One of the crowning ironies of the age, to use a really pretentious phrase, is that the main site of anti-war rallies staged over the past decade—academia—is also the source of American foreign policy in Iraq. Witness, the CIA director who told President George W. Bush that the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was a “slam dunk” became a professor at Georgetown where he could look out the window and see his old boss hung in effigy for following the former top spy’s advice.
“This is because the logic that flows from the heights of American universities through the bureaucracies and the war colleges, which transforms conscientious junior officers into nodding generals, forecloses fruitful options leaving only the choice between the futility of nation-building and the deadly unseriousness of drone strikes and hit teams,” Angelo M. Codevilla writes in the Winter 2009/10 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. “Typical of our ruling class’s decisions, President Obama’s December 2009 Afghanistan plan committed to both: to nation-building while denying that he was doing so, and to remote strikes while holding out no hope of eliminating enemy strongholds.” Codevilla is a professor emeritus at Boston University. The Claremont Review is published by the Claremont Institute.
“Only one fifth of American casualties came in what one normally thinks of as combat,” Codevilla notes of the Iraq operation. “Some three fifths came from ‘improvised explosive devices,’ roadside bombs, or other booby traps. That is, from our troops having to operate in what amounted to a constantly replenished minefield.”
“About one fifth came from rules of engagement that prohibited our troops from defending themselves until after enemies had started killing them.” Codevilla serves as Vice Chairman of the U.S. Army War College Board of Visitors.
He also served as an advisor to President Reagan. “Ronald Reagan sent fewer troops into battle than any modern president other than Jimmy Carter,” writes Donald Devine, a former Reagan Administration official. “Mr. Reagan unlike Mr. Carter did utilize numerous limited, quick in-and-out air and unconventional forces interventions – Libya, for example – and he did greatly improve U.S. forces and won the Cold War.” Devine served in the Reagan Administration as director of the Office of Personnel Management.
Incidentally, post-Reagan presidents increased U. S. military commitments while cutting defense spending. President Reagan took the novel approach of avoiding this seesaw and, with it, the advice of the Washington establishment, as characterized above by Codevilla.
Indeed, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), President Reagan called up U. S. troops 15 times in eight years compared to 14 for his former vice-president, 66 for President Clinton and 29 in George W. Bush’s first term alone. Meanwhile, “Overall, such [defense] spending has averaged about 5 percent of GDP during the past 40 years and about 4 percent of GDP over the past 20 years,” the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports.
“Yes, he was also interested in advancing freedom in the world, but without using force,” Devine notes. “This commitment to peace was often seen as weakness, as when a George W. Bush White House staffer and his early FBI director both criticized President Reagan for ‘timidity’ for withdrawing U.S. Marines from Lebanon after 299 were massacred in a massive bombing in 1983.”
Perhaps his successors should have been so timid. “For decades, under Democrats and Republicans, liberal internationalists, neoconservatives, and realists, the U. S. government let the terrorist wave build,” Codevilla claims. “Then after 9/11 it spent over 5,000 American lives in Afghanistan and Iraq without achieving anything that it had promised, while conducting a self-discrediting diplomacy toward Iran, Russia, North Korea, and China.”
Codevilla offers an interesting take on how we came to such an impasse. “In 2002, the State Department and CIA were particularly protective of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq—State because keeping Iraq under Sunni rule pleased the Arab world, and CIA because it believed that Saddam’s Baathist ruling party contained ‘moderate’ kindred souls,” he writes. “Hence both strove to prevent the 2003 U. S. invasion of Iraq.”
“Afterward they pressed for occupying the country to further their own particular visions of it. Meanwhile the Pentagon just wanted to overthrow Saddam.”
“Because straddling these conflicts took priority over critical thinking about ends and means, the U. S. government’s official justifications for the 2003 invasion of Iraq gave no strategic guidance; and its decision to occupy and reform the country turned an initial military success into a parody of war deadlier than war itself.”
Codevilla also served as a U.S. Senate staffer dealing with intelligence services.
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.