History Recharged

The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

History Recharged


THE SOURCE: "Ending Tyranny: The Past and Future of an Idea" by John Lewis Gaddis, in The American Interest, Sept.-Oct. 2008.

FIVE YEARS AFTER HE ENUNCIATED the Truman Doctrine, which promised support for "free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities," President Harry S. Truman left office with an approval rating of 26 percent. And the Monroe Doctrine, which put America off limits to further European colonization, largely languished until President James Polk dusted it off in 1845 to support Manifest Destiny. A hundred years from now, could a revived Bush Doctrine help guide U.S. foreign policy? John Lewis Gaddis of Yale, who has been called the dean of Cold War historians, doesn't rule it out.

Gaddis finds the kernel of the Bush Doctrine in a single sentence of President George W. Bush's second inaugural address in 2005. "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." The ultimate goal--"ending tyranny in our world"--sounds noble enough. But what about promoting "the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture"?

Democracy is not for every Tom, Dick, and Somalia. It thrives only where security, stability, and the rule of law are established, Gaddis says. Even James Madison, America's fourth president and principal author of The Federalist, had his doubts about the form of government. …

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