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)


Blogger Charles N. Steele said...

One of the intellectual viruses: the doctrines of Leo Strauss. Strauss doctrine explicitly denies the possibility of positive social science; everything is normative & value-laden to a Straussian. Hence they end up focussing on ethical notions, which end up being intentions. Do you have good intentions and good ethical principles? That's enough -- never mind positive facts, positive cause-and-affect relations.

Also, Straussians see the world as shaped by a few great leaders.

So their recipe:just have good intentions & principles, get a great leader (they are available right off the shelf, like Achmed Chalabi), and you are good to go. who cares about post-war planning, who cares about the differences between a Shia and a Sunni Arab and a Sunni Kurd, who cares that Saddam Hussein is one of the major checks on Iranian expansion...

The more Straussians I meet, the more I think it is essentially a strange sort of religious dogma that blinds one to all reality. Intelligence is impotent when infected by faulty dogma.

5/19/08, 10:16 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

While Codevilla studied with Strauss he has from the beginning criticized the administration’s nations-building effort, unlike other students of Strauss, i.e. Paul Wolfowitz.

My knowledge of Strauss is limited to selections of his book “Natural Right and History.” From what I’ve read he is an astute historian of political philosophy. Nevertheless, I disagreed with his position on the continuity of Hellenic and Hellenistic rights theory.

When I read what admirers say about Strauss, I have to wonder if they’ve actually read his works. I haven’t taken the time to understand Straussians.

Your comments raise interesting questions—more interesting than the topic at hand—which require a more extensive discussion. Sometime we should talk about the distinction of fact and value, which you raise.

5/19/08, 10:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read a bit of Angelo Codevilla as an undergrad. I checked the link, and I'll make it a point to read. I can say, of course, that perhaps it wasn't so much traditional statecraft in terms of diplomacy as simply bungled assumptions on what it was going to take to pacify the nation and prevent civil war.

Thanks for the links.

5/20/08, 4:20 PM  
Blogger Bosch Fawstin said...


Thanks for the link to this, it really has the kind of insight only an independent mind can have, great stuff. I also read another essay of his, 'Victory: What it will take to win' which he wrote in Fall of 01. It also had many great thoughts, but it also had a let down near the end when he felt the need to write the untruth that 'Islam is not responsible', regarding 9/11, adding that 'It has been around longer than the United States, and coexisted with it peacefully for two hundred years.' It's thoughts like these, absolutely unecessary and undercutting one's entire take, that nearly make me stop reading articles/books etc, about Islam and its Jihad. Now, I don't recall his repeating this same mistake in his 'American Statecraft and the Iraq War', though I'm not 100 % sure about that. Fact is, Thomas Jefferson had to face Muslim pirates during his presidency, among other facts that take down his idea that we coexisted peacefully with Islam for 200 years. The Muslim world was too weak to mess with anyone during our founding, but we all know what Islam, through its Muslims, does when it gains leverage over others: Wage Jihad by any means necessary. I can go on, but I won't. I just wanted to mention my appreciation for Codevilla's work, while noting his ill-informed exoneration of Islam itself.

6/1/08, 1:16 AM  

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