Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Codevilla on Statecraft

Codevilla has written another thought provoking essay on our war policy that goes beyond the standard boilerplate posturing of mainstream politicians. He’s a critic of our policy of nations-building and the on-going occupation of Iraq. “Because the U.S. government's occupation of Iraq violated the principles of statecraft, America is on the verge of losing a crucial round in that long war.” To many of us it didn’t start out this way. Codevilla remembers:

“The occupation was unnecessary to any rational American purpose. As President George W. Bush spoke on April 30, 2003, under the banner ‘Mission Accomplished,’ representatives of the State and Defense Departments in Iraq were putting the finishing touches on the provisional government to which they were to devolve the country's affairs two weeks later. There was to be no occupation. Iraqis would sort out their own bloody quarrels. The victorious U.S. armed forces, having turned Saddam Hussein's regime over to its enemies, would challenge the Middle East's remaining terror regimes to adjust their behavior or suffer the same fate.”

At this point we heard of a new mission:

“The Bush team then declared that occupying Iraq was necessary to transform it into a peaceful, united, liberal democracy, whose existence would coax nasty neighboring regimes to be nice. Bush had acceded to the private pleadings of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, as well as of British Prime Minister Tony Blair—whose advice reflected the unanimous wishes of Arab governments. While the administration's newly minted mission was abstract and inherently beyond accomplishment, the Arab agendas—which had nothing in common with Bush's—were intensely practical. And they prevailed.”

Codevilla constructs a detailed narrative of competing objectives—all antithetical to American’s interest—as various players influenced post-war policies. The State department, CIA, Arab governments, politicized Generals and culturally ignorant administration advisors all added to the muddle. “The liberal internationalist agenda of secular nation-building attempted to merge piecemeal the clashing interests of Iraqi and American interest groups. The realist agenda, which dominated the occupation, consisted of trying one way after another to conciliate the Sunnis by empowering them, as well as to reconcile somehow the incompatible agendas of the region's various protagonists while pretending, vaguely, that America's interests were being served. The Bush team had too many agendas, and none.”

The administration is reduced to seeking a momentary stability—a truce—that is little more than a “plan for extricating U.S. forces while maintaining a veneer of success.”

Armies don't build nations. If statesmen can point to people or things whose absence would do good, armies can kill or destroy them. But the most unnatural thing you can ever do with or to any army is to turn it from combat to occupation. After Vietnam, the U.S. officer corps resolved never to repeat the experience. Today's officers apparently like to talk as if occupation is the ‘new kind of war,’ and thus busy themselves buying new armor and perfecting techniques for searching houses. One wonders why. Better tactics can't rescue bad strategy.”

We could have proceeded otherwise.

“Statecraft would have required viewing Iraq's realities—which reflected the growing worldwide enmity between Sunni and Shia, between Arabs and Persians—from the standpoint of what America could do to crush or cow regimes that export terror, whether Arab or Persian, Sunni or Shia. After the invasion, only our occupation prevented Iraq's Shia majority from ripping out the Ba'ath party's last bloody roots, both to avenge its tyranny and because it is Sunni. Had the Shia done this, the Arab world's Sunni regimes would have begged America not to let the same fate befall them. The Shia, for their part, would not have had to be persuaded by what America had done for them, but would have been impressed by what it could let happen to them. … Our interest lies in being feared and respected by both sides.”

Codevilla has waged a one-man intellectual battle within the conservative camp to provide a constructive alternative to the current muddled Republican policy. His exasperation is showing:

“There is no excuse for losing a war. Those whose disregard for statecraft is responsible for this mess are more highly credentialed, paid, and honored than they deserve. … Incompetence about so many things over such a long period of time disqualifies them from being taken seriously ever again, and discredits the institutions, foundations, and publications that have accredited them. It challenges us to ascertain what intellectual viruses disabled otherwise functional minds, and to educate leaders who will be free of them.”

Indeed, what intellectually disabled these well-educated intelligent people? He leaves us with the most important question unanswered.

Update: Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein tackle that question here. (H/T CapMag)