John Gaddis: The White House Is Pleased with His New Book

Historians in the News

Bill Sammon, in the Washington Times (March 10, 2004):  

An influential Democratic historian has credited President Bush with instituting one of only three"grand strategies" in the history of U.S. foreign policy by trading in the doctrine of containment for pre-emption.
     John Lewis Gaddis of Yale said his fellow historians have not paid sufficient attention to the importance of Mr. Bush's sweeping overhaul of U.S. foreign policy because they are blinded by their liberal bias.
     He also accused former President Bill Clinton of failing to adequately address global threats that gathered on his watch.
    "The Bush team really did, in a moment of crisis, come up with a very important statement on grand strategy, which has not been taken as seriously as it should have been taken, particularly within the academic community," Mr. Gaddis said in an interview.
     The eminent Cold War historian makes his argument in a new book called"Surprise, Security and the American Experience," published by Harvard University Press, which has caught the attention of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other White House advisers.
     It also has earned the derision of Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign.
    "There's nothing visionary about a reckless, arrogant and rigidly ideological foreign policy that's lost America influence and cooperation in the world to win the war on terror," said David Wade, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Democrat.
     Mr. Gaddis writes that America's three grand strategies were instituted by Mr. Bush, John Quincy Adams and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. All three strategies were prompted by rare, catastrophic attacks on America by foreign enemies.
     In 1814, after the British burned the White House, Adams, then secretary of state, resolved to secure America through pre-emptive continental expansion, a grand strategy that endured for a century.
     After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor prompted the United States to lead the Allies to victory in World War II, Roosevelt and his successors as president went about securing America through a grand strategy that came to be known as containment of communism. But that strategy became obsolete when the Cold War ended shortly before Mr. Clinton took office.
    "The Clinton administration was somewhat like the Harding and Coolidge administrations after World War I," Mr. Gaddis said."There was the sense that the war had been won, the fundamental processes in world politics were favorable to us, and therefore you could just kind of sit back and let them run."
     But these processes of globalization and self-determination during the Clinton administration did nothing to stop terrorists from using minimal resources to inflict massive death and destruction against the United States and its interests.
     The former president did not act decisively to head off this gathering threat, Mr. Gaddis said.
    "It just seems to me that any good strategist would be unwise to sit back and assume that things are going our way," he said."You ought to be thinking through how what appear to be favorable trends can produce backlashes."
     Such a backlash occurred on September 11, 2001, necessitating a new grand strategy, which was implemented by Mr. Bush....

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Ephraim n/a Schulman - 3/13/2004

To claim that President Roosevelt's policies toward the Soviet Union were the same policies followed by Truman is a blatant distortion of history. In fact this is not history but propaganda pure and simple.
Ephraim schulman

Michael Green - 3/13/2004

I thought it should be pointed out that, according to this article, "In 1814, after the British burned the White House, Adams, then secretary of state, resolved to secure America through pre-emptive continental expansion, a grand strategy that endured for a century." John Quincy Adams was not secretary of state in 1814. It was James Monroe. Adams was in Belgium to negotiate the treaty that ended the War of 1812.

This leaves some possibilities. One is that Gaddis was inaccurate, in which case it is no wonder that the Bush administration would like his work, seeing in it a great similarity to its own handling of the facts. Another, more likely possibility is that The Washington Times made a mistake. Given that it is probably the least accurate newspaper in America, this would be no surprise, either.