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America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy

America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy

by Ivo H. Daalder, James M. Lindsay

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"A splendidly illuminating book."
The New York Times

Like it or not, George W. Bush has launched a revolution in American foreign policy. He has redefined how America engages the world, shedding the constraints that friends, allies, and international institutions once imposed on its freedom of action. In America Unbound, Ivo Daalder and James


"A splendidly illuminating book."
The New York Times

Like it or not, George W. Bush has launched a revolution in American foreign policy. He has redefined how America engages the world, shedding the constraints that friends, allies, and international institutions once imposed on its freedom of action. In America Unbound, Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay caution that the Bush revolution comes with serious risks–and, at some point, we may find that America’s friends and allies will refuse to follow his lead, leaving the U.S. unable to achieve its goals. This edition has been extensively revised and updated to include major policy changes and developments since the book’s original publication.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
… the commentary is judicious, the language sober, and, given that both Daalder and Lindsay served in the Clinton White House and that Daalder was recently an adviser to Howard Dean, the measured tone invests the book with that much more credibility. — Mike Steinberger
The New York Times
However we may feel about the new order, Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay -- two veterans of the Clinton National Security Council now at the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations respectively -- pronounce what Bush has done as nothing less than a ''revolution.'' America Unbound is the most ambitious and important study in this batch, not least because the authors painstakingly develop the provocative thesis that the president is not the Dubya of cartoonists, a dim puppet of a cabal of old-guard hawks and neocons, but the master puppeteer himself. ''George W. Bush led his own revolution,'' they declare … The research is admirable, the arguments are well marshaled, and the absence of stridency adds considerable authority to the portrayal of Bush as a president whose ''worldview simply made no allowance for others' doubting the purity of American motives.'' — Serge Schmemann
Foreign Affairs
Days before the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom this past March, a well-known intellectual close to the White House walked me through the necessity and promise of the coming invasion. Whatever rancor it caused in the short term, he said, would pale in comparison to the payoff that would follow. In the months and years to come, Iraqis who had suffered under Saddam Hussein's tyranny would write books and testify to the brutality of the regime, the bankruptcy of the Arab nationalism that stood idly by while they suffered, and the improvement of their lives. That testimony and the reality of an Iraqi state where basic human rights were respected would shatter the anti-Americanism that fills the Muslim Middle East and start a wave of change that would sweep over the region.

It was a breathtaking vision, and one that was difficult to dismiss out of hand. But from the vantage point of late 2003, it seems little better than a fantasy. To be sure, the war did eliminate a dangerous and evil regime. But the Bush administration greatly exaggerated the scale and imminence of the danger Saddam posed, while dramatically underestimating the cost and burden of the postwar occupation. The prewar links between Iraq and terrorism proved to be as minimal as skeptics had charged. And the Iraqis' feelings toward their liberators turned out to be more ambivalent than Washington had assumed, the regional ripple effects less extensive, and the diplomatic damage of the whole episode worse and longer lasting.

From the Publisher

"...a splendidly illuminating book on the 'Bush Revolution' and the doctrine of unilateral intervention and pre-emptive war. Buttressed by extensive research, the authors demonstrate convincingly that Mr. Bush is not the puppet of the vice president or the Defense Department hawks. He has fundamental beliefs that have reversed America's six-decade commitment to internationalism." — The New York Times

"Ivo H. Daalder and James M. Lindsay, two alumni of the Clinton Administration's National Security Council, have given us a very useful -- and strikingly even-handed -- synopsis of President Bush's foreign policies.... America Unbound is a good book, well worth reading." —Geoffrey Riklin, Intellectualconservative.com, 3/1/2004

"AMERICA UNBOUND is a thorough and learned account of how Bush has handled international relations....It is written in a brisk, engaging style that one does not automatically associate with Washington think tanks." —Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune, Reason, 2/1/2004

"Listed among the top-selling American foreign policy and international affairs books with the #13 position." — Foreign Affairs, 3/31/2004

"Exhaustively documented... this book by two Clinton administration National security Council staffers, is a readable, balanced, and concise work that explains the present administration's theory behind the practice. These two authors, who know as much about how foreign policy is translated into action as anyone, have accomplished an empirical analysis of the actions and statements of President Bush and his advisers, discovering and articulating the worldviews behind their decicions.... America Unbound is, ultimately, a criticism of President Bush's policies, his foreign policy unilateralism in particular.... The authors base their case... on the position that the complex foreign policy goals now confronting America cannot be solved with a 'go it alone' policy." —David Marquet, U.S. Navy, Naval War College Review, 4/1/2004

"Of all the books that expound the New Look in U.S. foreign policy, America Unbound has been rightly acclaimed as the best. The research is thorough; analysis is incisive, and the approach fair to the point of being generous to Bush. That makes their criticism of Bush all the more telling. Their careful record of the policy debate alone serves to make the book a reliable work of reference." —A.G. Noorani, Frontline, 12/3/2004

"Amidst a flood of literature on the Bush foreign policy, America Unbound stands out as the most articulate and compelling. Students of the Bush presidency and US foreign policy will be consulting this instant classic for decades to come." —Andrew Preston, University of Victoria, International Journal

"...a useful overview and authoritative example of current political issues surrounding the Bush presidency in particular and trends in the U.S. foreign policy more generally....America Unbound offers a solid basis for understanding the consequences of the unleashing of America by the Bush presidency." —Laura A. Stengrim, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Rhetoric and Public Affairs, 12/2/2005

"Daalder and Lindsay offer a provocative and original thesis —and also a caution to those who have underestimated George W. Bush's decisive and historic impact on the course of American foreign policy." —Robert Kagan, author OF PARADISE AND POWER: AMERICA AND EUROPE IN THE NEW WORLD ORDER

"That infamous day, September 11, revolutionized many things, not least American foreign policy. Widely recognized foreign policy experts Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay have provided the first critical but fair account of the historic shift in U.S. foreign policy brought on by the age of terrorism. Most importantly, this book carefully documents our shift away from post-Cold War norms of internationalism toward a new doctrine: 'you are either with us or against us.'" —Gary Hart, U.S. Senator (Ret.)

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America Unbound

By Ivo H. Daalder

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-74150-7

Chapter One

The Bush Revolution

George W. Bush had reason to be pleased as Air Force One swooped in to land at Andrews Air Force Base in late February 2005. He had just completed a successful visit to Europe. The trip began in Brussels, where he hosted an elegant dinner for French president Jacques Chirac, a staunch opponent of the Iraq War. He next attended the twin summits of NATO and the European Union, in the process becoming the first American president to visit the European Commission. He then traveled to Germany to meet with Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, another fierce critic of the Iraq invasion. Before leaving Germany, Bush stopped at Wiesbaden Army Airfield Base to thank hundreds of cheering American troops and their families for their service to America. He then flew on to his final stop, Bratislava, for a summit meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, yet another vocal opponent of the Iraq War. Now, as Bush buckled his seat belt, he knew that his visit had drawn favorable reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bush made the five-day, three-nation trip at the start of his second term to extend an olive branch to a Europe that had been hostile to many of the foreign policy decisions he had made during his first term in office. But in a larger sense, he and his advisers saw the trip as a vindication of his vision and leadership. The man from Midland had been mocked throughout the 2000presidential campaign as a know-nothing. He had been denounced early in his presidency for turning his back on time-tested diplomatic practices and ignoring the advice of America's friends and allies. Many of the Europeans he had met on the trip believed that his foreign policy was dangerous and had rooted for his opponent in his run for reelection. The American people had thought differently, though. They had returned Bush to the White House by a surprisingly comfortable margin. So now he traveled through Europe, not as a penitent making amends but as a leader commanding respect.

As Air Force One landed at Andrews, Bush could say that he had become an extraordinarily effective foreign policy president. He had dominated the American political scene like few others. He had been the unquestioned master of his own administration. He had gained the confidence of the American people and persuaded them to follow his lead. He had demonstrated the courage of his convictions on a host of issues-abandoning cold-war treaties, fighting terrorism, overthrowing Saddam Hussein. He had spent rather than hoarded his considerable political capital, consistently confounding his critics with the audacity of his policy initiatives. He had been motivated by a determination to succeed, not paralyzed by a fear to fail. And while he had steadfastly pursued his goals in the face of sharp criticism, he had acted pragmatically when circumstances warranted.

In the process, Bush had set in motion a revolution in American foreign policy. It was not a revolution in America's goals abroad, but rather in how to achieve them. In his first term in office, he discarded or redefined many of the key principles governing the way the United States should act overseas. He relied on the unilateral exercise of American power rather than on international law and institutions to get his way. He championed a proactive doctrine of preemption and de-emphasized the reactive strategies of deterrence and containment. He promoted forceful interdiction, preemptive strikes, and missile defenses as means to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and he downplayed America's traditional support for treaty-based nonproliferation regimes. He preferred regime change to direct negotiations with countries and leaders that he loathed. He depended on ad hoc coalitions of the willing to gain support abroad and ignored permanent alliances. He retreated from America's decades-long policy of backing European integration and instead exploited Europe's internal divisions. And he tried to unite the great powers in the common cause of fighting terrorism and rejected a policy that sought to balance one power against another. By rewriting the rules of America's engagement in the world, the man who had been dismissed throughout his political career as a lightweight left an indelible mark on politics at home and abroad.

Nevertheless, good beginnings do not always come to good endings. Even as Bush peered out the window of Air Force One, foreign policy problems persisted. American troops in Iraq were battling a vicious insurgency. Anger had swelled overseas at what was seen as an arrogant and hypocritical America. Several close allies continued to talk about how to constrain America, rather than how best to work with it. As the president stepped onto the tarmac, Washington was asking a new question: Was the president about to abandon the Bush revolution because the costs had begun to swamp the benefits?

The question of how the United States should engage the world is an old one in American history. The framers confronted the question only four years after ratifying the Constitution when England went to war with France. President George Washington ultimately opted for neutrality, disappointing partisans on both sides. The hero of Valley Forge calculated that the small and fragile experiment in republican government would likely be crushed if it joined a battle between the world's two greatest powers.

America's relationship with Europe remained an issue throughout Washington's presidency. He discussed the topic at length in the open letter announcing his decision to retire to his beloved Mount Vernon. He encouraged his countrymen to pursue peace and commercial relations. "Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest." But he discouraged them from tying their political fate to the decisions of others. "It is our true policy," Washington counseled, "to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world." His argument for keeping political ties to a minimum was simple: "Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns."

Washington concluded his Farewell Address by noting, "I dare not hope [that my advice] will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish." He should not have feared. His vision of an America that traded happily with Europe but otherwise stood apart from it became the cornerstone of the new nation's foreign policy. John Quincy Adams eloquently summarized this sentiment and gave it an idealistic twist in an address he made before the House of Representatives on July 4, 1821. America applauds those who fight for liberty and independence, he argued, "but she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own." America stuck to its own business not merely for pragmatic reasons, but because to do otherwise would repudiate its special moral claim. "The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force," Adams warned. "She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit."

However, even liberal, democratic spirits can be tempted by changed circumstances. When Adams spoke, the United States was an inconsequential agrarian country of twenty-three states, only one of which-Louisiana-was west of the Mississippi. By the end of the nineteenth century, it was an industrial colossus that spanned a continent. Its new status as a leading economic power brought with it growing demands from within to pursue imperial ambitions. Intellectuals used the reigning theory of the day, Social Darwinism, to advocate territorial expansion as a demonstration of American superiority and the key to national survival. Church groups saw American imperialism as a means to spread Christianity to "primitive" areas of the world. Commercial interests hoped to reap financial gain by winning access to new markets for American goods. Anti-imperialists such as Andrew Carnegie and Mark Twain challenged these arguments for expansion with great passion, but they were fighting a losing battle. As William McKinley's secretary of state John Hay put it, "No man, no party, can fight with any chance of success against a cosmic tendency; no cleverness, no popularity avails against the spirit of the age."

The opportunity that imperialists had waited for came with the Spanish-American War. The windfall from that "splendid little war," as its supporters took to calling it, was an empire that stretched from Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to the Philippines in the Pacific. With victory safely in hand, concerns that America would lose its soul if it went abroad quickly faded. Under Teddy Roosevelt's corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which had been largely forgotten for seven decades after it was first issued, Washington assumed the role of policeman of the Western Hemisphere. The former Rough Rider denied that "the United States feels any land hunger or entertains any projects as regards the other nations of the Western Hemisphere." Nonetheless, he insisted that the United States could not stand idly by while Latin American nations mismanaged their economies and political affairs. Latin American nations needed to "realize that the right of such independence can not be separated from the responsibility of making good use of it." In the view of Roosevelt and his successors, they failed to do that. Between 1904 and 1934, the United States sent eight expeditionary forces to Latin America, took over customs collections twice, and conducted five military occupations. The Caribbean was soon nicknamed Lake Monroe.

With the Spanish-American War and the Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, internationalists for the first time triumphed over isolationists in the struggle to define the national interest. However, the imperialist cause would soon begin to struggle. Part of the problem was the cost of empire. America's new subjects did not always take easily to Washington's rule. In the Philippines, the United States found itself bloodily suppressing a rebellion. American occupations of several Caribbean countries failed to produce the stability that Roosevelt had promised. By then, the imperialists were confronted by another, more serious challenge. This one came not from isolationists, but from within the internationalist camp itself.

Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913 determined to concentrate on domestic concerns. Shortly before taking the oath of office, he told an old colleague: "It would be the irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs." Yet fate had precisely that destiny for Wilson. His domestic policies are long forgotten; his foreign policy legacy is historic. Wilson's importance rests not on his achievements-he ultimately failed to see his proposal for a new world order enacted-but on his vision of America's role in the world. It was a vision that would dominate American politics after World War II.

Wilson shared with all his predecessors an unwavering belief in American exceptionalism. "It was as if in the Providence of God a continent had been kept unused and waiting for a peaceful people who loved liberty and the rights of men more than they loved anything else, to come and set up an unselfish commonwealth." But whereas that claim had always been used to argue that America would lose its soul if it went abroad in search of monsters to destroy, Wilson turned it on its head. America would lose its soul if it did not go abroad. His liberal internationalism set forth a moral argument for broad American engagement in world affairs.

"We insist," Wilson told Congress in 1916, "upon security in prosecuting our self-chosen lines of national development. We do more than that. We demand it also for others. We do not confine our enthusiasm for individual liberty and free national development to the incidents and movements of affairs which affect only ourselves. We feel it wherever there is a people that tries to walk in these difficult paths of independence and right." Not surprisingly, when Wilson requested a declaration of war against Germany-thereby doing the unthinkable, plunging the United States into a European war-he did not argue that war was necessary because Germany endangered American interests. Rather, the United States must fight because "the world must be made safe for democracy."

Wilson's commitment to a world in which democracy could flourish was by itself revolutionary. Equally revolutionary was the second component of his vision-the belief that the key to creating that world lay in extending the reach of international law and building international institutions. The former college president-who ironically during his first term had enthusiastically used American military power to enforce the Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine-called on the victorious powers to craft an international agreement that would provide "mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." He went to the Paris Peace Conference in December 1918 to push his idea on deeply skeptical European leaders. He was ultimately forced to compromise on many of the particulars of his plan. Nevertheless, in the end he prevailed on the core point. The Treaty of Versailles, signed in July 1919, established a League of Nations that would "respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all." Wilson returned to the United States convinced that the idea of collective security-"one for all and all for one"-would prevent war and remake world politics.

The idea of the League of Nations was also revolutionary for American politics. Wilson was asking Americans to do more than just cast away their aversion to entangling alliances. The United States, after all, had fought World War I as an "associated" power and not an "allied" one in deference to the traditional reluctance to become tied militarily to other countries. He was asking them to spearhead an international organization that would seek to protect the security of its members, however far they might be from American shores. That would prove the rub.

The Senate's rejection of the Treaty of Versailles is usually recounted as a triumph of traditional isolationism. Isolationists certainly were the treaty's most vociferous critics. The "irreconcilables" and "bitter-enders," as they were called, were led by Republican Senator William E. Borah of Idaho, a man who had a reputation as an expert on world affairs despite never having left American soil. The irreconcilables were traditional isolationists who vehemently opposed entangling the country in foreign alliances. Borah insisted that if he had his way the League of Nations would be "20,000 leagues under the sea" and he wanted "this treacherous and treasonable scheme" to be "buried in hell." Even "if the Savior of men would revisit the earth and declare for a League of Nations," he declared, "I would be opposed to it."

Although Borah and his fellow irreconcilables lacked the votes to carry the day, many of the Senate's most ardent internationalists and imperialists also opposed the treaty. What bothered them was not that Wilson wanted to involve the United States in affairs beyond its borders. They were all for that. They simply opposed the way Wilson intended to engage the world. These anti-League internationalists, who included most Republicans and a few Democrats, believed that the United States had to preserve a free hand to act abroad, not tie its fate to the whims and interests of others. They charged that the League would trump the Constitution and usurp Congress's power to declare war. The leader of the anti-League internationalists, Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, went to the heart of the matter when he asked his colleagues: "Are you willing to put your soldiers and your sailors at the disposition of other nations?"


Excerpted from America Unbound by Ivo H. Daalder Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

IVO H. DAALDER is a Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

JAMES M. LINDSAY is Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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