Posted: January 29, 2007
Angelo Codevilla, whose work I have long admired, too hastily convicts the Bush Administration of confusion in its war on terror ("Confusion and Power" Spring 2003). Codevilla claims that as late as February 2003, "The Bush team remained of two minds about whether to change Iraq's regime or merely 'disarm it.' " This is to quibble. Whatever the disagreement about verbiage, the administration and most Americans, I think, understood perfectly well that the two goals were in practice identical, since Saddam was not going to disarm voluntarily.
Codevilla also believes that immediately after September 11, Bush had sided with Colin Powell and others and "rejected the connection between regimes and terrorism," thus undermining his own later Iraqi policy. Bob Woodward's Bush at War, upon which Codevilla primarily relies, shows otherwise. Bush indeed sided with Powell over Rumsfeld in choosing to "start with bin Laden" (Woodward, pp. 43, 48), and not go after Iraq and others at the same time; but this was merely a tactical decision. "[I]f we could prove that we could be successful in [the Afghanistan] theater," explained Bush, "then the rest of the task would be easier. If we tried to do too many things…the lack of focus would have been a huge risk" (Woodward, p. 84). Bush told his team "that the ideal result from this campaign would be to kick terrorists out of some places like Afghanistan and through that action persuade other countries that had supported terrorism in the past, such as Iran, to change their behavior" (Woodward, p. 81).
But in Afghanistan itself, Codevilla alleges, Bush was confused about the objective—was it simply to punish al-Qaeda, or was it to change the Taliban regime? Actually, just six days after 9/11, Bush told his team: "If [the Taliban] don't comply [with the ultimatum to deliver up bin Laden], we'll attack them. Our goal is not to destroy theTaliban, but that may be the effect" (Woodward, p. 98). The president's objective, it seems to me, was just as clear as unfolding circumstances permitted.
Codevilla then takes quotations out of context to argue that the campaign in Afghanistan was ineffective initially because the military "pounded sand" instead of bombing the front-line Taliban positions which stood in the way of the Northern Alliance. This error, in turn, supposedly resulted from Bush's confusion about whether to change the regime (which would have required unleashing the Northern Alliance). Codevilla ignores the fact, elaborated by Woodward, that bombing those front-line positions presupposed guidance from Special Forces on the ground, and inserting those forces entailed indefinite difficulties and took time. There was no neglect of the Northern Alliance: on the contrary, CIA Director George Tenet had told Bush as early as September 13 that "the key concept was to fund and invigorate the Northern Alliance" (Woodward, p. 51), a policy that was evidently approved and implemented posthaste. Not confusion but clarity, together with imagination, determination, and other virtues, were the hallmarks of a campaign in which the United States, with some 400 men on the ground, did in two months what a Soviet army could not do in 10 years.
David N. Levy
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Like David Blight's Race and Revision: The Civil War in American Memory, Mackubin Owens writes ("How the Confederates Won," Winter 2002) that the Confederacy won the Civil War because, thereafter, Northeners and Southerners joined in "avoiding questions of culpability or the right and wrong of the causes "—and especially because the North let Southern whites govern themselves without full equality for negroes. For Blight and Owens, post-war reconciliation was the defeat of Lincoln's "struggle for freedom…the liberation of blacks and their elevation to citizenship and constitutional equality."
Thus do Owens and Blight misunderstand both Lincoln and the meaning of victory. Lincoln's cause had been to restore the Union that the Founders had forged in American hearts. Unions exist only in human affections. What would he have said had he lived to see the series of tearful embraces of old soldiers clad in blue and gray, under the American flag, that began in the 1890s and climaxed at Gettysburg on the 50th anniversary of the battle? Might he have said anything like, "hold off on those embraces until the most demanding among us are satisfied that we have achieved racial equality?" Or "Let some of us force others among us to accept guilt and bear burdens to expiate the plight of the Negro?" Read his words chiseled on his memorial.
The only mention of guilt involves both sides, and ends with Jesus' admonition that we judge not lest we be judged. His discomfort with the negro's inequality did not in fact tempt him to compromise the peace and affection that alone could seal the victory of the Union cause.
In the Civil War, Lincoln fought two mortal enemies of freedom: the Confederates' "positive good" theory of slavery, and the abolitionists' idea that the government must become the negro's patron against his former masters. So quickly after Lincoln's death did the Republican party's attempt to patronize negroes degenerate into corruption and worsened race relations that it discredited "Reconstruction." Negroes wound up being used as pawns in struggles that empowered and enriched mostly the whites who used them cynically.
Clausewitz elaborates Aristotle's teaching that the natural purpose of war is victory by pointing out that victory is the attainment of a political goal—some kind of peace. In fact, the most important part of any war is deciding what is the political state at which the great motion of war can come to rest—what kind of peace is possible. Lincoln, not the Confederacy, won the Civil War because he wisely chose a goal that was attainable, the Union with freedom, and eschewed endless strife in the pursuit of racial equality.
Angelo M. Codevilla