An influential Democratic historian has credited President Bush with instituting one of only three “grand strategies” in the history of U.S. foreign policy by trading in the doctrine of containment for pre-emption.
John Lewis Gaddis of Yale said his fellow historians have not paid sufficient attention to the importance of Mr. Bush’s sweeping overhaul of U.S. foreign policy because they are blinded by their liberal bias.
He also accused former President Bill Clinton of failing to adequately address global threats that gathered on his watch.
“The Bush team really did, in a moment of crisis, come up with a very important statement on grand strategy, which has not been taken as seriously as it should have been taken, particularly within the academic community,” Mr. Gaddis said in an interview.
The eminent Cold War historian makes his argument in a new book called “Surprise, Security and the American Experience,” published by Harvard University Press, which has caught the attention of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other White House advisers.
It also has earned the derision of Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign.
“There’s nothing visionary about a reckless, arrogant and rigidly ideological foreign policy that’s lost America influence and cooperation in the world to win the war on terror,” said David Wade, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Democrat.
Mr. Gaddis writes that America’s three grand strategies were instituted by Mr. Bush, John Quincy Adams and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. All three strategies were prompted by rare, catastrophic attacks on America by foreign enemies.
In 1814, after the British burned the White House, Adams, then secretary of state, resolved to secure America through pre-emptive continental expansion, a grand strategy that endured for a century.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor prompted the United States to lead the Allies to victory in World War II, Roosevelt and his successors as president went about securing America through a grand strategy that came to be known as containment of communism. But that strategy became obsolete when the Cold War ended shortly before Mr. Clinton took office.
“The Clinton administration was somewhat like the Harding and Coolidge administrations after World War I,” Mr. Gaddis said. “There was the sense that the war had been won, the fundamental processes in world politics were favorable to us, and therefore you could just kind of sit back and let them run.”
But these processes of globalization and self-determination during the Clinton administration did nothing to stop terrorists from using minimal resources to inflict massive death and destruction against the United States and its interests.
The former president did not act decisively to head off this gathering threat, Mr. Gaddis said.
“It just seems to me that any good strategist would be unwise to sit back and assume that things are going our way,” he said. “You ought to be thinking through how what appear to be favorable trends can produce backlashes.”
Such a backlash occurred on September 11, 2001, necessitating a new grand strategy, which was implemented by Mr. Bush.
The strategy included pre-emptive attacks on enemies such as Iraq that had the potential to use weapons of mass destruction, an aggressive push to democratize the Middle East and an unwillingness to be constrained by international organizations such as the United Nations.
Although Mr. Gaddis faults the president for not gathering sufficient international support before the invasion of Iraq and underestimating the challenges of postwar Iraq, the professor supported Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Many other academics opposed the war, making them reluctant to credit the president for a change in U.S. foreign policy that could very well endure for the next half-century, Mr. Gaddis said.
“The academic world is of course predominantly liberal, predominately Democratic, so there is a predisposition to be less critical of a Democratic administration than there is a Republican administration,” he said.
Mr. Gaddis, who described himself as a “very long-term, disillusioned Democrat who still has hope for the Democratic Party,” disputed the liberal stereotype of the president as a lightweight.
“There certainly has been a tendency to underestimate Bush himself and to view him in the way that Reagan was viewed when he first came in — as being a cipher, manipulated by his own advisers,” he added. “That turned out not to be true of Reagan, and it’s turning out not to be true of Bush as well.”