Those who criticize the Bush Doctrine in dealing with world terrorism and Islamofacsism as well as others who wonder about its place in historical perspective would benefit from a small book by John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Gaddis places George W. Bush in a context that reaches back to John Quincy Adams’ term as Secretary of State under President James Monroe to find that Bush’s strategy is more consistent than not with the American tradition of foreign policy. Adams’ innovation at the time was to introduce the notion of national expansion as the basis of providing the necessary security for the relatively new country. And his methods for pursuing this expansion were preemption, unilateralism, and hegemony. Sound familiar?
Gaddis traces these concepts through the next two centuries and finds that they were consistently applied, albeit in different ways in different situations, in every foreign policy crisis until World War II and the Cold War, when more of a multilateral approach came into vogue and the concept of American exceptionalism was diluted, while American hegemony overseas was justified and accepted because there existed “something worse” in the form of Soviet domination. The question Gaddis poses is whether Osama bin Laden is enough of this “something worse” to permit the same degree of American hegemony, and he wonders if the part of the Bush Doctrine that is at odds with Adams, that of the deliberate American expansion of liberty and democracy abroad, is sustainable. This is a very provocative historical perspective on critical foreign policy issues and I highly recommend it.