There Will Be Blood, Our Own

“Combining the unbridled tongue with the unready hand.” Thus did Theodore Roosevelt define statesmanship at its worst. This is what America’s bipartisan ruling class is giving us.

The Obama Administration tried buffering last week’s announcement that it is reducing the US Army’s size to below its levels of 1940 (when the world’s population was less than one third what it is today) by suggesting that it would concentrate on mastery of the sea and of space. 110051079But the announcement’s not-so fine print envisaged cutting the number of US aircraft carriers, among other things. Like its predecessors, this administration is committed not to build the weapons that would let America secure orbital space for our own satellites and against ballistic missiles coming our way. As under its predecessors, this administration is devoting fewer and fewer dollars to weapons and to those who use them, while it diverts more and more to bureaucracy. Today, more than half of military personnel are behind desks.

The bottom line is that the United States of America has an increasingly hollow military. As politicians of both parties issue sonorous warnings and give inflammatory advice as if they were responsible for everything under the sun, American soldiers and sailors are spread around the globe, less feared and hence more hated, exposed to attacks against which they are less and less able to defend themselves. With ever less capacity to deal with the situations into which they are thrust, they are becoming symbols of American decline rather than of strength.

Consider East Asia, where the US Navy enforced America’s peace for three generations. Today America’s incapacity to deal with China’s (and its North Korean surrogate’s) assertion of power over the Western Pacific is the catalyst of rising Japanese militarism and of the rest of the region’s scramble for security. That incapacity is as political as it is military. While China is building a credible force of ballistic missiles, swarms of cruise missiles from sea and airborne platforms, as well as bottom-dwelling submarines to sink US Navy ships that come too close, our navy has shrunk in size, its pilots have less flight hours than their Chinese counterparts, and it lacks missile defenses. Moreover, the US government has been steady in its decision not to base its military position in the South China Sea on the unsinkable island of Taiwan. Too provocative.

But although the US preoccupation with not provoking China has not moderated Chinese military preparations, it surely has helped provoke the rebirth of Japanese militarism. Polls show that four fifths of Japanese view China as an enemy, but fewer than half have confidence in America’s help because they view America, correctly, as willing to sacrifice Japan’s interests to China’s.

We Americans have maintained our version of peace in the Western Pacific not in the interest of Japan or of anyone else, but in our own. Should we, upon deliberation, decide not to impede China’s assertion of power in the region, and to countenance whatever efforts (including nuclear ones) Japan will make to protect itself, it would make sense for us to withdraw our fleet from the region. Keeping it there without the military capacity or the political intention to maintain the Pax Americana would only get us into the middle of a war for stakes largely not our own and whose initial stages we would likely lose.

Something like that has happened before. A hundred years ago Theodore Roosevelt had warned Americans that, if we wanted peace in the Pacific, we should either withdraw from the Philippines or build a navy that Japan must respect. We did neither. Instead, US policy consisted of sonorous moral commitments to peace and good order, coupled with an increasingly hollow military: the unbridled tongue and the unready hand. The American people paid the price in blood.

Balancing ends and means has ever been the essence of practical wisdom in international affairs. Arguably the only sensible thing that President Obama has said regarding international affairs – whether he meant it is beside the point – is that America will not again engage in occupations. That was another of the excuses he gave for reducing the US Army. But if the US military will not be good for that bad purpose, for what will it be good? Certainly, Obama’s emphasis on “special forces” and “cyber security” will leave the US military incapable of dealing with serious adversaries, anywhere.

No matter. On Friday, February 28 Barack Obama told the world that the United States government is “deeply concerned” by “reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside Ukraine.” He warned Russia not to interfere in Ukraine and threatened that if it does, “there will be costs.” Given the imbalance between this Administration’s tongue and its hand, Americans and Ukrainians have more to fear than does Vladimir Putin.

Angelo M. Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and is a Senior Fellow of The Claremont Institute. He served as a U.S. Senate Staff member dealing with oversight of the intelligence services. His new book Peace Among Ourselves and With All Nations was published by Hoover Institution Press.

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  1. says

    President Obama’s view of politics, both domestic and international, is not informed by Thucydides or Hobbes, much less either Roosevelt or, God forbid, Churchill. It is rather derived from Mario Puzo. Obama does not think in terms of principles, philosophies or strategies; he thinks in terms of turf. Frankly, there is some turf, like Iran and the middle east that Obama not only is uninterested in, but of which he is afraid. Freddo is running the family now.

    The Don had Genco. Obama has Valerie Jarrett, Joe Biden and John Kerry.

    “The family doesn’t have that kind of muscle any more.”

  2. Richard S says

    And 100 years before TR’s comments, President Jefferson cut our military spending from $3.5million per year to roughly $1 million per year, during the Napoleonic wars. And he replaced our fleet of frigates with gun boats. That didn’t work out so well either in the long term, and by 1816, Madison allowed that the U.S. should have a strong navy, a bank, and home-based manufactures . . .

  3. says

    To support my theory that Obama is more interested in turf than strategic planning or principles, I offer the following:

    Obama’s effective constituencies, those for whom he provides benefits, exist almost exclusively to protect some turf against the public interest. The most obvious example is teacher’s unions, followed closely by environmental bureaucrats, race hustlers and pseudo-progressive oligarchs like George Soros.

    That Obama sees things in terms of turf battles is reflected in his executive over-reach (“I have a phone and a pen”) and his unilateral whimsy in accommodating the disasters of the Affordable Care Act. He sees controlling public (and to an increasing degree, private) money as his turf, regardless of what the Constitution says. When your interest is protecting turf, like any street gang or mafia family, you are less concerned with corruption (indeed, an inevitable result of recognizing turf) thuggishness, and veracity. It becomes perfectly permissible to use the IRS to harass opponents, to appoint unqualified people as ambassadors, and ignore laws inconvenient to your interests.

    On the other hand, he sees Ukraine as Putin’s turf, not worth the effort. The South China Sea is China’s turf, and he is not going to fuss about it.

    Viewing the world in terms of whose turf is whose may help explain the focus of Obama’s interests, but of course it is merely a model, a schematic that does not explain his motivations or give insight into his character. We can assume that Putin is interested in such things, took the measure of Obama and felt at leisure to proceed as he wished in Ukraine.

    Putin is not impressed with what Obama says; what matters to Putin is that Obama had a habit of voting “present” on controversial issues, leads from behind, takes no responsibility for bad outcomes, listens to Jeremiah Wright for years without hearing anything and “evolves” on issues when polls tell him it is safe to do so. While progressives are enamored with the coolness of Obama and project all sorts of absurd virtues onto him, making of him a transformational figure that does not exist, and conservatives suspect he is a closet Marxist deeply committed to a nefarious agenda, Putin has perceived otherwise. Putin knows that Obama will not risk losing for a matter of principle. He knows that when forced to reveal his true character Obama is not an ideologue, patriot, or visionary. He knows that Obama’s history and words are those of an ambitious opportunist who is at heart a narcissist and a nihilist. When things heat up, Putin will not be playing chess while Obama plays checkers; he will play what he likes while Obama stares at his reflection in a puddle.

  4. gabe says


    Well said! However, I am not certain whether this will fit with the Divine One’s bungling Egyptian adventure.
    Of course, it may go a long way toward explaining Benghazi – ” hey Clemenza, your boys are just going to have to tough it out – that’s Barzini’s turf.”

  5. Anthony says

    Maybe the answer is to reduce our urge to defend every square inch of the planet and instead only concentrate on threats to us

  6. JohnPaulJones says

    Any idea that Obama’s actions are driven by incompetence should be by now thoroughly discredited. The position the United States finds itself in is completely intentional. We are right where Obama and his handlers want us. Weak and threatened on all sides…chaos is the friend of fascists and communists, welcome to the nightmare. Just waiting for the final acts to unfold. The part where the country goes into a state of emergency and the constitution is suspended.

    Ah well at least I am comforted by the strenuous efforts of the Republicans to defend us because we all know what stalwart defenders of freedom they are. Gosh a person might get depressed seeing all of this happening.

    Dear Mr. Codevilla I consider you one of the shining beacons. Too bad you don’t have 100 divisions…we might right this ship before it sinks. I fear that votes may be too little too late. But I have been wrong before.

  7. libertarian jerry says

    The analogy between various governments and organized crime is spot on. For what is government but a group of thugs,around the world,protecting their “turf” or sheep (tax serfs) from other thugs. The average person wants to be left alone to live their lives,to prosper and not have to fight in or be bankrupted by stupid “turf wars.” George Washington warned us against foreign entanglements. Eisenhower warned us against the Military/Industrial complex. The Founding Fathers warned us about standing armies. Yet all the warnings have been ignored to the point where today America is not only bankrupt but in a position of mortal danger over the real possibility of world situations developing into a nuclear holocaust. Of course in today’s world it would be imprudent not to have a strong national defense. The only factor is that there is a marked difference between a strong national defense and a world empire. In the end WW II has been over for almost 70 years. Isn’t it time that we call the troops home and let the Japanese and Europeans defend themselves?

  8. inflyover says

    In another brilliant self limiting move, Obama has given Putin control over our ability to resupply of our troupes in Afghanistan! He did this with a totally highhanded disregard of Pakistani sensibilities and sovereignty. Smart Diplomacy at work.

  9. Diggs says

    While I would argue with you that half of all military personnel are behind a desk, I may be wrong, having spent my entire 22 year Army career at the pointy end of the spear. However, I do believe that the DoD civilian corps could take a heavy hit and there would be no reduction in our ability to project force around the world. You can’t swing a dead cat on any Army post worldwide and not hit three DoD civilians who think that the military personnel on that post are there to provide them with a job, and who think that having to do something (say, their job) for soldiers is a bother. We need to elect a Republican President who doesn’t owe their election to SEIU or any other union.

  10. hawkeye driver says

    Diggs: BZ and thak you for your service. Concur 100%.
    Unionization of Civil Servants has corrupted all agencies including Treasury where Lois Lerner is the current poster child. Who would you point to at DoD?

  11. John Tyler says

    It was the Brahmin, blue blood wealthy ruling elites of the NE, folks like Teddy Roosevelt- who INHERITED his vast wealth- and his stupid, idiotic notions
    of ” manhood” , that got the USA on the path to becoming a COLONIAL power on the other side of the planet, in total contradiction of our own founding principles.
    The scourge of liberal progressivism is the stupid idea that the USA has the obligation to impose its will and utopian world view over others, and worse, over the citizens of the USA.
    The US presence in the Pacific – in an effort to emulate the European Powers- led DIRECTLY to Pearl Harbor. The USA had no damn business becoming a colonial power on the other side of the planet.
    The Spanish American War set the precedent – a LIBERAL PROGRESSIVE precedent – that the USA would mind everybody else’s business.
    George Washington and Hamilton warned that the USA should not get involved in the affairs of other nations. Yet, in their arrogance and conceit, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR – liberal progressive icons- all thought they knew better.
    The USA needs to arm itself to the teeth, tolerate no aggression in ANY FORM from any nation or group, and mind its own damn business.
    In recent years , it has been “neo-cons” and the like, that have been labelled war mongers, but it is a cherished liberal progressive notion .
    Note that even in those situations where the USA is on the winning side of a conflict, the consequences can never be predicted.
    The Spanish American War led to Pearl Harbor , WWI (another war that was the USA had no business in) led to Hitler , Stalin and WWII; and now Vietnam is conducting joint naval exercises with the US Navy ( !!!).
    Todays liberal progressive has morphed from war monger to utopian, pacifist, fantasy land neo-communist, in which , in their stupid word view, all we need do is totally disarm, and the world will enjoy peace and wealth for eternity.
    By the way , also note that the larger nations of Latin America have not been involved in ANY global conflagration for well over 100 years. And Switzerland and Sweden , BOTH ARMED TO THE TEETH in their own way ( Sweden’s official status is ARMED NEUTRALITY) have avoided conflicts.
    Again, the USA must arm itself to the teeth, tolerate no threats, and mind its own damn business.

    • Richard S says

      I’m sympathetic with the direction of the ideas here, but I’m not sure the typography is correct.
      TR was an old money New Yorker, as was his cousin, FDR, and Wilson was a son of the South. Henry Cabot Lodge would be a NE case, but he opposed Wilson’s excesses, remember.
      Taft, who had NE roots, and was part of the NE diaspora in Ohio had a more moderate position on all this.
      Meanwhile, Henry Adams was active in anti-imperialism.

  12. Niel Young says

    Dr. Codevilla was a radio guest many years ago, with my co-host David Corbin, Ph.D. I would like to have him address my audience again.

  13. Nate Whilk says

    ‘Putin is not impressed with what Obama says; what matters to Putin is that Obama had a habit of voting “present” on controversial issues, leads from behind, takes no responsibility for bad outcomes, listens to Jeremiah Wright for years without hearing anything and “evolves” on issues when polls tell him it is safe to do so.’

    Also remember that Obama told Medvedev “After my election I have more flexibility”.

  14. William Jefferson says

    Good. What would you like this “American” power to project?
    It will not be freedom, liberty, property rights.
    America should lose. To hell with a decadent and failed society. If you disagree, tell me why the President has not been impeached for changing laws without Congressional approval.
    The Constitution is dead and what is left of America isn’t worth saving.

  15. Jeremiah Bourque says

    It’s more than a little ridiculous to argue that the US military, in naval terms, was weak when Pearl Harbor was attacked. It was attacked precisely because Japan feared the might of the American navy. Granted the Army was a hollow shell, but the navy, in terms of battleships, carriers, and total ship numbers, was more than Japan’s equal, backed by an economy on a completely different order of magnitude. Maybe it’s politically convenient to argue, if you build it, the enemy won’t come – if it’s your agenda to launch a huge military buildup, certainly – but the real world doesn’t always comply.


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