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The Folly of Empire: What George W. Bush Could Learn from Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson Hardcover – August 3, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743261275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743261272
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,487,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Surveying American foreign policy since the 1890s, New Republic senior editor Judis argues that when conservatives compare George W. Bush's post-9/11 speech to Congress with Roosevelt's "The Strenuous Life" (a speech that endorsed U.S. expansionism), they leave out Roosevelt's later doubts about expansionism and his support for international law and organization. While adopting Woodrow Wilson's goal of global democracy, conservatives, Judis says, have disregarded Wilson's recognition, through the example of Mexico, that the U.S. will stumble when trying to impose a government in the manner of McKinley and early Teddy Roosevelt: unilaterally. Where Judis identifies imperialist activity over the decades, he finds it grounded in America's sense of mission. But he also finds American torture in Iraq echoing American conduct toward Native Americans and in the Philippines and Vietnam: treatment meted out to "savages," not equals. He praises Bill Clinton for using NATO as not merely a military alliance but an "association of interest." While Judis makes a strong case that Bush's repudiation of Clinton's support for numerous treaties and pacts is shortsighted, he fails to criticize international institutions systematically, such as the United Nations' failure in Rwanda or the curious presence of nondemocratic countries on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.
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"A sobering read during Iraq’s current wallow." -- George F. Will, The Washington Post

"An enlightening interpretation of American history." -- The New York Times Book Review

"Judis has done a valuable service in reminding us that we have been in—and through—this ‘quagmire’ before." -- The New York Sun

"[A] valuable appraisal of the Bush presidency, bringing to bear the weight of U.S. history to make a convincing case." -- The New York Times

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Richard Reiches on August 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
For the reader interested in a quick and easy introduction to the history of American multilateralism and a critique of the Bush unilateral approach, this is a useful book. On the other hand it is too sketchy and a bit simplistic.

For example, it really doesn't deal with the problems of utilizing the United Nations to deal with issues such as Iraq.

One of the repeated criticisms of the multilateral approach is that countries like Russian and France had economic interests in Iraq which prevented them from being willing to take action there to topple Saddam's regime. The argument is the kind of coalition which backed the Gulf war was not possible because of these collusions. I have never seen this effectively refuted. This is the kind of depth of examination which I believe is necessary to support multilateralism vs unilateralism.

Furthermore, the author contends that the invasion of Iraq created more potential terrorists and thus increased the chances of terrorism in the world. I did not read one piece of evidence supporting this contention. Although I believe it is true, the author did not back it up as I believe that he should.

The author did not extend his discussion to deal with likely hotspots like North Korea and Iran. How would a multilateral approach deal with these issues? How would it deal with "rogue nations" other than these?

One can look on this book as a good start for the full blown and fully articulated defense of multilateralism and critique of unilateralism that is so vitally needed at this time. I still await such a book.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Robert David STEELE Vivas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a balanced book, well-grounded in history, with an objective air and a very pleasing integration of specific quotes from both the past and the present. It strips away the false airs of the neo-cons, and with trenchant scholarship shows how deeply ignorant America's neo-conservatives and their leading light are of the lessons of history.

The early portion of the book provides an excellent overview, concise, documented, easy to absorb, of the origins of American imperialism in the early century of Christian millennialism followed by civil millennialism. The chart on page 17 is useful, covering the seven period of various styles of American imperialism or avoidance thereof.

The book documents the explicit rejection by the Founding Fathers of empires based on conquest and distance rule, and of foreign political entanglements.

I especially liked a 1780 quote from Reverend Samuel Cooper that captures my own personal belief in how America should relate to the world: "Conquest is not indeed the aim of these rising states; sound policy must ever forbid it. We have before us an object more truly great and honorable. We seem called by heaven to make a large portion of this globe a seat of knowledge and liberty, of agriculture, commerce, and arts, and what is more important than all, of Christian piety and virtue."

I find it relevant that Mark Twain, among many others in our history, was a staunch opponent of American imperialism.

The middle portion of the book provides a non-judgmental review of how America was lured into imperialism for largely economic reasons, including a fear of losing access to China as well as coaling stations for a global navy.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Joshua Christofferson on November 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I firmly believe that history can teach us virtually everything we need to know about our modern world. We have thousands of years of civilization behind us as humans, and a few hundred years behind us as Americans. We have the extreme benefit of learning from the mistakes of our fore-fathers and hopefully the wisdom to not repeat them. Unfortunately, it seems that we as a people are often forgetful or simply unlearned about the parallels between our world and the past. In his book, "The Folly of Empire," John B. Judis makes the case that the current Bush administration has been unwilling or unable to draw parallels between their present actions and the post-Imperialistic actions of previous generations.

Judis claims that the current Bush administration is leaping head-long into a new version of 19 th and 20 th century imperialism in modern Iraq. Bush, he states, is heading down the same failed road as some of his American predecessors have already tread. To illustrate this, Judis lays out two major examples of failed US imperialism: Theodore Roosevelt's attempts to annex the Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba and Puerto Rico, and Woodrow Wilson's attempt to overthrow the Mexican dictator, Huerta. In a nutshell, both presidents had what seemed to be honest intentions in their attempts to secure democracy around the world. However, their aims were short-sighted in the sense that they caused more backlash and ultimately failure.

Overall, Judis's book creates a strong parallel between our seemingly forgotten past as a country, and the current administration. The neo-conservatives love their Roosevelt in all his muscular imperialism, but forget his failures. They remember the failed efforts of Wilson to create a multilateral world but forget his lessoned learned as an attempted "liberator.
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