From Publishers Weekly
The postSeptember 11 strategy of the Bush administration is often described as a radical departure from U.S. policy. Gaddis, one of America's leading scholars of foreign policy and international relations, provocatively demonstrates that, to the contrary, the principles of preemption, unilateralism and hegemony go back to the earliest days of the republic. Gaddis resurrects the 18th-century idea of an "empire of liberty": whether as a universal principle or in an American context, liberty could flourish only in an empire that provided safety. The British burning of Washington in 1814 highlighted American vulnerability to certain forms of surprise attack. In consequence, Gaddis recounts, John Quincy Adams developed a strategy of seeking control over the North American continent with minimal coercion, but through preemptive action where necessary. The attack on Pearl Harbor extended the concept to global dimensions, eventually expanding the U.S. sphere of influence exponentially. The events of September 11 extended the concept of preemptive action even at the expense of sovereignty when terrorism is involved. Gaddis describes this latest expansion of American power in response to surprise attack as a volatile mixture of prudence and arrogance. But instead of the usual caveats, he recommends the U.S. continue on an interventionist course, and he has no qualms about calling America the best hope of liberty in the eyes of most of the earth's inhabitants. The ability to question all values that is liberty's essence depends, he finds, on defending certain valuesunilaterally and preemptively when necessary, but not randomly. This compact, provocative history of an idea-in-action has the potential to alter the U.S.'s collective self-image.
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Historian Gaddis places U.S. reaction to 9/11 in the context of national security policy. In 1817, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, reacting to the burning of Washington, D.C., by British forces during the War of 1812, inaugurated three policies to secure the nation as it grew: preemption
--the U.S. would react swiftly and forcibly to attacks; unilateralism--
the U.S. would reject alliances requiring response to unforeseeable developments involving other nations; hegemony--
the U.S. would predominate in the Western Hemisphere. Polk in the Mexican War and McKinley in the Spanish-American stretched the limits of preemption, and Wilson's internationalism foundered on unilateralism, but the enormously popular Franklin D. Roosevelt significantly altered security policy by allying for World War II and crafting postwar developments, including the UN, to expand U.S. hegemony worldwide. Gaddis argues that George W. Bush in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq attempted FDR's exploitation of multilateralism but ultimately elected preemption ("shock and awe") in the service of global hegemony. Even Bush's staunchest opponents stand to be edified by Gaddis' impressive presentation. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved