The National Catholic Review

Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president, was a military strategist who believed in the exercise of arms to advance U.S. interests. He was also a Nobel Peace Prize-winner who successfully negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5). His “Big Stick” policy—“Speak softly and carry a big stick”—admonished statesmen to display their arsenals, as he did in dispatching the White Fleet around the globe, even as they worked quietly for diplomatic solutions. Our 43rd president, George W. Bush, seems to have turned his back on T.R.’s canny statesmanship, opting instead for a loud and aggressive foreign-military policy.

 

There is much to worry about in the substance of the president’s proposed war against Iraq (see “Pre-emptive War?” Am., 9/16), but the jingoism of the push for war is also a matter for concern. Certainly the incessant talk of war worries U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East. It upsets potential partners in the Arab and Muslim world, and it stimulates anti-Americanism almost everywhere. The administration’s energetic embrace of U.S. unilateralism in its new national security strategy document (Sept. 20) has even prompted sympathetic commentators to write candidly of a new imperial U.S. foreign-military policy.

Sometimes blunt talk can be a tool for avoiding war. But the administration’s drive to bend the world to its will suggests that in this case it is not. Even the director of the C.I.A., George Tenet, has confessed to Congress that while for the last decade Saddam Hussein has been deterred from using chemical and biological weapons, the U.S. advance to war might trigger his use of that very weaponry. In the face of the president’s own assertion of the seriousness of the Iraqi threat, the release of Tenet’s analysis is nothing less than remarkable. But the administration is unfazed. Its disregard for such intelligence suggests just how set the president and his people are on making war.

The administration has plans for war, it appears, but not much for peace. Asked about what plans the Pentagon has for a post-Saddam Iraq, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that thinking on that difficult subject had only just begun. After promises of lasting and generous commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, limited U.S. and allied support has resulted in the new Afghan government’s control of little more than the capital, Kabul. The vast tracts of the country that remain to be pacified will be ready seedbeds for future terrorism, especially when U.S. attention is focused on Iraq.

The absence of a peace policy is also apparent in the administration’s disdain for nonmilitary tools of peacemaking. It denigrates the work of U.N. arms inspectors, though they destroyed far more Scud missile launchers than the Air Force did during the Persian Gulf war. It has replaced the A.B.M. treaty with an unenforceable agreement with Moscow that fails to reduce either side’s nuclear arsenals. It has vigorously opposed the International Criminal Court and made exemptions for U.S. personnel the price for American participation in peacemaking abroad. Its arguments for war have been replete with threats not just against Iraq, but also against the United Nations and NATO.

War in defiance of the United Nations or with its sullen submission will not make for a secure world. Seen from the perspective of the national security strategy, war against Iraq will not be an exceptional event, but a paradigm for U.S. global dominance. This strategy is a prescription for global disorder, including intensified anti-American terrorism on a global scale.

Realist advocates of this war are fond of citing Thucydides. As they attempt to make the world submit to American will, they would do well to reconsider the Greek historian’s account of the tragic consequences of Athens’s subjugation of the Delian League, the NATO of its day. The dangers of overreaching imperialism should give pause to those who think of themselves as democracy’s defenders.

The overheated rhetoric of war might produce some good—on condition that the administration engages in multilateral efforts for peace. Its campaign for war has pointed up the shortcomings of U.N. enforcement efforts in Iraq. It has drawn attention to the risks of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It has pointed up the need for improved international decision-making. Without committed diplomacy and vigorous support of international institutions, however, force will resolve none of these issues.

The American eagle on the Great Seal of the United States grasps an olive branch in one talon and a clutch of arrows in the other, symbolizing the nation’s determination for peace as well as war. In the absence of policies for peacemaking, the Bush administration seems to have replaced the olive branch with yet more arrows. A war policy without a peace policy is a design for disaster.

Comments

Charles Orloski, Jr. | 10/19/2002 - 12:12pm
The line of argument in "Design for disater" is very interesting except for one unsettling reference. You call attention to W. Bush turning his back on T.R.'s "canny statemanship, opting instead for a loud & aggressive foreign-military policy."

For the purpose of historical comparison, here is H.L. Mencken's take on the Rough Rider : "He (T.R.) believed in strong centralization -- the concentration of power in a few hands, the strict regimentation of the nether herd, the abandonment of democratic platitudes." ("Rosevelt: An Autopsy)

Charles Orloski, Jr. | 10/19/2002 - 12:12pm
The line of argument in "Design for disater" is very interesting except for one unsettling reference. You call attention to W. Bush turning his back on T.R.'s "canny statemanship, opting instead for a loud & aggressive foreign-military policy."

For the purpose of historical comparison, here is H.L. Mencken's take on the Rough Rider : "He (T.R.) believed in strong centralization -- the concentration of power in a few hands, the strict regimentation of the nether herd, the abandonment of democratic platitudes." ("Rosevelt: An Autopsy)

Joan Huber | 1/29/2007 - 1:25pm
The America issue of Oct. 28 revived this reader. Of Many Things sharply demonstrates that the classic essay is very much alive, and I’ll use it as an example in freshman composition class next term. Father Anderson offers a subtle brief for exploring and treasuring the world around us, and for respecting art wherever we find it.

“Design for Disaster” gives me some material for introduction to literature next week; the theme is war and peace. Maybe your combined editorial wisdom will cause a smidgen of thought in my freshman hawk, who was unmoved by “Dulce et Decorum Est.”

In “Sister Said...” Terry Golway reminds me of my own parochial school education, where the sisters taught us grammar so well that I still call on it. If God is good, I may even get students educated as his are, and I know that in the future, teachers will be blessed, helped and encouraged by their presence in the classroom.

For all of us 60-somethings, Michael Daley’s “The Sandbox and the Incarnation” is greatly welcome, for we have generally lived in the anonymity he celebrates. And his is a gentler take on what Jesus said, that the grain must die in order to bear fruit. After that issue is passed from one person to another to another and finally hits the ecology box, its articles will still be making our world a little better.

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