Teddy’s Corollary After a Century: Perpetual Intervention for Perpetual Peace

News Abroad

Mr. Marina is Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University, and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, CA. Mr. Beito is and Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Alabama. Both belong to the HNN Blog, Liberty and Power.

December 6th, 2004, marks the centennial of one of the significant landmark statements in American foreign policy: Theodore Roosevelt’s so-called Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The notion that President George Bush has initiated a new direction in American policy with his proclamation of preemptive strikes should perhaps be viewed from the perspective of T.R.’s pronouncement.

The Monroe Doctrine takes us back to 1823 as actually formulated by John Quincy Adams. The ambiguities and contradictions of American attitudes about expansion and empire, intervention and self-determination are evident in Adams’s much quoted speech of 1821 in which he argued that “America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” while during the same years anticipating that Cuba, like a ripe apple, would soon fall into the American basket. The Monroe Doctrine, albeit with the support of the British fleet, was a bold statement to Europe to forget about further colonization or political maneuvering in the Americas, and indicated this nation’s intention to stay out of European affairs.

By the end of the century, however, Roosevelt had become a major player in the emergence of an adventurous American Imperialism, making Cuba a Protectorate, taking Puerto Rico and Guam, while involving the nation in a major counterinsurgency in the Philippines in order to “uplift” those poor souls toward Christianity and Democracy, as well as helping put down the Boxers in China.

In the case of Panama, of course, Roosevelt acknowledged that he “took” the area while the Congress debated. One aspect of Roosevelt’s approach to foreign policy, which links him to George W. Bush, is that unlike realists such as Elihu Root, he attempted to rationalize such policies underneath a pile of moralistic balderdash.

Thus, in the case of the Panama Canal caper in 1903, TR held forth at length before his cabinet that his policy was advancing Western Civilization, etc. When he turned to Secretary of War Root, to inquire if he had fully justified his policy, Root replied that he certainly had; TR had been “accused of seduction,” and had “proved conclusively,” he was “guilty of rape.”

In his Annual Message to the Congress on December 6, 1904, Roosevelt stated that in keeping with the Monroe Doctrine the United States was justified in exercising “international police power” to put an end to chronic unrest or wrongdoing in the Western Hemisphere. Thus, while the original Monroe Doctrine had sought to end European intervention in the Americas, TR’s new Corollary justified American intervention in the same area.

During the next several decades after the Corollary, the U.S. intervened all over the Caribbean, so that as Walter LaFeber noted, the Marines became known as the “State Department troops.” In 1934, Marine General Smedley Butler put a bit more harshly in saying that the Marines had been “gangsters” for Imperialism.

Steven Graubard’s Command of Office: How War, Secrecy, and Deception Transformed the Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush (2004), details this expansion of the interventionist Corollary. The interventionism of the last half of the twentieth century was, of course, also justified in the name of anti-Communism. What George W. Bush has done, in essence, is to extend that idea not only to making the entire world “safe for Democracy,” but outer space as well.

The irony of these events is that real American power has always been a facet of America’s ideals and economic strength. This increasing military interventionist response has undercut the force of American idealism and has played a significant role in the economic decline now facing the United States.

Ironically, while the U.S. confronts Islam in Iraq and across Central Asia, as well counterinsurgency in places such as Colombia, while increasingly supporting army and police power throughout Latin America, as well as pressuring Canada with respect to a missile shield against nuclear attack, Europeans, and especially the Chinese, are in the process of using their accumulation of dollars to increase their economic roles in both North and South America.

One of the authors (Marina) was in Jamaica recently, and observed this process first hand. The Chinese Ambassador, quoting Mao Tse-tung, was a featured speaker at celebrations observing one hundred-fifty years of the Chinese in that nation.

While these events occur, the neo-conservatives around George W. Bush remain obsessed with extending American military power around the world. They seem oblivious to the emerging economic crisis facing this country. Last month, for example, the Federal spending deficit was over $55 billion. How long can this continue?

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More Comments:

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

TR (combat vet and Noble Peace laureate): Speak softly and carry a big stick

W (AWOL drug addict and international pariah): We don't do nation building, and when we do the mission is "accomplished" by a photo op.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

TR would not have coddled Saddam and Osama in the 1980s in the first place, like the Reaganites stupidly did. But, if he had taken office only in 2000, he would likely have led the world into a united international attack on the roots of militant Islam, not into a reinvigorated hatred and mistrust of the U.S. TR was no saint, but America and the World respected and trusted him. If W considers him a role model, it can only be because opposites attract.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/14/2004

Thanks Jonathan,

Excellent and what's even more important - accurate - summary of the history of American imperialism.

David T. Beito - 12/11/2004

If you are arguing that T.R. would have pursued a softer policy on Islam, I don't think you are right. His statements in the "Strenuous Life" on the barbarism of the Filipinos and the need to put down the (largely democratic) insurgency give some indication of his mindset. If anything, T.R. was more extreme that Bush in his disdain for democratic institutions in poorer countries.

It is true that T.R. had respect on the international stage but that was largely because his reach was confined to the Caribbean. There was little chance for clashes there because the Brits (who had the rest of the world to worry about) recognized it as our sphere of influence.

It is true that T.R. didn't coddle Saddam but he certainly coddled the Czar who may well have been deposed had it not been for the Port Arthur agreement.

Jonathan Pine - 12/10/2004

No I don't believe it's the fault of the military. They are just doing their job and doing it well and the blame isn't on anyone in particular. I just made a long point about the article’s "perpetual intervention for perpetual peace" which has it’s historic origins in Manifest Destiny. No dispersions on the role of the military as I’ve gone that route myself.

As far as our country spending more money on schools than other countries that depends on which countries you are talking about. If you are looking at ratios between large and small countries, yes we do spend more I think but a small country like Finland according to a recent study found it had the best education standards in the world, especially in maths and reading. Like a lot of European countries most of the money people pay in taxes, high as they are, actually goes back to them in funding their education programs, ratio-wise much larger than the U.S because they don’t have to spend 51 % of their discretionary budget on the military.

John H. Lederer - 12/9/2004


We spend more money on schools than other nations, teach our kids less than we did in 1960 when we spent less, have a staff to kid ratio that borders on the ridiculous, cannot maintain order in our schools, fail to educate minimally large parts of the population, and it is the fault of...the military?

Vernon Clayson - 12/9/2004

Mr. Clarke, you should have added that "TR (combat vet and Nobel Peace Laureate) was a Republican. Maybe you could fit an albeit in there, e.g., (combat vet and Noble Peace Laureate, albeit being a Republican.) The world is more complicated than during TR's time. Muslims were a bother at the time, which they seem to have been since their inception, but they were mostly just pirates and thieves. What would TR have done if they had knocked down two of our largest skyscrapers like they did in W's first term? Perhaps TR would have forgotten that speak softly crap and used the big stick.

Jonathan Pine - 12/9/2004

America's grope for power is based on the original "Manifest Destiny" And Bush’s mandate today has its origins that can be traced back throughout the aggressive history of our nation. The Bush government is only following a tradition of aggressive behavior and we are paying the price for it starting with our schools:

Schools in America do not have enough money for books or toilet paper because a huge part of the money the IRS takes out of our paychecks goes to support the military. Military spending adds up to more than half of the federal government’s discretionary spending; 51% military, and 49% for everything else.

No wonder there’s no toilet paper.

The United States maintains the largest and most powerful military in history. U.S. warships dominate the oceans, its missiles and bombers can strike targets on every continent, and hundreds of U.S. troops are stationed overseas. Every few years the U.S. sends soldiers, warships and warplanes to fight in distant countries. Many countries go to war, but the U.S. is unique in both the size and power of its military and its propensity to use it.

The costs of being a military super power and waging wars around the world are high. Because hundreds of billions of dollars are being funneled to the Pentagon every year, the government skimps on providing for basic needs of people here at home. Cutbacks in social programs have cause more devastation in this country than any foreign army ever has.

Foreign wars also bring bloody retaliation against the U.S. -- such as the terrorist attacks that took the lives of thousands of people at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. Despite the high costs in money and lives the government seems determined to keep going to war, putting us all in harm’s way. But the cost of U.S. foreign wars are more than simply economic. They include the lives of the soldiers who never come home.

Why is the U.S. always getting into wars? Good question. Two centuries ago the U.S. was a collection of thirteen small colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America. Today it dominates the globe in a way that even the most powerful of past empires could not have imagined.

The path to world power has not been peace.

The American revolutionaries who rose up against King George in 1776 spoke eloquently about the right of every nation to determine its own destiny. Unfortunately, after they won the right to determine their own destiny they thought they should determine everyone else’s too. The leaders of the newly independent colonies believed that they were preordained to rule all of North America. This was so obvious to them that they called it "Manifest Destiny."

"We must march from ocean to ocean… it is the destiny of the white race." Representative Giles of Maryland.

This "manifest destiny" soon led to genocidal wars against the Native American peoples. The U.S. Army ruthlessly seized their land, driving them west and slaughtering those who resisted. During the century that followed the American Revolution, the Native American peoples were defeated one by one, their lands were taken, and they were confined to reservations. The number of dead has never been counted. But the tragedy did not end with the dead. The native people’s way of life was devastated. By 1848 the United States had seized nearly half of Mexico’s territory. In Congress the war against Mexico was justified with speeches about the glory of expanding "Anglo-Saxon democracy," but in truth it was the southern slave owners’ thirst for land and the lure of gold that inspired these speeches. General Zachary Taylor ordered scores of U.S. soldiers executed for refusing to fight in Mexico.

Moving on to the Cold War… The U.S. had to contend with the Soviet Union which had emerged from WWII as a world power. For the next 45 years the world was caught up in a global turf battle between the "two superpowers." The U.S. was always much stronger than its Soviet adversary, but both countries maintained huge military forces to defend and expand their own spheres of influence. The contention between the two superpowers was called the Cold War because they never directly engaged each other in battle. But the Cold War was marked by plenty of violence in other countries. Typically the two superpowers lined up opposite sides of every conflict. For its part the U.S. moved to expand its own sphere of influence beyond the Americas and the Pacific to include old British, French and Japanese colonial empires in Asia and Africa. In doing so it had plenty to deal with local aspirations that did not always accord with American plans. To put down the insubordination, disorder and disloyalty in its sphere the new "majority stockholder" also appointed itself World Policeman. During the Cold War Washington intervened militarily in foreign countries more than 200 times.

Vietnam, 1964 - 1973

For ten years the U.S. assaulted Vietnam with all the deadly force the Pentagon could muster, trying to preserve a corrupt South Vietnamese regime, which had been inherited from the French colonial empire. The U.S. Army may have used more firepower in Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia) than had been used by all sides in all previous was in human history.

U.S. war planes dropped seven million tons of bombs on Vietnam. That’s the equivalent of one 350-pound bomb per person. Despite the ferocity of the assault on Vietnam, the U.S. was ultimately defeated by a lightly armed but determined peasant army.

400,000 tons of napalm were rained down on the tiny country. Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides were used to destroy millions of acres of farmland and forests. Villages were burned to the ground and their residents massacred. Altogether, two million people died in the Indochina war, most of them civilians killed by U.S. bombs and bullets. Almost 60,000 U.S. soldiers were killed and 300,000 wounded.

And then of course there were the contras. After the Nicaraguan people overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of the Somoza family in 1979, the CIA gathered together the remants of the Somoza’s hated National Gaurd and sent them back to Nicaragua with all the weapons they could carry – to loot, burn, and kill.

"The contras are the moral equivalent of our founding fathers." Ronald Reagan, 1985

In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to prop up a friendly regime. Soviet occupation met fierce popular resistance. The CIA stepped in to arm, finance and train the Afghan mujhedin guerillas, working closely with the Pakistani and Saudi governments. With generous support from Washington and its allies, the Mujahedin defeated the Soviets after a brutal decade-long war. Among the CIA’s collaborators in this war was a Saudi named Osama bin Laden. Together with the CIA, bin Laden supplied the Afghan mujahedin with money and guns to fight the Soviets. The Afghan war helped militarize an international Islamic movement to the Muslim world of foreign domination. Ultimately, this movement didn’t like the United States any more than the Soviets. At that time, however, the U.S. backers of bin Laden and the mujahedin were not overly concerned about their wider goals. Osmas’ being to drive all infidel troops from Muslim lands, while Reagan was dreaming of whipping the Evil Empire.

In the 1980’s, Reagan stepped up the arms race, increasing military spending to unprecedented levels. The Soviets with a much smaller economy struggled to keep up. But they couldn’t. Massive military spending put tremendous strain on Soviet society, contributing to its collapse. The U.S. won the arms race and the Cold War. As the Cold War came to an end, some people began talking about an "era of world peace" and a "peace dividend." But behind closed doors at the White House and the Pentagon the talk was quite different. They were busy planning a "new era of wars." A New World Order. In 1989, as the Eastern Bloc began to crumble, top U.S. government strategists gathered to discuss the world situation. The Soviet Union, they happily agreed, was no longer able or inclined to counter U.S. military intervention abroad. It was time, they decided, to demonstrate U.S. military power to the world. The White House wanted some decisive victories.
"In cases where the U.S. confronts much weaker enemies, our challenge will be not simply to defeat them, but to defeat them decisively and rapidly." From a National Security Council policy review.

But Saddam Hussein soon disappointed his accomplices in the U.S. by nationalizing the Iraqi oil industry. Other Arab leaders followed suit, greatly alarming U.S. officials.

"Oil is much too important a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs." Henry Kissinger

Then in 1980, Hussein did something that made him much more popular in Washington. He decided to invade Iran.

U.S. officials were delighted. After the 1979 Iranian Revolution, American strategists considered Iran the main threat to U.S. interests in the Middle East. The U.S. and its allies, therefore, were happy to provide Hussein with advanced weaponry. U.S. companies even sold Iraq materials to make chemical and biological weapons, including highly lethal strains of anthrax. So Iraq used chemical weapons against both Iranian troops and insurgent Kurdish villagers inside Iraq. The Reagan Administration knew this, but the U.S. continued to supplu Hussein not only with the necessary chemicals but also with satellite photos of the positions of Iranian troops. Over 100,000 Iranian soldiers were killed or injured by poison gas.

In 1987, the Reagan administration intervened directly in the Iran-Iraq War (on Iraq’s side), sending a naval armada to the Persian Gulf to protect the oil tankers of a country that was then Iraq’s ally - Kuwait. Using state-of-art weaponry, the U.S. Navy blew up an Iranian oil platform, destroyed several small speedboats, and recklessly shot down an Iranian passenger airliner, killing all 290 passengers. The reason given for the airliner was that the U.S. Navy had to defend their ship (sure, what where they going to do, flush their toilets on you?)

After the horrific September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, one question was so sensitive it was seldom addressed by the U.S. news media. Why they did it?

To find out it makes sense to ask the prime suspect himself. As U.S. warplanes began bombing Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden released a videotaped message. He called for more attacks on the United States and he spelled his motivations out quite clearly.

"What America is tasting now is something insignificant compared to what we have tasted for scores of years. Our nation (the Islamic world) has been tasting this humiliation and degradation for more than 80 years. Its sons are killed, its blood is shed, its sanctuaries are attacked and no one hears and no one heeds. Millions of innocent children are being killed as I speak. They are being killed in Iraq without committing any sins….To America I say only a few words to it and its people. I swear to God, who has elevated the skies without pillars, neither America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it here in Palastine and not before all the infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him."
Osama bin Laden

The specter of "weapons of mass destruction," however, was just a pretext. The U.S. made no secret of its underlying aim - to install a pro-U.S. regime and turn Iraq into a base of U.S. power in the heart of the Middle East. Bush therefore had little use for U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq. The U.N. refused to endorse the invasion, but the U.S. and Britain went ahead anyway. The Iraq army was quickly overwhelmed. Iraqi soldiers were boxed into "kill zones" and systematically annihilated. Thousands of Iraqi civilians who were unlucky enough to get in the way were also killed. Bush declared that he had "liberated" the people of Iraq and that he would bring democracy. The Iraqis, quite naturally, were suspicious.

We know what happened after the British "liberated" their grandparents. And we also know what happened the last time the U.S. brought "regime change" - they ended up with Saddam Hussein!

If the past is any indication, the prospects for democracy in Iraq under U.S. tutelage are not good. The U.S. has overthrown many governments around the world, but the result has rarely been any kind of democracy. The result has almost always been a brutal dictatorship.

It soon became clear that American "liberation" of Iraq came with strings attached. "We didn’t take on this burden not to have significant dominating control." U.S. Sec. Of State Colin Powell, April 2003

Militarism and the media. So how come every time there’s a war so many people support it? Most Americans are not eager to fight wars halfway around the world. In order to win public support, pro-war politicians have always had to wrap the foreign wars up in red, white, and blue and tell Americans that it’s their patriotic duty to support them. Still, it would be hard to convince people without the help of the news media, especially the television networks. When it comes to the war, the networks discard all pretenses of objectivity.

After the 1991 Gulf War, one of the Bush administration’s top war planners spoke to a group of prominent journalists and thanked them for their help. "Television was our chief tool in selling our policy." Richard Hass, National Security Council, 1991. It sure was. We were treated to live 24-hour war coverage, sponsored by Exxon and General Electric and cleared by the Pentagon.

When the Pentagon is preparing to invade a foreign country, the news media faithfully repeat the official justifications for war and paints monstrous pictures of the enemy of the hour.

"Reliable sources reported today that fill in the blank eats babies for dinner."

Lawrence Grossman, who was in charge of PBS and NBC news for many years described the role of the press this way: "The job of the President is to set the agenda and the job of the press is to follow the agenda that the leadership sets."

As a result you get just about the same message no matter what channel you turn to.

A thin rhetorical veneer about combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has hardly concealed its underlying aim: to impose a new U.S. client regime in the heart of the Middle East and assure control over a country that has the world's second largest known oil reserves. In an effort to quell armed resistance, the U.S. military has taken harsh punitive measures against the civilian populations of both countries, feeding a spiral of violence that has repercussions around the world and is placing us all in greater danger.

All the credit for the above goes to Joel Andreas, Addicted to War