Monday, November 26, 2007

Angelo Codevilla on American Statecraft

I have mentioned Angelo Codevilla several times before on this blog. He remains in my mind one of the few political analysts out there who "get it," despite not being an Objectivist. I may disagree with him on some things (such as his minimization of the threat from Iran) but for broad principles of strategy few can match him. His latest essay in the Claremont Review is no exception. Here is one of my favorite parts:
What follows from the foreign policy establishment's apolitical division of mankind into "moderates" and "extremists" is an art of politics, if that's the right term, that prevents considering what anyone is, or should be, moderate or extreme about. It abstracts from right and wrong, honor and shame. It leads to moderation in pursuit of America's interests. Then, in the hope of avoiding worse threats to our modest interests, it leads to finding moderation in those who threaten us. It becomes the promotion of "moderation" for its own sake, and then boils down to coaxing "extremists" into "moderation" by involving them in profitable and (supposedly) addictive arrangements. Our establishmentarians imagine they can moderate our enemies by promising them that they can get most of what they want through cooperation; and tell the American people that if we were to forcefully oppose our enemies, that would only radicalize them further.

During the Cold War, this logic led from Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman's support of the "moderate" Stalin against the phantom "extremist anti-party group" to Henry Kissinger's dètente with the Soviet Union; from President George H.W. Bush's efforts to keep Mikhail Gorbachev's "moderate" Soviet Union alive to his successors' efforts to appease the neo-Soviet Vladimir Putin by limiting U.S. missile defenses to tokens. By this logic, the more anyone threatens, the greater the incentive to treat him as a "moderate," lest he threaten us more. In our time this has been the basis of the bloody "peace processes" that the U.S. has foisted on so much of the world.
Read the whole thing -- it's well worth it and will challenge your thinking on the current conflict.


madmax said...

Codevilla is one of a few Conservatives that rejects the Bush/Neo-conservative Willsonian approach to foreign policy. The other is Hugh Fitzgerald over at Jihad Watch. I highly recommend Hugh if you like Codevilla.

Essentially there is the Left that thinks that the US is the real enemy and is sympathetic with Islam. Then there is the NeoCon Right that sees something wrong but thinks that it is only "radical Islam" that is the problem and that if it were removed the rest of the Muslim population would become a bunch of Jeffersonian Democrats. Both approaches are wrong.

Outside of Objectivism few commentators are able to reject altruism as inherent in foreign policy. Even within Objectivism a guy like Tracinski offers the same staple NeoConservative arguments. So Codevilla and Fitzgerald are like breaths of fresh air compared to everyone else.

Gideon said...

I do read Jihad Watch but I didn't notice that someone other than Robert Spencer posts there. I'll have to pay closer attention.

By the way I recently watched Spencer's Islam: What the West Needs to Know. This has certainly moved me closer to viewing just plain Islam as the problem. It's interesting to contrast Spencer's film with Obsession --Radical Islam's War against the West which I also viewed recently as the title implies it takes the standard view that there's Islam and there's radical Islam. Ironically some of the same individuals show up on both films taking somewhat contradictory positions.

I think however that Codevilla is in fact religious and sympathetic to religion in general, including Islam. He puts the blame not on Islam, radical or otherwise but on Arab regimes. But at least he understands that American interests should come first and is opposed to nation building.

madmax said...


His essential position on the war is that America should not try to rebuild or reform an Islamic nation. Instead we should exploit the numerous ethnic and religious fissures that exist in that culture; a sort of "divide and conquer" strategy. But I'm impressed that he does implicitly reject altruism to a certain extent.

Now of course he is a conservative so there are errors as for example his belief that the US should subsidize alternatives to oil (to the tune of billions) to make us independent of the Muslim oil fields. That's just textbook environmentalism. So be aware that there are errors but overall he rejects the sacrificial premises behind "The Forward Strategy of Freedom" and he continually stresses that Islam is the problem not "radical" Islam. And he bashes Bush and Rice in a way the an Objectivist would enjoy. That in itself makes him a pleasure to read.

madmax said...

"It's interesting to contrast Spencer's film with Obsession --Radical Islam's War against the West which I also viewed recently as the title implies it takes the standard view that there's Islam and there's radical Islam."

I get a sense that Spencer is somewhat conflicted with this. He continually shows how the Jihad imperatives are essential to Islam and then backs away from fully naming Islam as the enemy. But then again many Objectivists do that too. Even ARI's press releases continually refer to "Totalitarian Islam" which is a redundancy. But there are other conservative commentators who don't shy away from "the war against Islam" title. Fitzgerald is one of them.