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Feb 10, 2004 3:41 pm

Gaddis on Bush as Grand Strategist ...

Laura Secor of the Boston Globe gives us an advanced look at John Lewis Gaddis's new book, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. In it, he will argue that George W. Bush ranks with John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of three major grand strategists in American history, shaping American foreign policy for decades to come. Bush's foreign policy of pre-emptive war, unilateralism, and American hegemony, Gaddis argues, looks back to precedents in foreign policy articulated by Adams. See also: the discussion at Daniel Drezner.

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Oscar Chamberlain - 2/11/2004

You are right of course. Truly dismissing him out of hand would be wrong. He's earned that. To the extent that he is noting the power Bush has to shape long-term policy, he is absolutely correct.

But he seems to assume that the willingness to use that power in a consistent manner should be equated with competence, and I don't think one naturally or inevitably follows the other.

In fact, my fear is that Bush is trapping us in an approach to the Middle East--and the world--that will be distructive. It will be so because his unilateralism is at odds with contemporary international realities. Gaddis may help us understand how he is doing it, but I don't think he will help much with evaluating it.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/11/2004

Oscar, Of course, I expected Gaddis's book will draw a lot of critical response -- including the points that you make, as well as others, but I hope that it will not simply be dismissed out of hand. I do not think that the academy's general contempt for GWB should prejudice its recognition that his administration's actions will dramatically shape the foreign policy problems of whatever administration takes office in 2004 and its successors into the foreseeable future.

Oscar Chamberlain - 2/11/2004

Gaddis is too good a historian to dismiss out of hand, but if this summary is accurate, it will be hard not to do so.

First, Gaddis ignores one dramatic difference between the 19th century and today: internatinal organizations are an integral part of international commerce as well as interntaional diplomacy. Bush thinks he can bust up the latter and leave the former unharmed. Apparently Gaddis does too. I think both are wrong.

Second, Gaddis dismisses the incompetent planning of the occupations by bringing up the bad post-1945 planning.

The end of WWII was a radically different situation. Both occupations came out of conquests, not liberations. In Japan, loyatly to the emperor helped assure loyalty to the occupation.

In Germany the prolonged bombing, brutality of the Russian invasion, and the claim by each occupier that they had full power to do what they pleased severly limited resistance.

Put differently neither Japan or Germany had native militia's with a claim to legitimacy.

It is true that, in the short run, we have gained some diplomatic leverage. There is nothing to suggest competence in shifting from the short run to the long.

Or, to quote Leonard Cohen, "a scheme is not a vision."