[…] George W. Bush never wavered. He remained resolute, his conscience clear. He knew he was doing God’s work. He was—and no doubt remains today—a true believer. The 43d president was a well-intentioned fool, who inflicted grievous harm on his country. Yet when Bush stands before his Maker (or the bar of History), he will say without fear of contradiction: “I did what I thought was right.”
Barack Obama is anything but a fool. Yet when called upon to account for his presidency, honesty will prevent him from making a comparable claim. “The problems I inherited were difficult ones,” he will say. “None of the choices were good ones. Things were complicated.”[…]
The question demands to be asked: Who is more deserving of contempt? The commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause, however misguided, in which he sincerely believes? Or the commander-in-chief who sends young Americans to die for a cause in which he manifestly does not believe and yet refuses to forsake?
I don’t know if “manifestly does not believe” is completely fair. Perhaps he believes that the war is ultimately unwinnable, but still thinks that committing some resources in a salvage operation will yield a better outcome. But I’m afraid that Bacevich is essentially right: history will be harder on the wise man who knowingly took on the fool’s errand.
Update: Larison makes a good point in response to Bacevich:
A truly morally vacuous administration would take the far easier way out, which is to have a much smaller U.S. presence augmented by steady bombardment of the countryside for years to come: there would be far fewer American casualties, the humanitarian disaster created by such tactics would be shrugged off with Rumsfeldian indifference (“stuff happens”), and each new wave of strikes would create another generation of embittered and radicalized enemies whose existence would justify continuing the war indefinitely. This would be an essentially amoral policy that takes no account of the dangers of blowback, but it would be immensely popular and politically very expedient. What should concern us is that Obama’s instinct to accommodate will eventually lead him to embrace such an amoral policy, at which point he will be deserving of the contempt Prof. Bacevich evidently wants to heap on him now.