Teddy Roosevelt Father of the "Bush Doctrine"


Theodore Roosevelt behind big cannon stares down a small sombrero'd Columbia. (1903).

December 6, 2004, marked the centennial of one of the landmark statements in U.S. foreign policy: Theodore Roosevelt's so-called "Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine." It was here, and not in the post-9/11 speeches of George W. Bush, that we first heard the rationalization for a pre-emptive imperialism coming from the White House.

The preamble to U.S. imperialism, however, was delivered in 1821 by John Quincy Adams, two years before he formulated the Monroe Doctrine. "America goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy," said Adams, who anticipated that Cuba would soon fall like a ripe apple into the American basket. The 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 nineteenth century, Teddy Roosevelt had become a major player in the emergence of an adventurous U.S. imperialism, making Cuba a protectorate, taking Puerto Rico and Guam, and 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, Teddy Roosevelt acknowledged that he "took" the area while the Congress debated. One aspect of his approach to foreign policy, which links him to George W. Bush, is that unlike realists such as then-Secretary of State Elihu Root, TR rationalized imperialist policies underneath a pile of moralistic balderdash.

In 1903, TR held forth at length before his Cabinet, arguing that the Panama Canal caper advanced Western Civilization. When he turned to Secretary of War Root to inquire if he had fully justified his policy, Root replied that he certainly had-he had been "accused of seduction" and had "proved conclusively" that 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 U.S. intervention in the hemisphere.

During the next several decades, the U.S. intervened all over the Caribbean, so that the Marines became known as the "State Department troops." In 1934, Marine General Smedley Butler put it a bit more harshly, calling the Marines "gangsters" for imperialism. 

In the last half of the twentieth century military interventionism was, of course, justified in the name of anti-communism. What George W. Bush has done in essence is to extend that idea to making the entire world "safe for democracy."

America's real power was always a facet of its ideals of liberty and economic opportunity. But increasing interventionism abroad has severely undercut the force of American idealism and has contributed greatly to the economic decline now facing the country. Ironically, as the U.S. has become engaged in Iraq, has increased for support police powers throughout Latin America, and has pressured Canada to back a missile shield against nuclear attack, Europeans and the Chinese have strengthened their economic positions in both North and South America.

Neo-conservatives around George W. Bush remain obsessed with extending U.S. military power around the world but seem oblivious to the emerging economic crisis facing this country. Last month alone, the federal deficit reached $55 billion and the U.S. Congress approved a new national debt level of $8 trillion. How long can this legacy of Teddy Roosevelt's imperialism, this internal contradiction of empire, endure? Only time will tell.

For much of the twentieth century, except for Vietnam, the U.S. adopted the kind of "soft power" interventionism associated with such realists as Joseph Nye-what Elihu Root might have called "seduction." Under George W. Bush, however, the massive killing of civilians in the Iraqi intervention appears to be a throwback to the kind of violent "rape" championed by TR in the Philippines. Bully indeed.

 

Professor William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic University.

David T. Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Associate Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-editor of the book, The Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society.


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  5 Comments   Comment

  1. abdul from US

    It does not make sense that a person is a born christian again will be forgiven of all sins because of JESUS(PBUH-peace be upon Him).

    All prophets Adam,Abraham,Moses, Jesus and Mohammad(PBUH)prayed to the SAME ONE GOD(ALLAH) for forgiveness and mercy.

    The judgement day will be there and is not for fun or formality by GOD. Everybody has to go through this,no exceptions. PERIOD.

  2. Patty M from USA

    I disagree with the idea that we are trying to police the world, much less take it over. I have read articles time and time again by liberals who think we are trying to do this and I don't see that as our goal. While I do think it was wrong for leaders such as T.R. to use religion as an excuse to go to other areas, I think nowadays it's more that it is expected that we intervene. The world expects us to help, although this usually comes with a price. Every time there is conflic everyone looks to see what the US will do. Then of course, there is criticism from little countries that stand by and never help, like Greece, Sweeden, and other liberal non-participants. As someone once said "the credit belongs to the one in the ring" not the spectators. Without being a participant, you should not criticize, just like if you don't vote you void your right to complain about who won the presidential elections ( another sore spot for liberals). I have never really read any sensible alternative solutions from these critical parties (either countries or individuals), which is funny considering how much they seem to have to say about what the current participant is doing wrong. A one sided argument seldom is given credit; not proposing a solution leaves the argument without substance. These arguments often serve little to persuade those who see the whole picture, but much for those who need reassurance in something they don't really believe in, or even understand for that matter.

  3. Jeff Glover from USA

    What drives this mad US policy ? The answer lies embedded in America's Judeo-Christian culture and belief. For example, Lisa M. Montgomery, a resident of Melvern, Kansas, a devout Christian Evangelist, hailed from a family of die hard Republicans. She and her family voted twice for Bush. Hers was the ideal American family. They firmly believe in the scripture, rapture, rights of Jews over the heathen Palestinian Muslims and want Kansas to remain white. Lisa traveled all the way to Skidmore, Missouri, met Bobbie Jo Stinnett under the pretext of purchasing some cute little puppies from her. As Bobbie Jo turned her back to show Lisa the puppies, Lisa pounced on Bobbie Jo and strangled her and held her grip till there was no more life left in Bobbie Jo. Lisa then proceeded to take a kitchen knife, slice open dead Bobbie Jo's abdomen and rip out her 8 month old fetus. Lisa then drove back home to Kansas, broke the amazing news with her husband and family that she was pregnant for these past 8 months and just gave birth. Her family, her pastor at the local Evangelical church and the good Christian townspeople believe her and rejoiced. Two days later she is arrested for the sick and disgusting deed. Mr. Montgomery had no idea that Lisa was even pregnant he claimed, and neither did her family, her pastor or the townsfolk of Malvern, Kansas. The astounding questions that simply begs to be asked is just how can anyone not observe the pregnancy of a woman in her 8th month? Maybe given the life style of most white folks living in these bible states, where one kills the monotony by either getting stone drunk or pregnant, by whoever might be at hand, explains the innocence of this trailer home culture. But how do you explain this gruesome act? Well Christ has already forgiven her as she was a 'Born-Again-Christian', and no matter how egregious her sin, Christ will bear the burden and brunt of her sin, since he died for the sins of all these wonderful Christian Evangelists. Amen

  4. Ian Christodopolus from Greece

    It is a very interesting point to note that as much as Americans and Israelis are always screaming about national security under which pretext they justify their thuggery to invade, kill, loot and torture, it is they who are the biggest and most serious threat to the people of the world. The US is the only country in the world which has used nuclear weapons, and on more than one occasion and still does in the form of mini-nukes. From the terrible scale in Japan where hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, men, women and children were burnt alive or left horribly mutilated and whose pain continues with horrendous genetic mutations in succeeding generations, to the destruction wreaked upon the civilians in North Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq through the use of poison gas, mustard bombs, Napalm and mini-nukes. Soon these wonderful white Evangelist Christians and their Jewish sidekicks will turn their eyes of death and destruction towards Iran, Syria and N. Korea. I sincerely think that Americans do not realize, nor care the hell their government and their sister governments in Israel have wrought upon the innocents of this world - all under the banner of the 'Cross and Star of David' with one eye towards oil and other resources. which they now openly admit is the main reason. I think only when Americans and Israelis themselves experience the horror of a nuclear explosion will they realize what pain, misery and destruction their governments have imposed on the world for the past 50 years. As a Christian I never thought I would pray for this but in seeing the absolute vile monsters this American Judeo-Christian coalition is, I do hope that the arrogance and blood lust of these ogres is quenched with a few nuclear bombs going off on their heads, right on top of these good righteous Baptist Evangelical Christians and their Jewish partners in crime, in their own Christian home states that make up the biblical belt.

  5. Mukhlis from Hong Kong.

    Agree with the authors.

    One thing baffles me always. These planners of "extending American Power globally" is by definition immoral. Does it not occur to them that other nations, other peoples also have a right to live & exist.

    Is it true that every American individual tries to extend his powers to his neighbors or the entire community. Then why did they call America as the land of free & land of opportunities ?? Some years ago I had read " Your right to swing your arm stops where another man's nose starts". Is it just a joke ? Really, as a non American I am confused. Is that the only morality practiced in America is might is right ??

    Peace to all,

    Mukhlis