Angelo Codevilla’s piece about the war on terrorism contains much that is worth pondering. However, his core claims — that the war on terrorism “isn’t working” and that the answer lies in letting the “locals” destroy the regimes that are the “effective cause of violence against us” — are dubious.
For the proposition that the war on terrorism isn’t working, Codevilla relies on Donald Rumsfeld’s recent request that his top aides think about why we haven’t been more successful. But this request hardly constitutes evidence that we are not making significant progress. Codevilla notes that “there is no peace from terror, and no prospect of any.” This strikes me as an unreasonable standard. A more realistic standard is the substantial absence of successful terrorist attacks, other than low-level ones that are not realistically avoidable. Viewed against this standard, it is less clear that we are not succeeding.
Codevilla sets a higher standard because he thinks that a purge of the regimes that allow to terrorism to occur would give us peace from terror. Maybe. But Codevilla demonstrates neither that most such regimes can be purged by the locals nor that the end result would be peace from terror. With respect to Iraq, he prescribes arming the Shi’ites and Kurds, wishing them well, and standing back as they destroy the remnants of Saddam’s regime. Maybe these locals would succeed where we do not seem to be; maybe not. Maybe a Shi’ite regime in the south would promote peace from terror; maybe not.
With respect to the Palestinian Authority, Codevilla claims that its destruction “is easier done than said.” He wants us to unleash Israel so it can eliminate the regime’s main force. I agree with this recommendation. But would it provide us (and Israel) with peace from terror? Even Codevilla acknowledges that it probably wouldn’t.
With respect to Saudi Arabia, Codevilla contends that there is “some kind of insurgency under way” there and “no shortage of Muslims who would approach with alacrity cleansing the peninsula of the peculiarly Saudi combination of heresy and fraud.” Would such a cleansing leave us in a better position in the war on terrorism? Codevilla does not show that it would.
I question whether there is any magic bullet that will bring down regimes that promote or tolerate terrorism thereby giving us peace from terror. More likely, there are some regimes we can bring down, some that the locals can topple, some that we can influence for the better, and perhaps some that we simply have to keep on eye on. Figuring out which regimes are which, and then executing the proper strategy requires great statesmanship. In my opinion, President Bush is providing good statesmanship.
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