you contrived a solution," reads Bacevich's letter. "More important, you grasped the big picture."
Wolfowitz eschewed the tag of "neo conservative," and Bacevich agrees that "the label never quite fit." What Wolfowitz cared about was "power" and ultimately "world order."
Academia's staid nature did not suit Wolfowitz, Bacevich observed. "What turned you on was playing the game."
Bacevich contends that George W. Bush's election and the 9/11 attacks provided Wolfowitz the opportunity attain the power he sought. From Bacevich's letter in Harpers:
You took office as Osama bin Laden was conspiring to attack. Alas, neither Rumsfeld nor you nor anyone else in a position of real authority anticipated what was to occur. America’s vaunted defense establishment had left the country defenseless. Yet instead of seeing this as evidence of gross incompetence requiring the officials responsible to resign, you took it as an affirmation. For proof that averting surprise through preventive military action was now priority number one, Americans needed to look no further than the damage inflicted by nineteen thugs armed with box cutters.
You immediately saw the events of 9/11 as a second and more promising opening to assert U.S. supremacy. When riding high a decade earlier, many Americans had thought it either unseemly or unnecessary to lord it over others. Now, with the populace angry and frightened, the idea was likely to prove an easier sell. Although none of the hijackers were Iraqi, within days of 9/11 you were promoting military action against Iraq. Critics have chalked this up to your supposed obsession with Saddam. The criticism is misplaced. The scale of your ambitions was vastly greater.
To Bacevich, the rush into Iraq had little to do with WMD's or the parroted justifications emanating from the war's backers. Instead, the invasion was meant to serve as a test for preventive warfare, or what would later be known as the Bush Doctrine -- a set of defense principles that, according to Bacevich, was Wolfowitz's "handiwork."
Bacevich, whose son was killed in Iraq by an IED in 2007, writes that he will never forget the war, and he expects his former boss feels the same.
Again, from Bacevich's letter in Harpers:
Imagine — you must have done so many times — if that notorious mission accomplished banner had accurately portrayed the situation on the ground in Iraq in May 2003. Imagine if U.S. forces had achieved a clean, decisive victory. Imagine that the famous (if staged) photo of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad’s Al Firdos Square being pulled down had actually presaged a rapid transition to a pro-American liberal democracy, just as your friend Ahmed Chalabi had promised. Imagine if none of the ensuing horrors and disappointments had occurred: the insurgency; Fallujah and Abu Ghraib; thousands of American lives lost and damaged; at least 125,000 Iraqis killed, and some 3 million others exiled or displaced; more than a trillion dollars squandered.
Wolfowitz, who went on to head the World Bank and is now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recently opened up about the Iraq war in an interview with The Sunday Times. He admitted that there were strategic failures, but he downplayed his role as the conflict's "architect."
Wolfowitz's slender admission of guilt is more than Americans have received from "the tediously self-exculpatory memoirs penned by (or on behalf of) Bush himself, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Tenet, Bremer, Feith, and a small squad of eminently forgettable generals," laments Bacevich.
But anything less than a full accounting of the failures will not suffice, Bacevich continues. "Help us learn the lessons of Iraq so that we might extract from it something of value in return for all the sacrifices made there," he writes to Wolfowitz. "Forgive me for saying so, but you owe it to your country."