Nine days after the fiendish attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush declared that any nation sponsoring, aiding, or harboring terrorists would be considered an enemy of the United States. In October, American forces launched punishing airstrikes on Afghanistan, then the headquarters of al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden. Assaulted by the land, sea, and air forces of the U.S. and its allies, Afghanistan’s Taliban regime soon collapsed. In November, the Claremont Review of Books published an essay by Angelo Codevilla titled “Victory: What it Will Take to Win.” In it, and in two subsequent essays, Codevilla, professor of international relations at Boston University and a spirited analyst of (and participant in) U.S. foreign and defense policy, argued that the U.S. “war on terrorism” is misconceived, that the focus on al-Qaeda and bin Laden is shortsighted, and that the homeland security measures are futile. To win the war, he contended, the United States must topple the regimes that make terrorists like Osama bin Laden possible, specifically the despots and ruling parties of Iraq, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority. As the anniversary of September 11 approaches—and as the war enters its second year—we asked five distinguished commentators to reflect on Codevilla’s assessment of the war. His reply follows.


William F. Buckley, Jr. 

Editor-at-Large, National Review

One of the deposits of Angelo Codevilla, with almost every one of his essays, is deep, heavy gloom. His analysis is so shrewd, his sense of human nature and its drives so highly developed, he confidently tells us what is going to happen, and it is quite awful. In the first of his essays for the Claremont Review of Books he explained, at some length, that there is no way in which the United States can protect itself from continued acts of terrorism. The reason is as simple as that the American people do not live surrounded by a moat, which means that there are 10,000 concentrations of people every day—in movie theaters, stadiums, parades, tourist centers, college graduation quadrangles—who are targets for terrorists; to be sure, terrorists one degree less ambitious than those who brought off the attacks of September 11.

He was right, there is no way we can protect ourselves. He was wrong in predicting that these assaults would ensue. In the most recent issue Mr. Gloom tells us that there will be suicide bombings on American streets. “Count on it.”

Well, I’m not going to count on it any more than on Codevilla’s forecast for the weeks following September 11, but with that demurral, I am with him on his overall analysis of deficient U.S. strategy. In that first essay, I thought him arresting and persuasive when he wrote that the personalization of the September massacre was precisely what we needed to do. We did it, to be sure, to Osama bin Laden, but he was never a large enough target. I myself wrote, soon after September 11, that we had a great deal to fear from actually finding and shooting bin Laden, which would have left us theatrically triumphant, queen bee inert in our hand, while the swarm continued its depredations. Something much larger than bin Laden needed decapitation, and I liked also that Codevilla declared that a great deal was to be gained by precisely condemning a real enemy—Saddam Hussein, a head of state—to death. Executing Saddam Hussein in Baghdad would not absolutely eliminate the hive, but the mailed fist would have been felt, and the consequences of it would still the hands of most of the terrorist-minded who think themselves agents of a political ideal.

Codevilla is right that from the beginning we have feared the consequences of living up to our own rhetorical demands. If we truly set out to “declare war” on those who shelter terrorists, let alone dispatch them, we’d be at war all over the place. Call it a world war. We needed a manageable target, and Iraq was it. It is, I think, too late to generate what would have served us so well, strategic marksmanship. Codevilla was right. He usually is. Count on it.

* * *

Frank Gaffney 

President, Center for Security Policy

Angelo Codevilla’s essay “What War?” dissected with characteristic brilliance the problems with the Bush Administration’s response to the attacks of September 11th. The good news is that, since that critique was published several months ago, President Bush and his national security team have corrected some of the policy and strategic defects identified by Codevilla. The bad news is that they have not done so across the board.

First, consider the positive steps: In the months since “What War?” was written, the President’s determination to remove Saddam Hussein from power has been formally and repeatedly declared. This decision reflects an appreciation not only that it was a grievous mistake to have allowed the Iraqi despot to remain in power eleven years ago but a belief that he will become a vastly more dangerous foe for the United States and its allies if not toppled forthwith.

Preparations to effect such a change of regime appear to be proceeding, involving military movements, diplomatic consultations, and other measures. This presidential direction reflects a decided departure from the notion that Codevilla has correctly ascribed to successive American governments—namely, that regional stability can only be achieved by preserving the status quo. If President Bush has his way, at least one Arab foe will be taken out before this war is over.

Equally important are the administration’s recent pronouncements to the effect that the United States is no longer going to legitimate, work with, and otherwise prop up the so-called “reformers” in the Iranian government. If the President is also serious about helping the people of Iran achieve their liberation, the status quo in the Persian Gulf could be changed beyond recognition—and very much to the advantage of U.S. interests and those of others who cherish freedom.

In the past few months, President Bush has also taken important steps to counter the Arab bait-and-switch aimed at implicating this country in what Codevilla correctly calls “their war”—the long-running and relentless campaign to destroy Israel. By declaring that numerous, systemic political and leadership changes must precede the establishment of a Palestinian state and American recognition of same, Mr. Bush has created a new opportunity to return the focus of America’s war back where it belongs.

Finally, there are, in addition to the foregoing, signs that the Saudi Arabians are losing the privileged status they have enjoyed and exploited in Washington over the past few decades. To be sure, this is partly a product of American popular revulsion at: the Saudis’ involvement in the September 11 attacks; their lack of cooperation in investigating this and other acts of anti-U.S. terror; their support for suicide bombers in Israel and Wahhabist-sponsored recruitment, indoctrination, and terrorism elsewhere around the globe; the excessive influence exercised by the Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar, the array of former U.S. officials and ambassadors on his payroll and the various subversive political, media, and ostensibly theological organizations they have created in this country over the past four decades; and the House of Saud’s repressive, indeed Talibanesque, application of Sharia law against women, non-believers, and U.S. service personnel. Still, the sea-change is palpable and if not reversed will prove to be of enormous strategic import.

While these and similar steps are promising correctives to several of the serious policy defects Professor Codevilla identified a few months back, they will only contribute to a genuine victory in the present war if further actions are taken without delay. These include:

  • Equipping, training, funding, and otherwise empowering the Iraqi National Congress to serve as an effective opposition umbrella group in Iraq—an essential ingredient to the liberation of that country and to giving it a chance for peace and stability post-Saddam.
  • Providing whatever financial, informational, and material support is needed to help the Iranian people end the theocrats’ misrule in Teheran.
  • Working closely with non-Wahhabist Muslims in this country and abroad to counter the effects of that sect’s virulent anti-American and anti-Western pedagogy and recruitment, while cutting off Saudi support for same.
  • Taking the war in appropriate ways to all of our enemies, not just al-Qaeda.
  • Complementing other defensive measures at home by building and deploying at once effective protection against ballistic missile attack.

To accomplish any, let alone all, of these prerequisites for victory in the war begun on September 11, the Bush Administration must adopt one of Angelo Codevilla’s most trenchant recommendations: It must change not only “longstanding foreign policy priorities and intellectual habits, [but] the people who run U.S. intelligence and diplomacy.” Only by staffing the State Department and CIA with individuals who want the President to succeed in the present war—and who are willing to help him do so—is there a chance of avoiding an outcome in which, when it is over, the question will be “What victory?”

* * *

Mackubin T. Owens

Professor of Strategy and Force Planning,
U.S. Naval War College

There is little of substance in Angelo Codevilla’s series on the terror war with which I would quibble. He is especially on target when he criticizes the whole concept of homeland security. He is also dead right when he formulates in his first installment the four attitudes that traditionally have informed the U.S. approach to the use of force.

The problem with the series is Codevilla’s failure to give any consideration to prudence in the development and implementation of policy and strategy. This failure creates an unrelenting negativism that can only end in defeatism. Codevilla’s apparent inability to distinguish between the Clinton and Bush administrations when it comes to international relations and the use of force is akin to suggesting in 1861 that there was no difference between the Buchanan and Lincoln administrations.

Indeed, Codevilla puts me in mind of nothing so much as the Radical Republicans who harried Lincoln throughout the Civil War. Eschewing prudence and ignoring the political conditions that Lincoln faced, they constantly criticized him for his timidity. But had they prevailed in forcing their policies on Lincoln, the Union cause most likely would have been lost in 1862.

We praise Lincoln for his prudence in navigating the minefields of American politics during the Civil War. President Bush deserves the same consideration. In accordance with the dictates of prudence, he, like Lincoln, has skillfully modified his policy in order to adapt to changing circumstances. This is not insignificant.

In fact, only a blind man could fail to note the substantial differences between the Bush and Clinton Administrations. Bush’s State of the Union speech laid out a new foreign policy. The Bush Administration now has a declared policy of regime change and preemption. And perhaps most significantly, President Bush, having “given peace a chance” in the Middle East, now essentially has thrown the weight of the United States behind Israel. In other words, President Bush has begun to implement all the policies that Codevilla advocated in his first article, albeit not as quickly as the good professor would like.

But that’s the point. For political reasons, President Bush was not able to effect these changes immediately any more than Lincoln was able to proclaim emancipation in 1861. Such a step surely would have led to the Union’s loss of Kentucky and Missouri—and possibly even Maryland. The political cost of precipitous action to President Bush likewise would have been high.

I don’t think I need to remind Codevilla that the essence of prudence is the ability to adapt the universal principle to particular circumstances. The right policy, as Codevilla argues, is to effect regime changes in states such as Iraq and to abandon the “evenhanded” approach to the Arab-Israeli dispute. But prudence dictates when and how the policy is to be implemented, which in turn depends a great deal on the circumstances.

For instance, Codevilla decries the fact that we have not yet attacked Iraq. But he must know that current conditions, mostly having to do with weather, climate, and the “tyranny of distance,” do not favor military action for a few more months. Precipitous action in the gulf would be as risky as an Allied attempt to invade Europe would have been in 1942 or 1943.

An insistence upon rapid action also ignores the greatest military advantage the United States possesses—dominance of the world’s “commons,” viz., the sea, space, and air. This advantage means that the United States does not have to strike rapidly. We can bide our time until conditions are optimal. We don’t need to risk precipitous action.

Codevilla also ignores some other points. To begin with, he seems adamant that there is a single response to terrorism. But as the Prussian “philosopher of war” Carl von Clausewitz wrote over a century and a half ago, “The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish…the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.” But it is also the most difficult because the answer ultimately depends on the interaction of the belligerents. Since both sides can adapt and change, the kind of war we will be fighting will not necessarily remain constant but will be mutable and may change as conditions change.

Finally, Codevilla seems to believe that his proposals will assure a final victory. But surely he is familiar with what Clausewitz had to say about the finality of war: “even the ultimate outcome of a war is not always to be regarded as final. The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.”

Codevilla is fond of citing Machiavelli. Perhaps, in the political context of a democratic republic, he should think more in terms of Aristotle. The issue is not the right policy, but when it is prudent to implement it.

* * *

Norman Podhoretz 

Senior Fellow, the Hudson Institute, and
Editor-at-Large, Commentary

Angelo 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. There is no disagreeing with much of what he says about the weaknesses of the CIA and the FBI; about some of the methods by which the administration has thus far been trying to make us more secure; and about the confusion that has resulted from its original misconceptions regarding the nature of the Arab regimes and the war they have been waging against Israel.

Yet in Codevilla’s own opinion, even if the CIA and the FBI were perfect, we would still remain vulnerable to terrorist assault. “There will surely be more attacks, and of increasing seriousness,” Codevilla assures us, including “suicide bombings on American streets.”

Yes; and yet, as of late July, none of this has (thank God) materialized. It is a great puzzle, and despite much strenuous lucubration I have been unable to come up with a persuasive explanation. Perhaps, then, for all the missteps our government has taken in this area, it has been doing something right. Perhaps enough terrorist “sleepers” in the United States have been arrested to frustrate their immediate designs. And perhaps the grilling of all those prisoners in Guantanamo has yielded information that has further hampered such designs.

But Codevilla not only ridicules the Bush Administration’s “homeland security” measures as ineffective; he also casts a cold eye on its conduct of the war abroad. In his judgment, the campaign in Afghanistan has taken on the wrong enemy in the wrong place for the wrong reasons and by the wrong means.

Here again, however, even granting some of his criticisms, perhaps this campaign actually has disrupted the terrorist network, and perhaps those daisy cutters have sufficiently frightened the state sponsors of terrorism to induce second thoughts about the desirability of other operations that were in the offing. The terrorist dog that has not (yet!) barked would strongly suggest that this indeed is what has been accomplished by the pursuit of al-Qaeda and the toppling of the Taliban.

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” by capturing their leaders and then subjecting them to punishments ranging from execution to imprisonment to banishment from public life—just as we did with the Nazis.

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. So long as the successor regimes do not make war on us, he declares, it is none of our business how they govern themselves. The “kind of political reconstruction we performed in Germany and Japan” is out because “what happens in Iraq is simply not as important to us as the internal developments of Germany and Japan were.”

Yet Codevilla never explains why the character of the successor regimes in Iraq, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority would be of no great concern to the United States. In any case, I strongly disagree with his view. I would remind Codevilla of his own observation that the Middle East as it exists today was created not by Allah but by the West after the First World War. From this much else follows along with our right to get rid of a bunch of murderers and thugs who have now turned on us.

Indeed, as against Codevilla, I would argue that, having helped these criminals assume and keep power, we now also 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. If necessary, we should ensure that this happens precisely the way we did in Germany and Japan: through temporary imperial control that would clear enough political space for the sprouting of indigenous alternatives.

Codevilla is convinced that even if so grand an ambition were attainable, the American people are unsuited to pursuing it. Well, my sense of things is that most of us now yearn for the nation to perform the great and glorious deeds of which, time and again, it has proved itself capable.

As for George W. Bush, Codevilla thinks that all he wants is to maintain the status quo. But to believe this requires brushing off the Bush Doctrine as first enunciated in the President’s great speech of September 20, 2001 and then fleshed out in three subsequent addresses. In these statements, Bush repudiated moral relativism; officially adopted an understanding of terrorism as dependent upon states that must be held accountable for sponsoring it; asserted a lawful determination to launch a preemptive attack on Iraq (and any other countries that seek to equip terrorists with weapons of mass destruction); and at long last placed Israel’s war against terrorism into the context of our own.

Taken seriously, those four speeches undermine much of Codevilla’s account. But what is more important, for all the mistakes the President may have committed, and even if his actions are bound to fall short of his promises, Bush’s formal statements are infused with so much force of their own that not all the Colin Powells in all the chancelleries of the world can in the long run fully succeed in denying them their due.

* * *

David Tucker

Associate Professor of Defense Analysis,
Naval Postgraduate School

Angelo Codevilla says that the current war on terrorism consists of homeland security, more intelligence, and bringing al-Qaeda to justice. This war is a failure in his view because homeland security is silly, impotent, and counterproductive; more intelligence, an impossibility; and bringing al-Qaeda to justice, misconceived and a diversion. The war on terrorism should be, according to Codevilla, the destruction of Iraq, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority and the hanging of every member of the ruling parties of those states, which “are the effective cause of global terrorism.” This mayhem is necessary in order to achieve what Codevilla believes should be the objective of the war: “Americans . . . living a quiet and peaceable life, if possible less troubled by the troubles . . . of the world, even freer from searches and sirens . . . than on September 10.”

Codevilla is a tough guy. But he is wrong about the current war and wrong in his own prescriptions.

First, the current war. Codevilla’s criticism of homeland security and intelligence (the human component of which he has misunderstood for years) can be dismissed out of hand. His argument amounts to saying that they are no good because they are not perfect. No one claims they are. No one believes that “passive anti-terrorism” suffices. That something is not sufficient does not mean that it is not necessary. At great length, Codevilla smashes a straw man. His claim that going after al-Qaeda is a diversion rests on the assumption that terrorist organizations are just fronts for state intelligence services. They are not. They gain from the assistance of such services as states benefit from the actions of terrorists, but terrorist organizations arise and exist independently of state support. Consider one example: contrary to what Codevilla implies, terrorists made suicide bombing an effective weapon against the United States long before Iraq and others started giving martyr bonuses to the bombers’ families. Another example: Codevilla says that the use by terrorists of stolen identities is a mark of support by major league intelligence services. Are the Iraqis responsible for the current problem of identity theft in the United States? Are they responsible for the acquisition around the world on a daily basis of passports and visas through bribery? The terrorists opened bank accounts with phony social security numbers that no one bothered to check. As it would be self-defeating to ignore the aid provided to terrorists by states, so it is self-defeating to ignore the autonomous capabilities of violent clandestine organizations. Codevilla misunderstands and underestimates our enemies.

What of his prescriptions? Without the bombast, Codevilla’s objectives are banal: peace and the domestic security status quo ante. The latter is unattainable. If there were no terrorists, others would still seek to exploit our vulnerabilities at home. Chinese military officers have described how to do this in their writings. Instead of longing for some imagined past, it would be better, in light of our fundamental principles, to think seriously about the changes we might make.

Codevilla believes this unnecessary because he proposes to destroy those abroad who would threaten us at home. But we will not be able to stop with Iraq, Syria, and the Palestinian Authority. What about Iran? Codevilla is oddly silent about the Islamic republic, although it has provided more support to terrorists than either Iraq or Syria. What about China? Enemies are endless and so, on Codevilla’s argument, will be our regime destroying wars. Is endless warmaking compatible with his objective of “Americans . . . living a quiet and peaceable life”? Why will those we attack not attack us at home with terrorism? Worse, will not our endless warfare and slaughtering and hanging abroad inevitably and adversely affect our republican way of life at home?

Codevilla apparently thinks his plan will work either because we will slaughter enemies faster than our slaughtering makes new ones or because our strutting will cow our enemies. He is proposing attrition warfare without regard for either the character of the enemy we face or the domestic and international politics in which we must operate. Codevilla epitomizes the worst of narrow conventional military thinking made, if possible, even worse in his case because shorn of the restraint that comes from responsibility.

Conservatives and conservative publications should beware of tough-guy posturing. In this case, extremism in the defense of liberty is a vice and moderation in the pursuit of justice would be a virtue.

To read Angelo Codevilla’s reply, click here.