NEW YORK – On September 20, I was sitting across a table from the foreign editor of a European news publication. Demons must have lurked and listened to our conversation. “Is there any American thinker who you find fresh and challenging?” the journalist asked me.
“You mean apart from Angelo Codevilla?,” I returned. A traditional Jew from the Old Country would have said “Angelo Codevilla, kein hora,” or “keine ayin hara,” a mix of Yiddish and Hebrew that means “no Evil Eye.” It is an imprecation against Fate’s envy of the truly gifted.
The next day Angelo was dead at age 78, reportedly run down by a drunk driver.
There were two former senior intelligence officials who knew where enough bodies were buried in the Global War on Terror to scare the American intelligence establishment. Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was one, and the spooks got to him within days of his appointment as Donald Trump’s national security advisor.
Angelo Codevilla was the other. Flynn is a working-class kid who worked his way up the chain of command from reserve officer training at Providence College, while Angelo was an Italian-born connoisseur of Western culture, multi-lingual and the master of many disciplines, fiercely independent and contemptuous of attempts to co-opt him.
Codevilla was an expert on Afghanistan starting in 1979, as chief of staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee, before the CIA could find the benighted country on a map. He knew that the Global War on Terror was a scam, a goof, a lavishly-funded reality show – and he told the world what he knew.
Here is what he wrote on August 24 in his last posting at The American Mind, the opinion site of the Claremont Institute where Angelo was a senior fellow:
On September 12, 2001, CIA director George Tenet delivered a summary judgment: Bin Laden and al Qaeda had “done” 9/11, “game, set, and match.” But this statement, basis as it has been for two decades of ‘war on terror,” is factually empty.
What we surely do not know about who did what to make 9/11 happen is more than what we know. Nearly all of what most believe consists of a mixture of the US government’s competing narratives, unverified. We don’t even know the identities of most of the hijackers. We do know that they were not who their passports say they were, because the passports turned out to have been stolen…
George Tenet’s (and President Bush’s) idiotic premise got another two decades’ lease on life. The US government went on to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq. To accomplish what, precisely? Each set of rationales was stupider than the others.
What did the US government actually do in Afghanistan and Iraq? Only the things it really cares to or knows how to do—namely, richly to hire its favorite people to try reshaping mankind in their own image.
Since WWII, whether in the name of anti-communism, anti-terrorism, democracy, or humanitarianism, it’s always the same: dismiss the substance of local quarrels; recast the local scene in terms of American elites’ concerns; find locals who agree, and form “coalition governments” that, supposedly, represent the people’s aspirations, regardless of what these might be; send in the American experts on everything from education to women’s rights, with their recipes and their billions of dollars; and treat as terrorists any locals who disagree strongly.
The problem, Codevilla concluded, isn’t the failure of one particular policy or the errors of an individual intelligence assessment, but the character of the ruling elite that lurches from one catastrophic blunder to another:
Perhaps the only useful result of the Afghan enterprise’s clamorous collapse, at a time when so much else that our ruling class is doing also collapses of its own weight, is the widespread recognition that we are not seeing the results of discrete choices about foreign policy. We are experiencing the inexorable working out of the logic by which a whole class lives, moves, and has its being.
Or, as I put it in a 2014 review of Codevilla’s book To Make and Keep the Peace, the trouble isn’t that the emperor has no clothes, but that the emperor has no tailors. The various brands of Wilsonian utopianism committed to remaking the world in America’s image combined to expunge any sort of dissent from positions of power at the State Department, CIA, the think tanks or the major media. Angelo was indispensable; no one else knew as much about the establishment’s dirty laundry and was willing to hang it out for public inspection.
I hadn’t met Angelo before I reviewed his book, but we became good friends afterward. He wrote to me last on September 12, after I published a commentary on September 6 entitled, “Afghan debacle cedes Eurasia to the dragon and bear.”
I argued that
America’s defeat in Vietnam, damaging as it was, had a limited impact in the region. Afghanistan, by contrast, will draw China and Russia into a dominant role in Central and Western Asia. The defeat of an American proxy regime by Taliban irregulars marks the first victory for a jihadist army against Western military forces since the annihilation of a British expeditionary force in Afghanistan in 1842. It will serve as a rallying point for jihadists in Russia, China, Central Asia and the Middle East….China and Russia have no choice but to step in. If they do not excise the jihadist cancer today, it might metastasize into something uncontrollable.
Angelo commented in his September 12 letter:
I read your dragon and bear essay with admiration. I learned from it and committed much of it to memory.
My question to you is: how deep does this obvious identity of interest go?
As currently important and as pregnant with long range consequences as the new realities are, to what extent do they override, FOR RUSSIA the reality that CHINA is ten times as populous and thrice as productive per capita, and racially incompatible, and next door?
Let us put ourselves in Putin’s icy shoes: Up to what point is American decline in Russia’s interest? Does he really want China to be the Western Pacific’s undisputed mistress?
In the final analysis, and at least for the next twenty years, is not the “hot sand and curry” circuit a sideshow to the main events – especially for RUSSIA, in Ukraine and Europe? And as for CHINA, I hear that Putin reads Machiavelli. Don’t ever, said he, mortgage your future to anyone more powerful than yourself.
I’d love to hear your idea of what is going through Putin’s mind.
I responded the same day:
Thanks for writing and for your kind words. I advanced this thesis with trepidation, and am enormously reassured that you found it worthwhile. As I’ve told any number of friends, I want to be Angelo Codevilla when I grow up.
To your point, Putin from the beginning wanted to be part of Europe rather than Eurasia. The Alexander Dugin tendency represents Putin’s enemies in the intelligence and security services, according to friends with access to Russian thinking. It’s alarming that Dugin is quoted favorably in the nationalist website guancha.cn (see my piece below).
The issue, as you indicate, was Ukraine: Russia believes that it has an existential interest in Ukraine (especially Crimea), while the American neo-cons from Condi Rice to Victoria Nuland saw “democracy” in Ukraine as a springboard for regime change in Moscow. I have advocated a deal with Russia since 2008 in which we would acknowledge Russian interests in Ukraine (perhaps through a Saarland style plebiscite leading to partition) in return for Russian support in Asia. Russian interests diverge from China in Central Asia and elsewhere.
Our idiocy in unleashing (and even incubating) the jihadist monster forces Russia and China into an alliance that the Russians never wanted. Our sanctions against Russia and China push them to create payments systems and currency arrangements separate from the dollar banking system. China (I’m told by sources I trust) wants to source [DELETED]% of its hydrocarbons overland, mainly from Russia, to make itself invulnerable to American blockade, and thus will become the biggest investor in the Russian economy. What else will Russia do if we try to block natural gas sales to Europe, its natural market?
Putin took note of Pompeo’s decision to remove ETIM [East Turkestan Islamic Movement] from the US terrorist organizations list, and wonders whether the US will try to use jihadists to destabilize Russia. He notes that Victoria Nuland [the stage-manager of the 2014 Ukraine coup] is back at State. He plans a summit with Merkel and Macron on behalf of the EC and sees it torpedoed by US proxies in the Baltic States. He sees nothing but more incentive to ally with China. It is all disgustingly, moronically unnecessary, but it is there nonetheless,
Again and again I’ve counseled people to read Sergei Lavrov, who I consider the world’s top diplomat. He is also in tune with Russian public opinion whose racism — as far as i understand it — is reasonably more anti-Chinese than anti-Jewish.
Putin seems made of the same stuff. What is going on is, as you write, disgustingly, moronically unnecessary.
But it is sanity itself compared with our ruling class’s attempt to make war on perhaps the majority of the US population. Yes, I know that defeated elites turn their resentment onto domestic opponents. But doing it to this extent is sheer madness.
That was my last communication with this noble, luminous, and fearless mind. It is shattering to think that he is gone. After the 2019 death of Herbert Meyer, Bill Casey’s right-hand man at the Reagan administration’s CIA, there’s no one left who had the seniority during the 1980s to know who did what to whom.
Father James Schall, a legendary professor of politics at Georgetown University, died the same year, bereaving us of another universal thinker. There is no American institution today that could educate men like these. Angelo Codevilla was the last of a generation. His country could not do without him—and now it must.