Mass Execution as Public Policy

No Victory, No Peace. By Angelo M. Codevilla. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005. Xv + 191 pgs.

If there is such a thing as a good super hawk, Angelo Codevilla is it. He makes many neoconservatives look like pacifists; and he advocates a dangerous course of action, accompanied by quotations from Machiavelli, whom he takes to be an exemplar of political wisdom. As he proceeds to his misguided conclusion, though, he has much of value to teach us.

For one thing, Codevilla will have nothing to do with the neoconservative plans to extend the blessings of democracy to the Middle East. What evidence is there, he inquires, that American-style democracy can be exported to that region? Americans lack the ability to impose our political system on alien ground; why then should we try? Against Norman Podhoretz, a principal advocate of warmed over Wilsonianism, he trenchantly remarks: "Imperialism is a difficult, un-American art. Neither Podhoretz nor I know [sic] of any Americans fit or inclined to imperial service." (p.86)

Applied to Iraq, the neoconservative nostrums have of course failed. "How, indeed, does one government transform the alien culture of a whole region on the other side of the globe?. . . Building viable new governments in foreign lands is extraordinarily difficult, and building wholly new regimes near impossible. Native regimes may change culture over generations, but the notion that foreigners who cannot even speak the language can do it in a few years is a pipedream. Is anything sillier than the notion that American secularists can convince Muslims about what true Islam commands?" (p.viii)

To such skepticism, the neocons respond by adducing the success of the post-World War II reconstruction of Germany and Japan. Did not America transform dangerous totalitarian powers into peace-loving democracies? Codevilla dismisses with disdain this customary view. He notes "the massive damage to local cultures that the u2018best and the brightest’ from our universities wrought when they sold the Germans and the Japanese secular socialism. The rebirth of Germany and Japan occurred because the remnants of Christian Democratic and Taisho democratic culture, respectively, were strong enough. Nevertheless, the Americans almost managed to make Adenauer and Yoshida into discredited puppets which is what the next generation of Americans succeed in doing to Thieu and Ky in Saigon." (p.86)

Codevilla’s doubts about exporting democracy strike home with great force, but his insights here are not distinctive: Few but ideologically driven partisans of the President continue to defend this misguided policy. Our author in another area is much more radical. He questions whether Osama bin Laden and his mysterious al-Qaeda lie behind the attacks of 9/11. "Officially, the [U.S.] government maintains that the mastermind of 9/11 was one Khalid Shaik Mohammed. . .Indeed, the government believes officially that neither Mohammed nor any of his associates were u2018members’ of al-Qaeda (whatever that might mean) before 1996."(p.5) Yet Mohammed and his group "had the idea, the capacity, and the resources to attack the World Trade Center in 1993, and to use airliners as weapons in 1995. . . Factor out bin Laden, and 9/11 still happens."(p.5, emphasis in original)

U.S. intelligence agencies blamed al-Qaeda for the attacks, but Codevilla finds the bulk of "intelligence" against terrorism of scant value: "Roughly, U.S. intelligence brings to bear against terrorism its network of communications intelligence (COMINT) and its network of human collectors. The value of COMMINT with regard to terrorism has never been high and has been diminished by the technical trends of recent decades. . . The gullibility of U.S. intelligence is not merely an intellectual fault. The CIA’s judgment is corrupted by its long-standing commitment to certain policies." (pp.44, 46)

But did not Osama himself claim to be behind the attacks? Codevilla is not convinced. "No reliable source has seen him [Osama] since September 11. I [Codevilla] wrote that the quality and content of a video tape in which he arguably took credit for 9/11 suggested it was a fabrication."(p.9) Codevilla wonders whether Osama is alive; perhaps his associates killed him, lest he fall into American hands.

Such matters are admittedly speculative; but Codevilla next proceeds to a truly radical point that requires no assessment of u2018inside" intelligence data. He throws into question the whole basis of the U.S. war against Afghanistan. Whatever the faults of the Taliban regime, it posed no threat to the United States. "The Taliban are mostly irrelevant to America. Typically Afghan. . . the Taliban have little role in or concern with affairs beyond their land. They provide shelter to various Arabs who have brought them money and armed force against their internal rivals. But Afghans have not bloodied the world."(p.48)

Codevilla finds domestic developments in the "war on terrorism" no more to his liking. Have not measures such as the Patriot Act and meddlesome airport security checks restricted our civil liberties, without enhancing our security? "Unable to stop terrorists, Homeland Security will spend its time cracking down on those who run afoul of its regulations. In Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, for example, a man was taken off an aircraft in handcuffs for having boarded before his row number had been called. . .As Machiavelli points out in his Discourses, security measures that hurt, threaten, or humiliate citizens engender hatred on top of contempt. No civil libertarian, Machiavelli teaches that true security comes from armed citizens to whom the government is bound by mutual trust."(p.41)

Far from aiding genuine security, these measures add to the danger they aim to combat. "Security measures actually magnify the effects of terrorism. The hijackings of September 11 have set in motion security measures that shut down airports on receipt of threats. . . What’s more, any successful attack through, or around, the security systems. . . proves that the government cannot protect us." (p.42)

No libertarian could better Codevilla on the Patriot Act: "The most awesome aspect of Homeland Security is the discretion, untrammeled by fact or reason, with which it wields its vast, permanent powers. President Bush’s statement underlines that the Patriot Act of 2001 penalizes giving aid and comfort to terrorist organizations, but it does not mention that the law also empowers the U.S. government to designate any organization or association as u2018terrorist.’ The law gives no guidelines, and the government does not have to justify its designation to anyone." (p.131)

Codevilla claims that determined terrorists, willing to sacrifice their lives to their cause, have a very good chance of success. No internal measures of security can save us. What then are we to do?

Here our author’s answer may elicit surprise. As I have so far presented Codevilla, he might easily qualify as a leading contributor to Why then did I call him a super hawk? Alas, in his positive recommendations he abandons the analytical skill he so abundantly displays in his criticism of current policy.

He has demanded evidence that al-Qaeda lies behind the 9/11 attacks; but he embraces a theory of his own that rests on very little proof. He maintains, apparently because of claims that Iraqi intelligence agents met with the 9/11 plotters, that Iraq sponsored the attacks. In response, the U.S. should destroy the regimes of Iraq, with Syria and the PLO thrown in for good measure.

Before we undertake a systematic policy of upheavals, should we not at least demand strong evidence that these regimes are guilty? Codevilla, as mentioned earlier, is elsewhere doubtful of the value of information gathered by "intelligence" agencies. Yet here he has abandoned his skepticism and stands ready to destroy governments he holds responsible for terrorism — once more, all on mere suspicion. He maintains, without convincing argument, that only a state has the resources to support a terrorist network. Why cannot terrorists successfully act as an independent enterprise? Even if Codevilla’s view is right, though, this does not establish which states bear responsibility for terrorism.

Codevilla does have a response to an obvious objection to his bellicose schemes. Why do not his strictures against Bush’s program of "democratization" apply to his plans as well? After all, he too favors not only invading Iraq but also extending the assault more widely.

He responds that he has in mind no such ambitious goal as changing a country’s social system. All he proposes is to kill the elites that dominate each of the countries on his list. No more than a few thousand people need to be killed: doing this will suffice to end the regimes that threaten us. "Regimes are forms of government, systems of incentives and disincentives, of honors and taboos and habits. Each kind of regime gives prominence to some kinds of people and practices, while pushing others to the margin. . . It follows that killing regimes means killing their members in ways that discredit the kinds of persons they were, the ways they lived, the things and ideas to which they gave prominence, the causes they espoused, and the results of their rule. . . The list of people executed should follow the party-government’s organization chart as clearly as possible." (pp. 53, 55-56)

If it is objected that following this course will leave the affected areas unstable, our author answers, like the Sanhedrin to Judas, "what is that to us?" We have, he contends, no interest in promoting stability in these countries. Our goal should be confined to eliminating our enemies.

If one further objects that the new elites that will eventually emerge may be just as hostile as those we have just dispatched, I suppose Codevilla would reply that we ought to continue the process of killing until a regime arises that no longer sponsors hostile actions against us.

A less bloodthirsty course of conduct offers much better prospects for containing the terrorist threat. Are not the 9/11 attacks a response to America’s interventionist policies in the Middle East? The very invasion of Iraq that was supposed to contain terrorism seems rather to have exacerbated it. If the United States were to adopt a "hands-off" policy toward this troubled region, would we have much to fear from terrorist assaults? When those who claim to be spokesmen for terrorist groups complain about the presence of infidel Americans on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, perhaps we ought to take them at their word and withdraw. In what way does the security of our country depend on an American presence there?

Codevilla might object that the Arab regimes would still sponsor terrorism against even a noninterventionist America. Even if he is right, which I very much doubt, is it not the path of prudence to try nonintervention first, before committing ourselves to a revolutionary program of such vast dimensions as Codevilla wants?

On one policy, though, noninterventionists can come to agreement with Codevilla. As he notes, Saudi Arabia is the principal financial supporter of Wahhabi Islam, and this sect arouses the masses of its followers against the United States. "The Saudi regime is the nursery of the Wahhabi heresy that for two centuries has vied for leadership of Islam. It is also the source of the billions of dollars by which, since the 1970s, the Wahhabis have spread their influence further than ever before. Anti-American terror would hardly be conceivable without widespread Wahhabi influence." (p.139) Why then should the United States extend financial and military support to the Saudis? Defenders of an "Old Right" foreign policy will join Codevilla in his wise suggestion. But why should abandoning aid to Saudi Arabia stand alone? Why not a complete course of nonintervention abroad?

October 29, 2005