Bacevich has been "a persistent, vocal critic of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, calling the conflict a catastrophic failure." In March 2007, he described George W. Bush's endorsement of such "preventive wars" as "immoral, illicit, and imprudent." His son, Andrew Bacevich Jr., also an Army officer, died fighting in the Iraq War in May 2007.
Bacevich was born in Normal, Illinois, the son of Martha Ellen (Bulfer) and Andrew Bacevich. His father was of Lithuanian descent and his mother was of Irish, German, and English ancestry. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1969 and served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War, serving in Vietnam from the summer of 1970 to the summer of 1971. Later he held posts in Germany, including the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment; the United States; and the Persian Gulf up to his retirement from the service with the rank of Colonel in the early 1990s. His early retirement is thought to be a result of his taking responsibility for the Camp Doha (Kuwait) explosion in 1991 while in command of the 11th ACR. He holds a Ph.D. in American Diplomatic History from Princeton University, and taught at West Point and Johns Hopkins University before joining the faculty at Boston University in 1998.
On May 13, 2007, Bacevich's son, Andrew John Bacevich, was killed in action in Iraq by an improvised explosive device south of Samarra in Salah ad Din Governorate. The younger Bacevich, 27, was a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.
Bacevich also has three daughters.
Bacevich has described himself as a "Catholic conservative" and initially published writings in a number of politically oriented magazines, including The Wilson Quarterly. He is a leading advocate for a non-interventionist foreign policy. His recent writings have professed a dissatisfaction with the Bush Administration and many of its "intellectual" supporters on matters of American foreign policy.
On August 15, 2008, Bacevich appeared as the guest of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS to promote his book, The Limits of Power. As in both of his previous books, The Long War (2007) and The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005), Bacevich is critical of American foreign policy in the post Cold War era, maintaining the United States has developed an over-reliance on military power, in contrast to diplomacy, to achieve its foreign policy aims. He also asserts that policymakers in particular, and the American people in general, overestimate the usefulness of military force in foreign affairs. Bacevich believes romanticized images of war in popular culture (especially movies) interact with the lack of actual military service among most of the U.S. population to produce in the American people a highly unrealistic, even dangerous notion of what combat and military service are really like.
Bacevich conceived The New American Militarism as "a corrective to what has become the conventional critique of U.S. policies since 9/11 but [also] as a challenge to the orthodox historical context employed to justify those policies."
Finally, he attempts to place current policies in historical context, as part of an American tradition going back to the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a tradition (of an interventionist, militarized foreign policy) which has strong bi-partisan roots. To lay an intellectual foundation for this argument, he cites two influential historians from the 20th century: Charles A. Beard and William Appleman Williams.
Ultimately, Bacevich eschews the partisanship of current debate about American foreign policy as short-sighted and ahistorical. Instead of blaming only one president (or his advisors) for contemporary policies, Bacevich sees both Republicans and Democrats as sharing responsibility for policies which may not be in the nation's best interest.
In March 2003, at the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bacevich wrote in The Los Angeles Times 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."
An editorial about the Bush Doctrine was published by the Boston Globe in March 2007.
In an article of The American Conservative dated March 24, 2008, Bacevich depicts Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama as the best choice for conservatives in the fall. Part of his argument includes the fact that "this liberal Democrat has promised to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq. Contained within that promise, if fulfilled, lies some modest prospect of a conservative revival." He also goes on to mention that "For conservatives to hope the election of yet another Republican will set things right is surely in vain. To believe that President John McCain will reduce the scope and intrusiveness of federal authority, cut the imperial presidency down to size, and put the government on a pay-as-you-go basis is to succumb to a great delusion."
In the October 11, 2009, issue of The Boston Globe, he wrote that the decision to commit more troops to Afghanistan may be the most fateful choice of the Obama administration. "If the Afghan war then becomes the consuming issue of Obama’s presidency—as Iraq became for his predecessor, as Vietnam did for Lyndon Johnson, and as Korea did for Harry Truman—the inevitable effect will be to compromise the prospects of reform more broadly," Bacevich wrote.
In his article "Non Believer" in the July 7, 2010, issue of The New Republic, Bacevich compared President George W. Bush, characterized as wrong-headed but sincere, with President Obama, who, he says, has no belief in the Afghanistan war but pursues it for his own politically cynical reasons: "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?"
In an October 2010 interview with Guernica Magazine, Bacevich addressed his seemingly contradictory stance on Obama. While Bacevich supported Obama during the 2008 presidential race in which Obama repeatedly said he believed in the Afghanistan War, Bacevich has become increasingly critical of Obama's decision to commit additional troops to that war: "I interpreted his campaign rhetoric about Afghanistan as an effort to insulate him from the charge of being a national security wimp. His decision to escalate was certainly not a decision his supporters were clamoring for."
Regarding nuclear policy in particular, Bacevich noted in The Limits of Power that there is no feasible scenario under which nuclear weapons could sensibly be used and keeping them entails many other risks. "For the United States, they are becoming unnecessary, even as a deterrent. Certainly, they are unlikely to dissuade the adversaries most likely to employ such weapons against us -- Islamic extremists intent on acquiring their own nuclear capability. If anything, the opposite is true. By retaining a strategic arsenal in readiness (and by insisting without qualification that the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities in 1945 was justified), the United States continues tacitly to sustain the view that nuclear weapons play a legitimate role in international politics ... ."
Bacevich's papers are currently housed at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.