The Case for Peace in Our Time

But will the American ruling class give peace a chance?

51lKW4N7eLLAngelo M. Codevilla, To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations, Hoover Institution Press, 2014, 209 pages, $24.95.

The title derives from Abraham Lincoln, a noble proclamation that Angelo Codevilla finds for the most part unfulfilled. As the author notes, during the past 100 years in America peace prevailed in only two brief periods, from 1919-1941 and 1992-2001. As Codevilla sees it, peace is not only in short supply but positively endangered. Given the dynamics in play, outlined here in considerable detail, that should come as no surprise.

As the “precondition for enjoying the good things of life,” peace must be statecraft’s objective. The author charts Pericles and the war-weary Athenians, the Romans, and other lessons from history that will be of interest to scholars and statesmen alike. But To Make and Keep Peace speaks to all and deserves the broadest possible readership.

Angelo Codevilla, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, is well aware that peace has enemies, among them pacifism and the type of progressive ideology dating from Woodrow Wilson. That progressivism “has become orthodoxy” and features “a pacifism as mindless as it was frenetic and provocative,” deployed by a “united ruling class intoxicated with its own virtue and ideology.”

The author cites president Franklin Roosevelt’s Sept 3, 1939 speech, which came after the Munich Pact, after the Stalin-Hitler Pact, after the invasion of Poland, and after the outbreak of WWII. Yet, the villain remained impersonal, “force itself,” and no nation threatened America any more than any other. Only on December 29, 1940, after fall of France, did FDR specifically indict “the Nazi masters of Germany.” But the willful blindness did not end there.

For Codevilla, “no illusions were greater nor proved more fateful than those about the Soviet Union.”  Affection for the Soviet Union and Communism “deformed US foreign policy, caused WWII to end not in peace but in Cold War, and occasioned conflict among Americans the consequences of which are with us yet.” The ruling class blend of gentry and intellectuals “believed that Stalin was the sine qua non of perpetual peace through the United Nations,” and that “staying on his good side was job #1.”

The Rooseveltians “debased America’s cause by identifying it with Stalin’s.” They treated the USSR’s partnership in starting the war as a non-event and  “by using the totalitarian tactic of airbrushing to try justifying their Soviet affections, they poisoned American political life.” The ruling-class consensus was, in effect, to facilitate the Soviet Union’s hold on their empire. In that climate, Americans of the “we win, they lose” view of the Cold War, in the style of Ronald Reagan, came to be regarded as enemies of peace. Codevilla marshals evidence that Senator Edward Kennedy offered to cooperate with the Soviets to defeat such Americans.

By then the ruling class, “had doubled down on its Wilsonian sense of intellectual-moral entitlement” and “came to regard its domestic political opponents as perhaps the principle set of persons whose backward ways must be guarded against and reformed.” Therefore, the author says, a loss of peace abroad feeds domestic strife and results in a loss of peace at home.

Other Wilsonians, “were anti-anti-Communists,” who wanted America engaged in the Cold War, “but on the other side.” This “New Left thinking” eventually spread throughout America’s foreign policy establishment.

President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed that there was no victory in Vietnam for anybody. The strategy was socio-economic “nation building” and the enemies were poverty, ignorance, and disease. The Communists “learned that US manpower does not matter so long as Americans fight without a serious plan for defeating or destroying the enemy.” That, says Codevilla, remains the US government’s default approach and “generates contempt and violence against America.”

These dynamics are also in play in America’s conflict with Islamic civilization, which “had been the West’s biggest problem from eighth century until 1683” when Poland’s king Jan Sobieski turned back the Muslims at the gates of Vienna. “Now the problem is back,” explains Codevilla, and “our culturally, historically illiterate ruling class missed the fact that a whole civilization mobilized against America.”

The seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979 was an act of war but drew the response of a “minor irritation.” The Islamic world “learned that it was now safe to export its warfare to the West in general and America in particular.” Codevilla finds it no coincidence that “former anti-anti-Communists were now anti-anti-Muslim.” And as during the Cold War, the “progressives” blamed America’s troubles on their fellow citizens. President Barack Obama embodies that dynamic like no other, along with historical illiteracy.

The president is on record that “Islam has always been a part of America’s history,” which Codevilla describes as “the reverse of the truth.” And with the president, staying on the good side of Islamic militants appears to be job one. At the UN, Codevilla notes, Obama condemned in equal terms Americans who insult Muslims and Muslims who burn and kill Americans. And he called for imprisonment of the man who made the anti-Muslim video that Muslim leaders saw “as good cause for anti-American violence.”

Codevilla is right about that but could have explored this theme further. The President of the United States and the Secretary of State essentially parroted the propaganda of jihadists. It is as though in 1961 President John F. Kennedy and Secretary of State Dean Rusk had agreed with East German Communist bosses that the Berlin Wall was indeed the “Antifascist Protection Rampart” and offered to help keep Germans imprisoned in a Stalinist state.

The menace abroad, meanwhile, is not terrorism but “extremism” and homeland security is directed against “all citizens equally rather than against plausible enemies.” This fateful error, says Codevilla, “gave civil strife’s deadly spiral its first deadly turn.” And for the ruling class, extremism is embodied in their political opponents, “the conservative side of American life.”

As the author shows, “The FBI infiltrates the Tea Party as it once did the Communist Party – agent of the Soviet Union that it was.” President Obama called “enemies of democracy” the very groups the IRS subjected to punitive audits. Vice President Biden and the Senate majority leader called them “terrorists.” Readers will easily verify that those in charge use every opportunity “to direct blame, distrust, and even mayhem onto those they like the least.” In these conditions Americans “must learn to trust each other less than ever, while trusting the authorities ever more, forever.” Or will it be forever?

“Peace among ourselves and with all nations has to be won and preserved as it ever has been here and elsewhere,” contends the author. Codevilla hopes for new statesmen who will secure the respect of other nations and understand that wars are to be “avoided or won quickly.” Those responsible for terrorism should be held responsible, but “the longer we wait, the more force will be needed.” Since nuclear weapons are easily obtained, Codevilla argues, we need the best missile defense. We won’t get that from the man now running the show.

In 2012, Codevilla notes, “President Barack Obama communicated to Russia confidentially that, after his expected reelection, he would forswear missile defenses more thoroughly than before, previous commitments notwithstanding.” The president came through on that one, but it did not make for peace among ourselves or with all nations.

Terrorists and tyrants are getting the message that the time to act is now. The “domestic state of siege” is unlikely to lighten up along with attacks on those “on the conservative side.”  So it’s probably true that, as Angelo Codevilla says in the early going, “We cannot know whether America can ever live in peace again, what kind of peace we may win for ourselves, or what peace we may end up having to endure.”

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