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May 23, 2006 6:58 pm

Angelo Codevilla's No Victory, No Peace: Introduction to a Symposium

Here's the Introduction to a Symposium I'm guest-editing (with Carrie-Ann Biondi) for Reason Papers on Angelo Codevilla's book, No Victory, No Peace. I'm hoping it whets some appetites for the actual symposium, which is in its final stages of editing, and slated to come out very soon.
I've been reading Angelo Codevilla's writing on warfare now for more than a decade. I'll confess that some of what he says frankly provokes me to incredulity and horror, but too much of it has the ring of truth to be dismissed or ignored.

I had the good fortune of meeting Codevilla in the fall of 2003 at Princeton University, where I was at the time a lecturer in the Department of Politics, and he had just arrived from Boston University as Visiting Professor of Politics, care of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. The idea for the present symposium on his book No Victory, No Peace originated in his undergraduate course at Princeton,"War and Peace," for which I served as teaching assistant (and in the spirit of formations permanentes, as overgrown student). During that semester, as might be expected, we worked our students through the standard issues of warfare and international relations—soft power, coercive diplomacy, economic statecraft, intelligence, strategy, and all the rest.

But it was the manuscript of No Victory—originally written as a series of essays for Commentary, The American Spectator, and the Claremont Review of Books—that stopped the students in their tracks.

It was one thing to read Thucydides, Clausewitz or Machiavelli in the library, and then sedately to discuss their theoretical or historical claims in a seminar room. It was quite another thing to be confronted with a real-live advocate of a Machiavellian-Clausewitzian approach to war, arguing for the application of the Clausewitzian principles to the war on terrorism—and to have to reflect on all this as the body bags came home on a daily basis from Afghanistan and Iraq.

That unique (if unspeakably tragic) set of circumstances served to focus minds in a way I've rarely encountered in a classroom, or anywhere else, for that matter. I sometimes wish I had the power to impose the same circumstances on the whole country, if only to rouse my fellow citizens from the dogmatic slumbers that currently pass for discourse on the subject of war and peace. I don't have that power, of course, but my hope is that this symposium will function as at least a faint approximation of wish-fulfillment.

I've chosen two fellow-symposiasts to comment on Codevilla's book whose views are diametrically opposed to one another as is imaginable. And yet, interestingly enough, both end up making similar criticisms of Codevilla's book from opposite perspectives.

Spengler, the pseudonymous columnist for Asia Times, agrees with the premises of Codevilla's analysis but wonders—drawing on the wartime reflections of William Tecumseh Sherman—whether Codevilla has accurately reckoned the costs of his prescriptions for the present war."How much death," he asks,"will the West have to inflict upon its enemies before it achieves a lasting peace?"

Meanwhile Roderick Long, professor of philosophy at Auburn University, draws on libertarian theory to reject those same premises, arguing that Codevilla's prescriptions, unmoored by moral constraints of any kind, simply go too far:"Codevilla opines, plausibly enough that America makes itself a target of terrorism through its 'peculiar combination of intrusiveness and fecklessness.' But he seems more interested in addressing the fecklessness than in undoing the intrusiveness."

My own contribution begins by summarizing Codevilla's thesis, then effectively splits the difference between Spengler's and Long's views: I wonder whether we can avoid the costs that Spengler describes by modifying the premises that Long rejects."The problem with Codevilla's analysis is two-fold. On the one hand, he subtly misconceives the concept of victory; on the other, he seriously misidentifies the enemy we face in the current war." Professor Codevilla will respond to all three contributions in a future issue of Reason Papers.

In a decade of reading, writing and teaching about the uses of force in political life, I've rarely encountered a writer quite as intransigently independent in orientation and lucid in formulation as Angelo Codevilla, and No Victory, No Peace is Codevilla in top form. Whether I agree or disagree with him, I profit from the confrontation with his ideas. I hope you will, too.

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Jason Pappas - 5/30/2006

Having read Codevilla's book and as an occasional reader of Long's and Spengler's I must admit you gathered a thought provoking crowd. And what more could one ask? I’ll buy (or subscribe) to the magazine … finally.