September 11, 2001, brought war to America. Two years later we are still far from achieving victory in that war. Until we do, "Remember 9/11," as Charles Kesler urged on the first grim anniversary, must be "a call to arms." We must "vow it" as a people, to remind ourselves why we fight, who we fight, and what we stand for.
In answering that call, as General Douglas MacArthur said a half century earlier, "there can be no substitute for victory," and to achieve that end, we must marshal all available means. To give shape to this end and to consider the best means, following the attack of September 11, 2001, the Claremont Review of Books began publishing "Victory Watch," a continuing assessment of the unfolding American war effort by Claremont Institute Senior Fellow Angelo Codevilla. This may be a fitting occasion to review the last two years of these war thoughts.
From the beginning, Codevilla has been, with very few concessions, a severe critic of the Bush Administration. Acknowledging that the president proclaimed at various times the essentially correct and necessary ends, Codevilla saw early evidence also of muddled thinking and of the administration's unwillingness to adopt the necessary means to these ends. He argued that the American war on terrorism was misconceived, that the initial focus on al-Qaeda and bin Laden was shortsighted, and that the administration's homeland security measures were worse than futile. To win the war, he contended, the United States must by military might and coercive diplomacy topple the regimes that make terrorists like Osama bin Laden possible.
We should not concern ourselves, said Codevilla, with what replaces those regimeskill them and come home. No nation building, please. We should take no responsibility for the internal affairs of defeated enemies, even though "left to themselves, the locals are not likely to be decent, prosperous, peaceful, or friendly." "What can we do? We can earn their respect by killing our enemies. Though we cannot make good regimes, we can kill harmful ones."
His definition of victory was simple and clear: It is a return to our peace, the American state of freedom and security on September 10, 2001. In Codevilla's words:
We will know we have won when Mr. Tom Ridge [head of the Department of Homeland Security] packs up and goes home to Pennsylvania.
Nothing is more important than to keep that in mind: that our objective is to live without security measures, to live freely and with confidence in one another.
On the first anniversary of September 11, the CRB invited several distinguished commentators to reflect on Codevilla's year-long analysis of our war effort. One respondent, the estimable Norman Podhoretz, offered both praise and strong disagreement:
Codevilla's critique of the American government's response to the attacks of September 11 is the most intellectually formidable of any I have seen. ...I am wholeheartedly with Codevilla when he asserts that we ought to "kill" the regimes in Iraq, Syria, and the PLO, which together "are the effective cause of global terrorism" (though I cannot fathom why he omits Iran and its satellite Lebanon from this list or, for that matter, our putative "friends" Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both of whom have incited and financed Palestinian suicide bombing). I am with him, too, when he adds that we should destroy these regimes "as quickly as possible"....
But I part company with Codevilla entirely when he tells us that in the highly unlikely event that we were to do all this, our best course would then be to pack up and go home.... I would argue that...we...have a right and a responsibility to leave behind a better system. And by "better" I, unlike Codevilla, mean more than merely a group of regimes that will be afraid to threaten us again. I mean a system that will at least contain the potentiality for an evolution toward democracy and economic health.
In the same symposium, David Tucker argued that Codevilla's vision of victory is a dream; we will never return to the state of peace and security status quo ante. And Codevilla's prescriptions, contrary to his stated aim, would result necessarily in an "endless warmaking" that is incompatible with the continuing existence of our republic.
On the eve of the battle of Iraq, Codevilla was willing to give the Bush administration some benefit of the doubt:
It is...possible...that U.S. military's advantages over Iraq could overwhelm confused planning. Iraqi troops might well collapse, leading to the shattering end typical of tyrannical regimes. The fate of Saddam could discourage the terror regimes of Palestine and Syria enough so that, under pressure from Israel and Turkey, they would cleanse themselves. Meanwhile, decent Iranians might be heartened to end the terrible regime that, since 1979, had produced misery at home and anti-Americanism abroad. The Saudi royal family could be replaced by persons who actually did useful work and did not feel the need to subsidize the world's terrorists. Following the changes in these regimes, terrorists would no longer hatch faster than we could catch them. After a while...the Bush Administration might consider sending Tom Ridge back to fixing parking tickets.... If the battle of Iraq turns out so, America will rightly thank the Bush team, confusion and all.
Following America's march to Baghdad, Codevilla was, briefly, congratulatory:
America and the world owe George W. Bush a debt of thanks. Nothing so avenged the victims of September 11 or so shielded Americans from the recurrence of similar disasters as unleashing the U.S. military on the Iraqi Ba'athist regime.
But congratulations were immediately conditioned on the truth of President Bush's promise that "the war would not be endless." And they were further qualified by criticism of the Bush administration for attempting to export "good government" to Iraq, instead of crushing the enemy and leaving; for failing to translate the military success of the battle of Iraq into victory in the larger war on Islamist terroristsfailing, that is, at "cleansing the Syrian, Palestinian, and Saudi sources of terrorism"; and for failing to set conditions for dismantling the homeland security bureaucracy.
In the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Codevilla offers his latest assessments, accompanied by important essays on the war by Mark Helprin and Harold W. Rood about which I will have something to say next week. Please pick up a copy at your local bookstore or newsstand, or subscribe here.
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No human affair is more fluid and unpredictable than war. The prudence that must govern the waging of war requires an unflinching grasp of fundamental realities and constant adjustment to changing circumstances. It is a lesson in moderation familiar to Americans since our founding, that in the most serious matters the best and most serious men will be often found to disagreeyet fateful choices must be made. That fact, from the beginning of recorded history, has been an inspiration to prayer.