What lies ahead for Iraq

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: Besides the billions of dollars spent and misspent in Iraq, thousands of American lives have been lost or torn apart. But some argue that Iraq is now on the right road, and they cite last weekend's violence-free provincial elections as evidence. Andrew Bacevich is a Professor of International Relations at Boston University. His son, an Army Lieutenant, was killed in Iraq in 2007. Professor Bacevich, you were a critic of the war in Iraq and that was before you lost your son. But now, with hopes for peace and stability in Iraq somewhat higher than they have been for years, have you changed your mind?

ANDREW BACEVICH: No, I don't think so. I think, regardless of the improvements in the security situation, we need to recall exactly why we launched this war in the first place. And although there was a certain amount of rhetoric that claimed that the purpose was to liberate the Iraqi people, the truth, I think, is much more complicated. Iraq was intended to be the decisive stroke in the Bush administration's war on terror. It was supposed to touch off a process of political reform and liberalization that was going to transform the entire greater Middle East. That hasn't happened and it won't happen, and therefore, the 4,000-plus lives lost, the trillion dollars or more money spent, have produced a very limited return.

WERMAN: Something does seem to have been accomplished, though, in Iraq, as elections last weekend would show. I mean, there's now a relatively friendly regime as well in a country that was part of George W. Bush's ?axis of evil? and that was not friendly with the United States for many years and it's a regime that's probably more democratic than not. Despite the original reasons for going to war in Iraq, do you not think that counts for something?

BACEVICH: Oh, I do think it counts for something, and I don't mean to discount the progress that has been made. I think I'd insist that it's too soon to tell how this story is going to end up. Despite the fact that we had these provincial elections over the weekend, Iraq is a long, long way from becoming a stable and fully functioning state. And, you know, one has to wish the Iraqi people well given the amount that they've suffered over the years. But the purpose of US foreign policy is not to respond to the plight of others ? it's to advance the vital interests of the United States of America. And I'll stick to my position that if you compare what we have lost and what we have spent to what we have gained, this entire war has been a misguided proposition.

WERMAN: Wouldn't you say, though, that if the interest of the United States of America is to sort of pursue the interests of the United States of America, that should be the foreign policy kind of guidelines, that now we are in Iraq and we've got to somehow, you know, bolster US image overseas and it starts there?

BACEVICH: Well, there's no question that even for people like myself who are critics of the war, criticism doesn't mean that it makes sense to just simply turn our backs in Iraq and walk away. On the other hand, let's try to place Iraq in a larger context. Iraq has been treated as if it were the geopolitical center of the universe. That sort of thinking has led us to ignore, to a large extent, the problem in Afghanistan which has worsened. It has also caused us, I think, to ignore serious domestic problems, particularly relating to the management of our economy, which have now really come home to roost. And in that larger context as well, I would suggest that we've paid much, much more in Iraq than we have gotten in return.

WERMAN: There seems to be an intense public apathy here in the United States about Iraq. What do you think accounts for that?

BACEVICH: I don't think ?apathy? is the word I would use. I think that from the point of the view of the public, our priorities have changed. The American people elected someone who promised to end this war. The American people understand that the economy is in a shambles. That has become a much more immediate concern. To the extent that Americans are paying attention to foreign policy ? not that many do, but to the extent that they do, they understand that Afghanistan actually is ? I should say Afghanistan coupled with Pakistan actually is a much more dangerous problem for us and deserves much more attention than it has received.

WERMAN: You served in Vietnam, Professor Bacevich, and people have talked about Iraq being the Vietnam of this generation. How do you want Americans to memorialize the Iraq War and those like your own son, who paid for it with their own lives?

BACEVICH: I think actually we're going to have a very long national debate about how to incorporate the Iraq War in our history -- much as we had a long national debate about how to incorporate Vietnam into our history. My own hope would be that we would avoid the temptation to which Americans frequently give in, to sentimentalize the war, to embrace a mythic understanding of why it was launched and what it was about. I believe that the Iraq War was a tremendously serious mistake that has done enormous damage to the country. And therefore, I would want us to look at this experience with our eyes open, without illusion, and try to appreciate the sacrifices that have been made and the enormity of goodwill, of opportunity, of resources, that have been squandered on a war that never should have begun in the first place.

WERMAN: Andrew Bacevich, Professor of International Relations at Boston University, and author of ?The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.? Thank you very much for your time.

BACEVICH: Thanks for having me on your program.