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Jewish World Review March 1, 2004 / 8 Adar, 5764

Michael Barone

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In the steps of JQA and FDR |
George W. Bush has made as bold a transformation in American foreign policy as John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt did in their times. That is the thesis of Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis's just-published "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

Each leader responded to an attack on American soil with an utterly changed foreign policy, which in the first two cases remained operative for decades. After the British attacked Washington in 1814, Adams as secretary of state built a foreign policy based on pre-emption (against failing colonial powers and adjacent Indians), unilateralism (no foreign alliances), and hegemony (in the Western Hemisphere: the Monroe Doctrine). After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Roosevelt and his successors built a foreign policy based on multilateralism (others did most of the fighting), legalism (the United Nations), and deterrence (of the Soviet Union).

After the September 11 attacks, Bush responded much as Adams had, with pre-emption (fanatic nonstate enemies can't be deterred), unilateralism (or at least a willingness to go it alone when necessary), and hegemony (worldwide this time). In Gaddis's view, it was a rational response, seriously explained in the 2002 National Security Strategy, though not always carried out flawlessly.

The utterly changed foreign policies of Adams and Roosevelt were never squarely challenged in presidential general elections. When Adams was secretary of state, there was no opposition party, and President James Monroe was re-elected without opposition. Isolationists who had opposed Roosevelt up to Pearl Harbor went silent afterward, and the postwar elaboration of his basic approach by Harry Truman was supported by his 1948 opponent Thomas Dewey. Robert Taft, who opposed the NATO treaty, lost the Republican nomination in 1952 to Dwight Eisenhower, who supported it.

Today things are different: The opposition seems to be challenging George W. Bush's policy--not just to cheering crowds on the stump but also before the sober Council on Foreign Relations. John Kerry intones, "The Bush administration has pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless, and ideological foreign policy in modern history." To Bush's insistence that we are at war against terrorists, Kerry says, "I think that there has been an exaggeration. . . . It's primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation"-- the approach taken before September 11. Kerry views Bush's unilateralism and pre-emption as "profoundly threaten- ing to America's place in the world and to the safety and prosperity of our own society."

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"Axis of evil." Eisenhower promised to go to Korea; Kerry promises to go to the United Nations to rejoin the community of nations and has proposed putting the U.N. in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq. As for the rest of the "axis of evil," Kerry says he is "prepared early on to explore areas of mutual interest with Iran," as if the mullahs were interested in cooperating with us, and to "renew bilateral negotiations immediately with North Korea," which, without the pressure Bush has worked to get China to impose, can only lead to an agreement like the 1994 Agreed Framework, which North Korea blithely violated. Here Bush, not Kerry, is multilateral.

Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations has argued that any Democratic president would find himself obliged to follow much the same foreign policy as Bush, despite campaign rhetoric. There may be something to that. And Bush's policy is not as unilateral as Kerry says. The National Security Statement is full of statements about the desirability of acting multilaterally when possible, and, as Bush pointed out in his State of the Union address, we have 34 allies working with us in Iraq.

But Kerry's council speech does show an inclination to tie down the United States. And the perceptions of hostile foreign leaders of an American president's determination do make a difference. Muammar Qadhafi decided to give up his nuclear weapons program lest Bush pursue him to a spider hole in the desert. Would he have made the same decision if John Kerry were about to take the oath of office? Bush's determination to act against threats is not in doubt. Kerry's is.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2004, Michael Barone