Achieving America’s Peace: A Conversation with Angelo Codevilla

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Angelo Codevilla comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his latest book To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations. Our conversation focuses on Codevilla’s main argument that American statesmen increasingly fail to understand the nature and purpose of statecraft: the achievement of peace. So what does it mean to achieve America’s peace? To do so, Codevilla insists, requires concrete evaluation of the means and ends necessary to protect American interests. This requires particular judgments about power, interests, and the practial reality we are confronted with. Our practice, for well nigh a century, has been to speak in glittering generalities about America’s role in the world as a force for democratic and humanitarian progress, refusing to recognize the unwieldy consequences that result from applying abstract ideals in a Hobbesian environment. The refusal to be frank about how military victory must be used to achieve a peace on American terms not only produces unending conflicts with no clear idea of victory, but also leads to deep reverberations in domestic politics as coalitions form around perceived patriotic and traitorous courses of action. Post 9/11 politics, anyone?

We also explore what Codevilla perceives as the failures of our major schools of foreign policy. The neoconservative believes that an aggressive America must give a shove to the forces of global democratic progress, while the internationalist has a similar end in view but wants to secure it by reducing American power in the world, harnessing and moralizing our power and interests through an array of multilateral institutions and treaties.  In a different vein, the realist assumes that all nations have the same kinds of interests and pursue the same goals regardless of the ideological cast of regimes and governments. All three approaches have been tried repeatedly, but, Codevilla argues, America’s interests have not been secured. Even though our nation wins its battles and wars, we lose our peace. Where then to look for wisdom in the practice of successful statecraft? That is where the conversation begins.

Can Realism Be a Comprehensive Theory of American Foreign Policy?

The controversy over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense has reminded us how diverse opinion called “conservative” really is.  Certainly “traditional conservatives” and “neoconservatives” have both become rather overwrought.  And the president must be smiling while watching the predictable effects of pushing key buttons.  The “neocons,” so it’s said, can’t stomach having someone that indifferent to the future of Israel, Iran becoming nuclear, and the military might and resolution required for America to be a leading force for good in the world.  The traditional conservatives—which, in this case, include many libertarian followers of Ron and Rand Paul—are thrilled that American foreign policy will finally become properly defensive—the foreign policy of a republic, not an empire.  The savings in blood and treasure—for ourselves and others—will be huge.  Some neocons—or “national greatness” conservatives—charge that Obama is really all about starving defense to fund health care and other domestic initiatives.  He’s about to make us another European country.  The problem with that is that the European countries can dispense with defense spending only because they’ve been parasitic on ours. 

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