Codevilla on victory

I have mentioned Angelo Codevilla from time to time as one of the tiny handful of writers with well-thought-out alternative views of the war that need to be included in the debate, or, rather, that should be made the subject of a so-far non-existent debate. But, to my chagrin, I realize that I have missed reading some of his articles (or perhaps had read them with less than full attention, a common occurrence when reading long articles on a computer screen) and so had not grasped the full purport of his ideas. Some of his themes are similar to my own, such as that the purpose of war is victory and that President Boilerplate has no strategy, nor even the pretence of a strategy, to achieve one. (I must have said the same 100 times in the last year and a half, at VFR, at FrontPage, and in many e-mails to pro-Bush columnists, not one of whom ever seemed truly to grasp what I was saying.) In his article, “No Victory, No Peace,” written in late 2003, Codevilla lays out a simple and powerful argument. Bush missed the boat. Al Qaeda is not the ultimate enemy, the Taliban is not the ultimate enemy, and Saddam Hussein as an individual is not the enemy. The enemy is the regimes of each of the terror supporting Moslem states. These regimes consist of about 2,000 men in each country, 4,000 in Saudi Arabia. To destroy a regime in an Arab country means killing its members. That’s the way it’s done in that part of the world. We didn’t destroy the regime of Iraq, we only got the very top echelon, and that’s a major reason why we’re trapped in that horrible terror insurgency. We need to destroy the terror- and jihad-supporting regimes, either killing the members ourselves or, better, turning them over to their domestic enemies. In Iraq, for example, he says we should have empowered the Kurds and the Shi’ites, and let them handle the Ba’athist supporters in the Sunni population. Codevilla continues (again striking a note similar to mine) that we are not concerned about building Muslim democracies. The precise borders and political systems of Mideastern Arab countries are not our concern. We’re not trying to build a positive, we’re only trying to get rid of a negative—the international network of anti-American, anti-Israel jihadist terrorists.

To make Codevilla’s ideas more accessible, here are excerpts from the article, adding up to a bit less than half the total length:

The reason why operations, each arguably successful in itself and all together covering much of the spectrum of the possible, had brought America no closer to peace is that war does not consist of operations any more than love consists of intercourse. In both cases, all depends on your intentions and on having the proper object. Always, the proper question is what ends do the means serve, and how appropriately do they serve them? What do your operations actually do? In war, the question that gives meaning to all operations is who is the enemy whose death gives us peace? Never, ever, had the Bush team dealt with this question. Here was the root of the Bush team’s problems, the reason why it had done a lot, done it wrong, and wound up worse off than before.

Doing “the war” right would have meant not bothering much with al-Qaeda. Evidence of its central role in anti-American terror was always weak, and came from Arab sources that do not wish America well. Most of all, because neither it nor any other organization is the source of hate and contempt for America, wiping it out does America little good. What then is the source of anti-American terror, what leads people to think that fighting America is profitable and has a future? The answer, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman learned from this series of essays, and as the Bush team had yet to grasp fully, is that 98 percent of terrorism is what regimes want to happen or let happen.

Regimes, as serious people know, are a lot more than governments. They are the priorities, standards, ways of life, embodied by the most prominent persons in the land, and very much by their henchmen. For our purposes, the question is: who makes anti- American violence the standard for others; who are the people whose deaths would diminish it?

By that standard, the Taliban regime was of scarce relevance. The Taliban, like other Afghans, know little and care less about what happens on the other side of the mountain, much less the ocean. Yet the Taliban had developed a symbiotic relationship with a group of Arabs who, with Saudi money, had partially financed them and helped them against their domestic enemies. In return, the Taliban provided these “Afghan Arabs” a base for intrigues they carried on with the regimes and intelligence services of their homelands. Only in this third-hand way were the Taliban part of America’s terrorist problem. Once America helped other Afghans sweep the Taliban away, the Afghan tribes realigned with little bloodshed and virtually annihilated the “Afghan Arabs.” Al-Qaeda then became scattered individuals, whose importance depended exclusively on the Arab regimes that continued to use them, and others.

These Arab regimes, and nothing else, are the entities that gave and give people the means and above all the hope of success that make anti-American terrorists.

That is why invading Iraq was, potentially, so very useful in convincing those inclined to fight America that there is no future in doing so. But what, in the way that the Bush team fought this battle, convinced America’s enemies of the opposite? What did the Bush team do that made these regimes less afraid of us than before, that tilted the balance of fear against us more than ever?

In a nutshell, the Bush team mistook Saddam Hussein’s top echelon for the regime itself. Second, it proved unwilling to help Iraqi enemies of the regime pull it up by the roots, or even to allow them to do it. Third, unpardonably, it placed the U.S. armed forces and America’s Iraqi collaborators in the deadly position of static defense—sitting on bayonets pondering the Marine “Small Wars Manual” while being shot at. All this, combined with dovish diplomacy vis--vis the rest of the Arab world, told enemy regimes that, once again, America would let a battle won turn into a war lost.

As previously explained in these pages, the dictatorial regimes of the Arab world consist of some 2,000 men, while the Saudi regime is perhaps twice that size. In such places, where regimes exist by brutalizing opponents, changes in regime necessarily involve the bloody settling of bloody scores. Unless and until the “outs” brutalize at least this number of “ins,” the regime has not really changed. In such places, “who rules” really means who brutalizes whom unto death or submission. Vengeance, a human drive everywhere, is especially compelling in the Arab world. The Eumenides is not part of Arab literature. Hence the dream of many Americans—Norman Podhoretz expressed it in the Fall 2002 issue of this publication—of a gentle imperialism that would hold Iraq together, spreading liberal democracy from it to the rest of the Middle East, is impossible. Most impossible was it in Iraq because its unusual racial and religious divisions further complicate the previous regime’s unusual brutalities.

No one should declare war without being clear against whom it is being declared: who the enemy is whose demise will give us peace.

The spreading sense throughout the Islamic world that anti-American action was good and safe, and that opposing it was bad and dangerous, became a mortal threat to America. This deadly phenomenon took on a life of its own. Like any disease not countered in its early stages, countering it would require ever more radical exertions.

America’s war would have to consist of reversing that paradigm. Victory for America would be on the way when Muslims around the world would see every evening on the news those to whom they had looked up being tried, discredited, and executed by Muslims for crimes against Muslims, when television audiences would gasp at crowds of Iraqis and Syrians physically dismembering the Ba’athist thugs who had slaughtered the party’s political enemies, when Arab news magazines would detail the corrupt, un-Islamic lives of the entire Saudi royal family, when good Muslims, victims of the Wahabi heresy, would detail how the heretics had defiled Islam. What a paradigm-shift it would be were Palestinian members of families victimized by Arab thugs publicly to take vengeance on their tormentors. Such events would change the Muslim world’s agenda and place regimes that advocated or allowed anti-American propaganda, the organizations or “charities” that have produced anti-American terrorism, at peril.

To produce such results, America’s operations of war would have to destroy regimes—not build nations nor export democracy. Whereas doing away with Saddam Hussein in 1991 might well have convinced the Muslim world that anti-Americanism had no future, by 2003 evidence that worldwide Muslim elements were helping an Iraqi “resistance” to bleed America, even as the supposedly united efforts of Islam were bleeding Israel, was energizing terrorists. By this time, nothing less than the bloody demise of the most egregious anti-American regimes would convince the others not to foster or allow terrorism. Only this would give us peace.

In short, the regimes whose death would give us peace have enemies who are eager to kill them. U.S. forces cannot possibly police foreign lands, much less force gentler, kinder ways upon them. Experience in Iraq should have made this plain. Only locals, not foreigners, can do that. Their methods are unlikely to be kind and gentle. Democracy may not be part of their agenda, and liberalism surely will not be. That is their business. It is enough for our peace that there be people who have their own reasons for destroying the people and culture—the regimes—that are the effective causes of violence against us. U.S. military operations can and should make it possible for them to do it.

In Iraq, the U.S. government should do in 2003-‘04 what it should have done in earlier years. Having destroyed Saddam’s main armies, Americans should arm the 80% Shi’ite and Kurdish parts of the population, and wish them well. Most surely, they would destroy the remnants of the Ba’athist regimes. Though they have more detailed knowledge than we possibly could have of who is who, they would be far less careful than we of killing only the strictly guilty.

It is no business of America’s whether the people who live between the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea decide that there shall be an Iraq or not. We should have learned from experience in Bosnia that crafting the fiction of a state that does not exist in the hearts and minds of its supposed members—who think themselves not Bosnians but rather Muslims, Croats, and Serbs—is an expensive way of gratifying folks in the State Department who should know better. Nor should Americans care that the Saudi royal family and Sunni Arabs in the Gulf would not like an independent or semi-independent group of 15 million Shi’ites near the head of the Gulf because they might ally with Shi’ite Iran. Being Arabs, they probably would not. But whether or not they did would be no problem of America’s.

America’s interest would be secured by the fact that the regime’s anti-American priorities would die with its members. The foreign Islamic fighters would die in ways even more discouraging to anyone inclined to follow in their footsteps.

And here’s a great line, which Robert Locke ought to appreciate:

Destroying the Palestinian Authority is easier done than said.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 15, 2005 02:04 AM | Send

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