First published in Foreign Policy Journal, 2014-04-09
Keeping Peace Among Ourselves and With All Nations. Angelo M. Codevilla. Hoover Institution Press, Leland Stanford Junior University, CA, USA. 2014.
The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace.
This work started as a request for a review which for the most part I oblige as it is in my interest to read as much diverse material as possible. The request proposed, “I am inquiring as to whether you all might be interested in taking a preview look at his book as it is a dramatic new book on foreign policy which ought to appeal to segments of every ideological and political persuasion.” Sometimes the books, while they may be interesting, are not necessarily worth my time for a review, while others, such as this are worth reviewing. .
Worth reviewing not because I agree with it, but worth reviewing as a look into the mindset of some whom consider themselves proponents of peace, but really argue war. Keeping Peace Among Ourselves and With All provides interesting insight into some of the thinking of the conservative right, essentially supporting what I had thought I understood about them. .
The book is generally poorly written, a sort of philosophy book and sort of history book, but not really succeeding at either or at their integration. It is loosely argued, selective with its facts, and quite revealing with some of the language used in its explanations and descriptions. It has a largely circular argument highlighted by an introductory argument that the first duty of the statesman is: “peace at home is a pre-requisite for earning peace abroad.” .
Be aware of that requisite as a cause and effect as at the end of the work Codevilla argues about “securing respect” through “fearful examples” to establish a “reputation for favors rewarded” and “injury or slight punished.” Here the requisite is war abroad for peace at home, a rather different cause and effect. .
Perhaps if one had peace at home first, then wars abroad might be unnecessary, but Codevilla also accepts the exceptionalist perspective so prevalent in most sectors of U.S. political arguments, writing that the U.S. has “the rank of steward of the world,” and that its “peculiar exceptional soul is the source of America’s external power.” Well, actually, the latter statement is true, as that “exceptional soul” is one of self-aggrandizement, hubris, and a callous lack of awareness of other people’s souls - all backed by the U.S.military.
The work is divided into two main parts. The first is a very short and poorly presented history of war and peace as viewed from the conservative western perspective - essentially the WASP society view. The second part takes a quick tour of U.S. history trying to argue that to maintain peace, the U.S. must use decisive warfare to ensure its own interests and security. I will return to that idea a bit later, but first some generalizations on my understandings. .
What I learned
From what I read in Keeping Peace, I would have to formulate the following ideas about the author’s line of thinking:
There is a divide in the U.S. between “statesmen and elites” and a good part of the rest of the population, mainly the white part, who aspire to traditional values of “limited government, the influence of Judeo-Christian religion, and rugged individualism and personal liberty.”
The society is racist as the “Negro populations” were “unaccustomed to self-discipline” following the Civil War (now, who again slaughtered whom in this war?). Further for the native population “The Indians...made sure that Americans did not take peace for granted”, implying that all the Indian wars were the natives fault for not complying with the settler-colonialist demands for territory and resources. Finally (but not completely), there is an “American race” who by the previous arguments are the white, anglo-saxon Protestants of the nation.
Communism, the Soviet Union, and Russia have been the cause of all the wars of proxy that the U.S. participated in to keep their peace. They are evil, we are good.
Similarly today, the Islamic world has a general hatred for the U.S. - “those who despise us,” (although the reasons for this are never examined, assumed to be the superiority of western culture), being responsible for “nearly all other acts of terror” in spite of statistics and histories to deny this.
The lack of peace at home is a result of these ineffective wars abroad - wars that did not win the peace. 9/11 brought forth actions that were ready to be set in motion beforehand - the establishment of a security state to overcome the conservative populist bent against political correctness, against pro-life, for “homeschoolers”, for gun owners,for the reverence for the rugged individual and personal liberty, and for the Tea Party in general.
There is some truth to the latter point, as the security state became strongly reinforced after 9/11 (a strictly Muslim affair) with plans that had already been formulated. Unfortunately Codevilla’s arguments as to why operate only on the level of populism and cultural values, and not on the intentions of the deep state and the corporate-military-political alliances that want the security state for more than controlling these populist values.
That is the greater failure of this work - the complete lack of recognition that the powers in control are not really concerned with Codevilla’s populist values, but are quite concerned about maintaining their corporate-military-political truly “establishment” hegemony over global resources and global finances, both obviously highly intertwined. Similarly there is a lack of recognition that these tendencies carried forward from the birth of the nation, such that he says, “There is no evidence that it ever crossed the signers’ [of the Declaration of Independence] minds that Americans might ever force their will upon other peoples,” fully contradicted by the ownership of slaves and the genocide and acts of war against the native people.
The “wars abroad” are to ensure U.S. interests - the problem therein being how
those interests are defined. For the most part, U.S. self-aggrandizement, hubris, self-proclaimed exceptionalism, propaganda, whatever you might call it, has focussed on peace, freedom, and prosperity, with the U.S. leading the way, that their way is the best and only universal way to proceed with life. Sounds good, except that it generally comes from the barrel of a gun, a covert assassination or coup, or millions of dollars of bribery money, with the real purpose being to secure resources, mostly energy resources, and to retain the power of the US$ fiat currency. This reflects on domestic as well as foreign actions.
Domestically, with many thanks to the foreign wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the ongoing Pentagon money hussle, the US$ has been greatly weakened by the demands of debt servicing. Add to that the loss of manufacturing businesses overseas - to Mexico, Taiwan, Vietnam, but mostly China - and the U.S. worker is slowly being overwhelmed with personal debt and unemployment. And add to that the financialization of the economy to try and make up for the lack of living wage employment, an element that creates bubbles in the various markets that are ensured of a bust as all bubbles will.
It all came together in 2008-09 with the bursting of the sub-prime bubble that almost took down the ‘too big to fail banks’ creating a Federal Bank printing press that added greatly to the money supply - supported by the U.S. treasury, all leading to a renewed and even bigger debt bubble which, as always, will burst again with even larger consequences for the domestic homeland situation.
In a large sense, that is why the arguments as presented by Codevilla act as a distraction away from what truly ails the U.S. system of governance/economics. They certainly have validity for the people involved with those issues, but they are not the issues of the deeper state, nor of concern directly for the elites in control of the Washington establishment of military-corporate-political alliances. The real problem will be the weakening US$ as it is printed into uselessness, creating a possible hyperinflation situation that the sectors of society that Codevilla argues for will be truly devastated economically...which is why the government wants the security state in order to control/suppress the unruly masses of unemployed hungry people.
Codevilla argues that the military is used to “secure US interests” abroad - and I have to agree. The difference is that Codevilla wants a decisive war and submissive opponents while currently simply the destruction of any attempt at avoiding the US$ fiat currency will suffice. Thus dictators and monarchies can be friends of the U.S. if they go along with the US$, while those that go against it - Iraq, Iran, Libya, Venezuela, et al - or signal their intent to go against it - become U.S. enemies, in need of ‘liberation, freedom, democracy’ from the barrels of guns and the pulse of rockets.
It is the US$ that is the crux of the matter. The domestic economy precariously weak, a huge Ponzi scheme of dollar chasing dollar, without security backing (other than the U.S. military), without productivity. To continue to support the domestic scene, the foreign markets need to be guarded in order to maintain the demand for the U.S. dollar, currently maintained through the pricing of oil in petrodollars - the US fiat currency. It is no surprise then that energy and resource rich regions of the world suffer the most from U.S. depredations in order to keep the dollar afloat. The oil itself is not a requisite, its control is.
In the modern day scenario, Russia and China are becoming the bogeymen, as Russia has always been a U.S. geopolitical target and China holds U.S. destiny by its debt. The Russian situation is fairly well defined, they are evil, the U.S. is good, and the U.S. will not rest until the state of Russia is torn apart and is no longer a geopolitical power contender. As for China, the U.S. needs “to convey to the Chinese that it is our business and ours alone what relationship with the nations of East Asia would best serve our military security.” (italics added)
Orwell for sure
There are many smaller items that I could walk through and critique but the general flaws make that unnecessary, although I must by peeve mention my favorite. My favorite peeve is Codevilla’s multiple references to the Iran seizure of the U.S. embassy as an “act of war,” which by the Geneva Conventions on diplomacy it may well be, but it is never put into context. That context is that the U.S. CIA and the UK MI6 conspired to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran led by Mossadegh in 1953 because of...you guessed it...control of oil resources.
Several times during the work Codevilla refers to George Orwell, an accurate reference to the security state. But his own participation in the “Working Group on the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict” is in its own way Orwellian, as “The result of such study is an in-depth and dispassionate understanding of contemporary wars….” Keeping Peace is neither dispassionate nor in-depth and yields little for the understanding of contemporary wars. Its basic element is a circular philosophical argument based tenuously on selected historical incidents with narrow interpretations leading to the conclusion that the U.S. should be able and willing to wage decisive war in order to obtain its domestic peace. By avoiding any consideration of imperial hegemony for energy resources and power and wealth harvesting by the elites, Keeping Peace will not further the cause of peace at all, domestically or abroad.