Angelo M. Codevilla: Advice To War Presidents

Chaitanya Jyothi Museum Opening, 2000

In the Name of The Father, and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit, Amen.



Angelo M. Codevilla is justly esteemed a political philosopher of the first water, of the highest translucence.  I consider him the peer-successor of his countryman (of birth) Niccolò Machiavelli.

Political philosophy (statecraft) always has been the telos of my observations and inquiries.  In recent years I assigned that purpose a phrase originated, as best I know, by Immanuel Kant: Theological Geography.

My teachers in philosophy and political philosophy uniformly portrayed Machiavelli as a dark genius, or, a genius of dark arts.  A cynic, a manipulator, a man who espoused power for power’s sake, a lackey of lords and ladies of station.  They were teaching me Marxism — in the 1950s and 1960s!  Yet, always my teachers’ tone conveyed jealousy of Niccolò’s accomplishments and awe beneath his commanding intellect and fortitude.  They would like to have been as keen and clever as he was.  That was obvious.  What was not obvious, to me at least, was that Machiavelli was as my teachers described him.

So I let the matter rest pro tem and segued to my other favorite — and, it turns out, kissin’ cousins of political philosophy — observations and inquiries: mathematics, theology and music.

Lately, one of our sons commended to my attention Codevilla’s Advice To War Presidents: A Remedial Course In Statecraft.  I had not known of it, regrettably.  Now I am reading it.

Angelo is my age, 1943 model, older by a few months.  His literary style is aphoristic, maximal, epigraphic, as is mine.  His being a Philosophical Realist (Plotinus, Augustine), to be contrasted with Philosophical Nominalist (Pelagius, Abelard), accounts for that literary style, as it does mine.

There follow Codevilla maxims in Advice To War Presidents that compel my admiration:

Page 96: Thus with overconfidence both of solipsism, twentieth-century American diplomacy neglected statecraft’s primordial questions: What exactly are we after?  What does it take to persuade whom of what?  What means are sufficient to what ends?

Page 98: Diplomacy’s indispensable first step, then, is not to confuse diplomacy aimed at agreements that accommodate both side’s interests with the kind that is essentially another weapon of war.

Page 108-9: In its February 12, 2007 , issue, decide a story headlined “The Weight Of The World,” Time magazine pictured a pensive Secretary of State Rice.  Its point, that she and her Administration were not up to bringing peace to the Middle East, managing China’s rise, Russia’s slide, North Korea’s armaments, and Africa’s tragedies, was based on the supposition that managing the world is the task of American foreign policy.  It isn’t.  Any country’s foreign policy, including America’s can only manage that country’s interests.  Confusing your country’s interests with anybody else’s, imagining you can bear their burdens, well nigh guarantees you will end up harming all you touch.  Your country’s burdens are heavy enough.  If you manage to bear them well, you will have done your job.

Page 111: Quoting Machiavelli at length, from his Discourses:

Money … will not defend you but will cause you to be plundered all the sooner.  Nor could any idea be more false than the popular opinion of wealth as the sinew of war. … Good soldiers are the sinew of war and not gold, because gold is insufficient to find soldiers, but good soldiers are more than sufficient to find gold. … Money is certainly necessary as a secondary consideration, but it is a need that good soldiers overcome by themselves, because it is impossible for good soldiers to lack money, just as it is impossible for wealth alone to create good soldiers.

Page 122: In short, economic stratagems are potent insofar as they are parts of serious plans for victory.

Page 124: Pretense of doing something, it seems, is the comfortable middle option between doing nothing and admitting it.

Page 135: In economic affairs, as in others, what you have means less than what you mean to do with it.

Page 145: Wars Are For Winning

Page 145: As men are born to die in pain, so nations are born and die in war.

Page 145: Though not every war seems to place a regime’s life at risk, they all do.

Page 145: Because killing and dying engages any regime’s legitimacy to the fullest, war is the ultimate election.

Page 146: In fact, there is no such thing as peace simply.

Page 146: In short, war’s ugliness must not blind us to its primordial function — establishing peace.  But whose peace?  That’s what wars decide.

Page 147: Hence war is essentially a clash of purposes.  Only derivatively is it a clash of arms.

Page 147: Hence, war’s essential discipline is figuring out what peace you want, as well as pointing out the moral obstacles to that peace.  Only in light of that does killing make sense.

Page 150: Twentieth-century American statesmen’s reticence about the very word war coupled with their willingness to engage military forces reminds us of Voltaire’s quip that ladies tremble at hearing of certain things, though they do not hesitate to do them.  And like those ladies, our statesmen demurely put themselves in positions where doing it is inevitable.

Page 152: In sum, Twentieth-century American statesmen sometimes wielded the tools of war without intending to make war, and at other times intended war but eschewed the tools.  They confuse war with actions: with bombing or “boots on the ground,” with killing and dying, with campaigns against every physical and social ill, with teaching lessons or punishing, with occupying and building nations.  But war is none of these.  War is a deadly contest for your peace.

Page 153: Hence, self-preservation’s prerequisite is to shed any sense of entitlement to your peace, to be ever conscious how your regime might be undone.

Page 153: Competent regimes wake war in ways that bring them peace, above all internally.

Page 153: Perpetual foreign war becomes civil war.

Page 156: But surely judging in one’s own cause under the shadow of death is hazardous intellectually as well as morally.  It is also inevitable.

Page 156: Prestige is worth fighting for because it is a currency in international affairs that often buys peace more cheaply than blood or money.  Cicero arguing to give Pompey the kitchen along with its sink in order to crush Mithridades:

Therefore consider whether it is right for you to hesitate to continue to support enthusiastically a war in which we are defending Rome’s reputation as a great power, the safety and security of our allies, the principal sources of our tax revenues, and the fortunes of a very large number of individual citizens — all matters intimately connected with our national interest.

Page 156: Realist and Liberal Internationalist doctrine to the contrary notwithstanding, cold calculations of collective material interest move few decisions about war and peace.

Page 157: So you should ask, “Who among them wants what?”  And “Who among us wants what?”

Page 157: The word honor should be in your vocabulary, if only because more people bet their lives on immaterial considerations than on material ones.  Human beings — especially the livelier ones — value primacy, integrity, self-regard, deference, glory, above life itself.

Page 158-160: America’s Cause:

Live differently: all men are created equal (no titles of nobility), obey the laws of nature and nature’s God, lead quiet and peaceable lives.
Therefore, must be independent.
Therefore must force respectleaving no favor unrewarded and no offense unpunished.

Unless statesmen exact multiple eyes or teeth for one, fellow citizens end up paying with arms, legs, and heads.

President George W. Bush’s 2005 inaugural statement that America cannot rest or be free unless and until all the world is free (meaning that we can never be free, never at peace) may well be the most concise antithesis ever of what America is about.

Moreover, navies work best closest to their own shores and worst closest to enemy shores.  But today’s steersmen want a navy fit primarily to project power deep into the Old World’s landmass.

Our statesmen would do well to ponder the historic disaster that overtook Athens’ navy — the high tech wonder of the age — when it was committed to supporting a faraway land campaign.

And of course, Washington, Adams, Lincoln and Seward, and TR were as clear as Thucydides, Livy (and, indeed, Augustus) had been that your interest, your involvement is related inversely to the distance from home.

Page 161: Washington and J. Q. Adams were right: We should enlist only in our own cause.  And Lincoln pointed in the right direction: America is so endowed that once we get our causes right the rest will take care of itself.

Page 162: By the same token, though Wahabi Islam is alien and repulsive to us, it becomes our enemy only insofar as it animates Saudi Arabia, has billions of dollars at its disposal, and uses them to foment deadly hatred for Americans through the mosques and organizations it pays for in America as well.

Page 162: Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was both the epitome of despotism and America’s closest diplomatic ally — for the finest geopolitical reasons.  Because the Russian fleet visited New York in the Civil War’s darkest days, as Britain was building Confederate ships and France was trying to take Mexico, Lincoln referred to the Tsar as my great and good friend.

Page 163: Fully to understand who our enemies may be, we must  be clear about who, specifically, if eliminated or constrained, will give us our peace.

Page 163: Nothing quite so foredooms a war as misidentifying the enemy or indecision about whether someone or something is to be crushed or propitiated or left alone.

Page 164: Though Christianity disinclines us from paying due attention to it, the fact is that welcomed is the enemy clearly marked off from the population at large.

Page 164: Since this has always been so, you must conclude that then contemporary American notion that war must spare innocent civilians can be counterproductive to the extent that the problem resides in whole societies.

Page 165: So what does it take to undo widespread impediments to our peace?  The only sensible answer a priori is: it takes what it takes — in short, unless we want to drift in the narcotic hope that movements and regimes that have prospered by whetting appetites for American blood will place themselves at risk to curb them, that those who have fought us will now fight for us, we have no reasonable choice but to do whatever intimidation, killing, starving, and humiliating it takes to dismay them, eliminate them, discredit them, quickly to accommodate whoever may dream of martyrdom, and to be indiscriminate enough so that those around them will turn on them to save themselves.  The logic of war demands that you do this to whoever gives you cause.  When you designate someone an enemy, you may be mistaken.  But failing to acknowledge demonstrated enmity is worse than a mistake.

Page 165: They [The National Strategy of the United States (NCS) and The National Military Strategy (DOD)] make no attempt to show why anyone should reasonably expect what the US government does to achieve the things the US government wishes.  But strategy is precisely the intellectual connection between ends and means: a concrete , reasonable plan for using what you’ve got to get what you want.  The difference between thoughtless acts and empty wishes on one side and strategy on the other is reason.  A plan qualifies as strategy insofar as the success of the operations is prescribes is reasonably likely to put your peace in your grasp and insofar as these operations are in your power to accomplish.

Page 166: But the logic of war demands that the plan for getting in be the same as for getting out — namely that it be a strategy for victory.

Page 166: Are you bringing all of the available tools to bear as best you can?  Forbearing any of them for whatever reason, betrays your people and your troops.

Page 175: In short, the individuals, groups, and states that have caused havoc in the West have not done so by force majeure.  Rather, their force mineure has sufficed only because the West has indulged them.  They have pushed against open doors, found more acquiescence than they or anyone else imagined a generation ago.  Were Westerners intent on war, and were the brightest of minds to elaborate a strategy to avoid their destruction, they would have little to work with.  In short, their strength is neither more nor less than our reticence.

Page 175: Just as clearly, many well-placed Americans prefer we suffer terrorism at the level in which we are suffering it, hoping that it will decrease or not get worse, rather than do the things that would crush the terrorists.  Why they prefer this to war is all-important.  But it is beyond our scope.

Page 175-176: By the logic of war, lively examples of what happens to those who give us offense motivate others to avoid their fates.  The other side of that common sense coin is the lesson of which Secretary of State J. Q. Adams reminded President James Monroe in 1823, the lesson by which Americans statesmen lived for a century and that Wilson and his successors forgot: If you want others to leave you alone, it really helps to leave them alone too.

Page 178: The surest path to unbloody victory is the prospect that fighting would result in bloody triumph.  If you try elegantly to deter the enemy without a military balance unbalanced on your side, and if there is any doubt you are willing, even eager, to reap that imbalance’s fruits; if there is the slightest hint that you might not have your whole heart in the fight, above all if the enemy suspects that substituting deterrence for fighting is itself your chief objective, then you will end up having deterred yourself.  Strategy is the opposite of bluff.

Page 179: The only reason why you shoot is what happens after you shoot, because you shoot; moreover, the only people you want to kill, the only things you want to destroy, are the ones that endanger your life and peace.

Page 179-180: Just as strategy must serve the purpose of peace, operations must serve the purpose of strategy.  Just as screwdrivers are useful only on the screws for which they are fit, so ground, naval, and air forces, diplomacy, bribery, and subversion will serve your strategy only when you use them in the ways for which they are fit.  Seldom is good strategy served by operations that do not make sense in and of themselves.

Page 180: The United States has never been, is not, and never can be a great land power — except in North America.  Just as our interests in the Old World’s depths are limited, so is our power.  …  Geography is the reason.  …  There is no military reason for living in replenished mine fields.  …  But no amount of steel can make sense of using infantry as police, much less in minefields.  In short, for the strategy to make sense the operations have to make sense.

[He is talking about OIF and by inference OEF.  I suspect he is not facing the fact that there was no strategy for either Operation, which is to say, theatre-level strategy derived from USA grand national strategic objective.]

Page 180-181: But in Iraq after April 2003, day after day, year after year, US troops on foot or in armored vehicles patrolled Iraqi streets that were replenished minefields — and some two-thirds of US casualties came from walking and driving around in them.  There is no military reason for living in replenished minefields.  The US government tried to lower casualties by providing the troops with more body armor and some heavily armored vehicles.  But no amount of steel can make sense of using infantry as police, much less in minefields.  In short, for the strategy to make sense the operations have to make sense.

Page 181: Few nostrums are as misleading as “control of the sea depends on ships.”  In fact, ships are a good second to the primary method: controlling the land that controls the sea.  In fact, the Mediterranean became the Romans’ mare nostrum after Rome had conquered all its shores, and the nineteenth-century Britain dominated the oceans not so much because they were crawling with British ships but rather because it controlled the lands around the passages to and from the oceans: Gibraltar, Suez, Singapore, Cape Town, the Falklands.

Page 181-182: The most important of our naval operations is controlling mid-ocean from bases in the United States.  The ships being designed and the crews trained for projecting a little conventional power onto distant shores against small-time enemies will be useless for defending the major islands, and ships wasted in halfhearted efforts to defend these islands will not be available for controlling the middle of the oceans.

Page 182: Because the US Air Fore is built on the airpower myth, according to which strikes from the air determine the outcome of wars, it is America’s biggest obstacle to intelligent air operations.

Page 190: But what, precisely, would any given relationship between groups in another land have to do with our peace?  Don’t hold your breath for an answer.

Page 190: But victory in our time is as self-evident as ever.  If you can’t celebrate it in peace and safety, with flags flying, bands blaring, and enemies dead or cringing, chances are it’s not the real thing.

Page 191:  Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Intelligence is not to be confused with intelligence.

Angelo M. Codevilla: Use intelligence, not intelligence.

Page 192: We begin to grasp the difference between information and intelligence by asking: What would you do with this tidbit that you would not do without it?  What difference does it make?  This recalls Gregory Bateson’s famous definition of information: a difference that makes a difference.

Page 192: The black arts of intelligence and subversion are so attractive — especially to those who know little about them — because of the truism that knowledge of foreigners’ secrets may let us avoid fights or win them cheaply, and that whereas economic force is blunt, diplomacy amounts to asking, and war is hazardous, it can be cheap and effective to put words in the right ears, coins in the right pockets, or bullets in the right heads.  But information is useful only insofar as you make intelligent use of it, and even inherently useful knowledge does not craft plans reasonably to succeed, or square your ends with your means.

Page 192: As for the stratagems of subversion, the US government is the only one that ever mystified them by assigning them exclusively to an intelligence agency, the CIA.

Page 193: The problem the CIA was created to fix was a myth of its own making.  [That USG did not see Pearl Harbor attack coming.]

Page 195: Thus the intelligence community does not ask “How must we shape ourselves to answer this question?” but rather “What do we have on this?” and, above all, “What do we really think about this?”  In short, US intelligence became a classic producer-dominated system, with bias unleavened by responsibility.

Page 200: Because they do, the more closely an intelligence devise is to firing weapons, the likelier it is actually to serve its intended purpose.

Page 200-201: Thus defining the instrument of human collection has the same effect as defining the instruments of technical collection in terms of “the best technology.”  Namely, it precludes the question “Best for what?”  Precluding that question, and building an espionage system designed for bureaucratic convenience rather than to approach this or that kind of target, is attractive because it permits the illusion that the system is capable of getting at everything and anything.  The opposite is true.

Page 202: In our time, it also depends on the worth of the CIA’s theory of terrorism, which became official US doctrine in 1993, namely, that terrorists are “rogue” individuals and groups rather than direct or indirect agents of states.

To be continued …

Update 1: Angelo M. Codevilla: The 2016 Election Is Not Reversible

Update 2: Angelo M. Codevilla: Replacing The Republican Party

Update 3: Establishment GOP Puts Cronies over Country on Missile Defense


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