February 14, 2004

Gaddis Interview

Go read this excellent interview with John Lewis Gaddis.

Despite the headline blurb ("Bush Pre-emption Doctrine The Most Dramatic Policy Shift Since Cold War") Gaddis' points don't support the Krugmanian thesis (if that's what we should call it ) that Bush foreign policy represents a "revolutionary" departure from American foreign policy norms.

For instance:

"The terms are confusing because there was a fairly clear and sharp distinction during the Cold War between pre-emptive and preventive war. In the Cold War, pre-emption meant imminent danger. Preventive was understood to be a more long-term question. I have always felt that these terms were not easily separated, that there was a kind of blur between them. And I think that is all the more relevant as you move out of the Cold War and as we get away from the context of nuclear war in which these terms were being used. The idea of pre-emption or prevention is not new in American foreign policy.

It's deeply rooted in American foreign policy, going all the way back to the aftermath of the War of 1812. It was a dominant feature of our foreign policy for 100 years, coming all the way up through the early 20 th century Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine [that made the Western Hemisphere off-limits to European colonization]. There were no clear distinctions made between pre-emption and prevention in the thinking of that period.

I think we are actually back to a kind of situation which 19 th-century strategists had to deal with: the danger of non-state actors who, with state support or taking advantage of the failure of states, might gain locations from which they could threaten American interests. There was a sense that these dangers had to be pre-empted or prevented by taking over Florida, for example, from Spain, or taking over Texas from Mexico, or, according to many historians, provoking a war with Mexico so [the United States] could take California to prevent the French or British from taking it later.

[Another example is] our interventions in Central America at the beginning of the 20th century, which were intended to prevent so-called failed states from providing excuses that might lead European powers like imperial Germany, for instance, to intervene. There is a long tradition behind this, and I think it obscures more than it illuminates to try to provide this pre-emption/prevention distinction from the nuclear debates in the 1950s and 1960s and try to make them work in this new situation."

Read the whole thing. And I'll have more comments soon.

Posted by Gregory at February 14, 2004 12:45 PM
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