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

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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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