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To Make and Keep Peace: A Foreign Policy Without Restraint

While reading a review [1] of Angelo Codevilla’s To Make and Keep Peace [2], I came across this odd passage:

Codevilla approves the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a way to hold local rulers responsible for the hostile actions of their subjects [bold mine-DL], but abhors the ensuing occupation and counterinsurgency campaign, which only “hardened the divisions between this artificial country’s main religious-ethnic groups.”

As far as I can tell, the thesis of Codevilla’s book is that the country’s foreign policy elite is incompetent and incapable of conducting successful foreign wars, but based on Codevilla’s views on how the U.S. ought to have behaved over the last few decades I don’t see any reason to think that he has any answers on foreign policy. For instance, take that statement about the Iraq war. Unless the reviewer has completely misrepresented Codevilla here, the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In what sense could the invasion of Iraq be understood as “a way to hold local rulers responsible for the hostile actions of their subjects”? How far removed from reality would one have to be to think that this was the reason for the war? After all, the purpose of waging a war for regime change in Iraq wasn’t to hold Hussein responsible for things that people under his rule had done, but simply to remove him from power by force. Codevilla rails against the failures of the bipartisan foreign policy elite while endorsing the biggest foreign policy blunder of the last forty years.

Codevilla’s other preferences for what the U.S. should have done over the years read like a crazy hawk’s wish list:

But he laments the lost opportunity to punish Syria after Damascus instigated the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut; our failure to use the 150,000 American troops in Iraq in 2003 to destroy the Bashar al-Assad regime in retaliation for hosting anti-American forces; and the Bush administration’s 2006 decision to halt Israel’s attack on Hezbollah….A fortiori, Codevilla argues, America should have made war on Iran in response to the 1979 seizure of American diplomats and other acts of war.

In other words, if there is an opportunity to turn an incident or crisis into a shooting war, or to escalate and expand a war that is already going on, or to start one anew, that is usually what Codevilla thinks the U.S. should be doing. Needless to say, this has nothing to do with making or keeping the peace for America or anyone else, but would be a recipe for more unnecessary wars as well as larger, more costly, and bloodier wars than the U.S. has already been fighting.

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12 Comments To "To Make and Keep Peace: A Foreign Policy Without Restraint"

#1 Comment By BD On October 2, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

I find it a very odd passage–what Iraqi subjects were we trying to hold Saddam accountable for? I figure it must have been a typo–perhaps he meant “Afghanistan” instead of “Iraq”, because our invasion of Afghanistan was a way of punishing the Taliban government for hosting Al Quaeda?

Or perhaps he meant Iraq but got “ruler” and “subject” backwards, but even that makes little sense because we never wanted to “punish” the Iraqi people due to Saddam.

In any event, the rest of it comes down to “invade, destroy, punish” for every country in the Middle East except Israel, and you have to wonder how they expect that to turn out if they got their way.

#2 Comment By arrScott On October 2, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

“Peace” here is reminiscent of the “Choose Your Own Adventure Book” (I think Inside UFO 54-40) where at one point a space alien abductor gives the reader the choice between remaining in captivity or “going in peace.” If the reader chooses the latter and flips to the indicated page to continue the story, the alien replies, “In ‘peace?’ I meant, ‘pieces!'” and disintegrates the reader with a ray-gun.

#3 Comment By tbraton On October 2, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

“A fortiori, Codevilla argues, America should have made war on Iran in response to the 1979 seizure of American diplomats and other acts of war.”

I have been saying for some time now that, in order to maintain its credibility, the U.S. should attack Great Britain in retaliation for burning the White House in the War of 1812. As I recall, “the father of history,” Herodotus, explained the Persian Wars of the 5th century B.C. as arising out of the Phoenician seizure of Io from Argos many, many moons before the 5th century, which led to Jason’s and his Argonauts’raid on Colchis and the abduction of Medea, which led in turn to Paris’s abduction of Helen from Sparta, which led to the Trojan War and so on. So history has many examples to support Codevilla’s position.

#4 Comment By Joseph R. Stromberg On October 2, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

It’s past time for everyone to realize that Codevilla’s adoption of “country party” rhetoric in the last few years is just a way of repackaging an essentially neo-conservative “invade-the-world” program. If he starts talking about Bolingbroke’s Patriot King, it will still be the same program. The apple does not fall far from Claremont.

#5 Comment By HyperIon On October 2, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

Thanks, DL, (i guess) for introducing me to yet another right-wing wacko, Angelo Codevilla. Will the supply ever run out?

#6 Comment By simon94022 On October 2, 2014 @ 1:47 pm

I agree with this analysis, but it does seem hard to square with what Codevilla writes here:


Whatever Codevilla’s shortcomings, his is one of the relatively few public voices against America’s perpetual state of war. Hardly a neocon who wants to invade the world.

#7 Comment By Daniel Larison On October 2, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

It’s true that he isn’t always in favor of every intervention. As the review says, he was against taking part in the Syrian civil war. The point I’m trying to make is that his brand of “super-hawk” foreign policy is still one that would commit the U.S. to fight many more wars than necessary, and because he insists on responding to every provocation and incident with full-scale war the U.S. would be overreacting and attacking other countries all the time. In some respects, he may not be as delusional as neoconservatives, but in other ways he is arguably much worse.

#8 Comment By William Dalton On October 2, 2014 @ 2:04 pm

I, for one, had never heard of Anthony Codevilla, certainly not in the pages of TAC. I am grateful to Daniel Larison for putting him on our radar, but given that there seems to be some doubt, even on Larison’s part, as to what Codevilla said and meant in his book, I think it would have been more valuable to write and publish a review of his actual book, instead of commenting upon the analysis of another reviewer.

#9 Comment By Daniel Larison On October 2, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

In fact, TAC published a review of his book earlier this year: [4]

I’m not sure how this interpretation can be squared with the views that were highlighted in the other review. I’m not interested in Goldman’s review except as it relays Codevilla’s views on specific foreign policy issues, and those were the views I addressed here. Based on what I know Codevilla has argued in the past and based on what I have read about his latest book, I have no doubt that he remains as “super-hawkish” as ever. The fact that he has taken to cloaking this in rhetoric about peace and “minding our own business” does not change that.

#10 Comment By tbraton On October 2, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

“The fact that he has taken to cloaking this in rhetoric about peace and “minding our own business” does not change that.”
Like William Dalton, I had only recently become aware of Angelo Codevilla, when I started seeing a flurry of articles by him posted on RCP. It was in one of those articles (which I have been trying to track down) where he cites approvingly the foreign policy views of our founding fathers, such as G. Washington and JQAdams. But, on reading the article closely, he cited Washington’s words early in his first presidency claiming the need to carry a hefty sword. I found another article in which he equates Washington with Teddy Roosevelt. So, like Larison, I am suspicious of his attempts to forge a new foreign policy. Looks like old wine in new bottles to me. And not a particularly good old wine.

#11 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 3, 2014 @ 1:01 am

no matter what country or epoch you’re in, there will always be the militarists of 1935 Japan, the warmongers of Italy and Germany ready to counsel or provoke bloodshed and conquest. America’s not exceptional enough not to fall into the same trap, except, perhaps, to do it as per Cheney, “Big Time.”

#12 Comment By Peter Strzelecki Rieth On October 3, 2014 @ 5:17 am

I remember in my Political Science 101 course, we tried to read Codevilla’s “Character of Nations” at one point, but it was so boring that we just went back to reading Aristotle.

I see this was not a bad instinct.