One of the latest of these tomes is a thoughtful, interesting and well-researched, though quite academic-minded, work by John Judis entitled The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
Judis, a senior editor for New Republic, and author of the acclaimed The Emerging Democratic Majority, is an extremely intelligent political analyst and observer who clearly believes in the old adage about those not paying attention to the lessons learned through history being doomed to repeat them. His premise here is the failures of American imperialism dating back to the reigns of Presidents Roosevelt and Wilson with the potential failure of the current administrations imperialistic policies.
As Judis sees it, Bush has underestimated what a demanding, dangerous and difficult mistress imperialism is, and could benefit from hard lessons learned by Wilson and Roosevelt, specifically that the cooperation of other countries is critical in America achieving its own goals.
Consider this excerpt, taken from the books introduction:
At noon, October 18, 2003, President George W. Bush landed in Manila as part of a six-nation Asian tour. Because officials were concerned about a terrorist attack on the embattled islands, the presidential airplane, Air Force One, was shepherded into Philippine air space by F-15s. Bushs speech to the Philippine Congress was delayed by what one reporter described as undulating throngs of demonstrators who lined his motorcade route past rows of shacks.
Outside the Philippine House of Representatives, several thousand more demonstrators greeted Bush, and several Philippine legislators staged a walkout during his twenty-minute speech.
In his speech, Bush took credit for America transforming the Philippines into the first democratic nation in Asia. Said Bush, America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people. Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule. Together we rescued the islands from invasion and occupation. And he drew an analogy between Americas attempt to create democracy in the Philippines and its attempt to create a democratic Middle East through invading and occupying Iraq in the spring of 2003:
Democracy always has skeptics. Some say the culture of the Middle East will not sustain the institutions of democracy. The same doubts were once expressed about the culture of Asia. These doubts were proven wrong nearly six decades ago, when the Republic of the Philippines became the first democratic nation in Asia.
After a state dinner, Bush and his party were bundled back onto Air Force One and shunted off to the presidents next stop, Thailand. The Secret Service had warned Bush that it was not safe for him to remain overnight in the first Democratic nation in Asia. As many Philippine commentators remarked afterward, Bushs rendition of Philippine-American history bore very little relation to fact.
True, the United States Navy under Admiral George Dewey had ousted Spain from the Philippines in the Spanish-American War of 1898. But instead of creating a Philippine democracy, President William McKinley annexed the country and installed a colonial administrator. The United States then fought a brutal war against the same Philippine independence movement it had encouraged to fight Spain. The war dragged on for fourteen years. Before it was over, about 120,000 American troops were deployed and more than 4,000 died; more than 200,000 Filipino civilians and soldiers were killed. And the resentment against American policy was still evident a century later during George W. Bushs visit.
The Filipinos were not the only ones to rue the American occupation. Before he was assassinated in September 1901, McKinley himself had come to have doubts about it. He told a friend, If old Dewey had just sailed away when he smashed that Spanish fleet, what a lot of trouble he would have saved us.
By 1907, Theodore Roosevelt, who had earlier championed the war and occupation, recognized the United States had made a mistake in annexing the Philippines. After Woodrow Wilson became president, he and the Democrats backed Philippine independence, but were thwarted by Republicans who still nurtured dreams of American empire.
Only in 1946, after reconquering the Philippines from Japan, did the United States finally grant independence - and even then it retained military bases and special privileges for American corporations.
Judis summarizes the background for his theories by first going back 100 years to a time when Theodore Roosevelt believed the only way the U.S. could achieve its status as the ultimate world leader was by joining Europe in an effort to add colonies. After a long war in the Philippines, he abandoned this imperialist strategy, and later, President Woodrow Wilson, equally disturbed by nationalist backlash to American intervention in Mexico and the outbreak of WWI, also saw imperialism not as an instrument of peace and democracy, but of war and tyranny.
Decades later, after a number of successes and failures in implementing his thinking into tangible national and international policies, Wilsons work proved critical in the formation of the United Nations, NATO, the IMF, and the World Bank. Judis contends that the next 50 years that followed was a time of relative peace and prosperity for the U.S., largely because Wilsons approach worked. Despite its apparent success, he says, George W. Bush has repudiated it.
By careful attention to the pertinent details spanning about 200 years of history (in about 200 pages), Judis builds a carefully constructed case that Bush, at the urging of neoconservative supporters, has reimplemented an antiquated, discredited imperialist strategy of attempting to unilaterally overthrow regimes deemed unfriendly by his administration. The result of this has surfaced in everything from international institutions and agreements to curbing terrorism and fighting pollution. We are not going forward as a country because of this, he argues, but are seriously compromising the current and future status of this country. There is no greater demonstration of this than the war in Iraq, says the author.
Whether you are a Bush supporter or not, this is a concise, convincing and controversial look at his administration, and why it has continued to embark on a foreign policy that does not seem to be taking important cues from hard lessons learned in the past. This is a sobering read, but an important one that especially might well serve voters who are on the fence in any way about the upcoming election.