John Lewis Gaddis is the preeminent American diplomatic historian. His 1998 We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History is a debate-closing book on the longstanding academic controversy over the origin of the Cold War. In addition to his purely historical pursuits, Professor Gaddis’s academic interest includes the revival of the study of grand strategy.
We’re only about three months late in getting to his assessment of the Bush Doctrine, but his article on it is in my view both important on its own terms and useful to our understanding of the doctrine. The article is structured on a comparison of the Bush National Security Strategy with the comparable Clinton document. Gaddis’s article is “A grand strategy of tranformation.” Daniel Drezner noted the Gaddis article in a post with links on the article upon its publication in October.
Gaddis writes: “The Bush NSS…differs in several ways from its recent predecessors. First, it’s proactive. It rejects the Clinton administration’s assumption that since the movement toward democracy and market economics had become irreversible in the post-Cold War era, all the United States had to do was ‘engage’ with the rest of the world to ‘enlarge’ those processes. Second, its parts for the most part interconnect. There’s a coherence in the Bush strategy that the Clinton national security team–notable for its simultaneous cultivation and humiliation of Russia–never achieved. Third, Bush’s analysis of how hegemony works and what causes terrorism is in tune with serious academic thinking, despite the fact that many academics haven’t noticed this yet. Fourth, the Bush administration, unlike several of its predecessors, sees no contradiction between power and principles. It is, in this sense, thoroughly Wilsonian. Finally, the new strategy is candid. This administration speaks plainly, at times eloquently, with no attempt to be polite or diplomatic or ‘nuanced.’ What you hear and what you read is pretty much what you can expect to get.”
In his conclusion, Gaddis contrasts the Bush Doctrine with the policy of containment adopted by the Truman administration in the aftermath of World War II: “[T]he Bush strategy is right on target with respect to the new circumstances confronting the United States and its allies in the wake of September 11. It was sufficient, throughout the Cold War, to contain without seeking to reform authoritarian regimes: we left it to the Soviet Union to reform itself. The most important conclusion of the Bush NSS is that this Cold War assumption no longer holds. The intersection of radicalism with technology the world witnessed on that terrible morning means that the persistence of authoritarianism anywhere can breed resentments that can provoke terrorism that can do us grievous harm. There is a compellingly realistic reason now to complete the idealistic task Woodrow Wilson began more than eight decades ago: the world must be made safe for democracy, because otherwise democracy will not be safe in the world.
“The Bush NSS report could be, therefore, the most important reformulation of U.S. grand strategy in over half a century. The risks are great–though probably no more than those confronting the architects of containment as the Cold War began. The pitfalls are plentiful–there are cracks to attend to before this vehicle departs for its intended destination. There’s certainly no guarantee of success–but as Clausewitz would have pointed out, there never is in anything that’s worth doing.”
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