In October 1942 leaflets appeared in Egypt. The occasion was the British Eighth Army victory over Rommel’s Afrika Korps at El Alamein, which at last made the Allies confident they could drive the Axis out of the Middle East. Moreover, the first American observers had arrived in North Africa in preparation for Operation Torch, the invasion of Morocco and Algeria scheduled for the following month. The leaflets, printed in Arabic and signed by President Roosevelt. proclaimed:
“… Behold. We the American Holy Warriors have arrived. We have come here to fight the great Jihad of Freedom…. Assemble along the highways to welcome your brothers. We have come to set you free. Speak with our fighting men and you will find them pleasing to the eye and gladdening to the heart. We are not as some other Christians whom ye have known, and who trample you under foot. Our soldiers consider you as their brothers, for we have been reared in the way of free men. Our soldiers have been told about your country and about their Moslem brothers and they will treat you with respect and with a friendly spirit in the eyes of God…”
We may forgive such condescending propaganda on the grounds that Arabs, Persians, and other Muslims were hardly the focus of U.S. geopolitics then that they are today. …….But not until 1979, when Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski called the Islamic Crescent an Arc of Crisis, did the Middle East take center stage. By that time all the major U.S. foreign policy traditions were already in place.
It is my assigned task to provide the overarching context of American foreign relations in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. My most telling message is that the strategies and methodologies—the ends and means of America as a world power—were all contrived to surmount crises and challenges elsewhere in the world. They had no initial relevance to Islamic cultures or Middle East geography, but had somehow to be applied to Middle Eastern policies once they had pushed themselves onto the American foreign policy agenda. That is why I shall have nothing more to say on the Middle East until the very end……
[Conclusion:] Taking the second question first, the answer is not yet, because of my criteria for a tradition, and probably not at all, since Operation Iraqi Freedom may turn out to be a one-shot deal. Most telling, preemption is not new at all if we are at war. Since the seventeenth century at least, almost the whole world has understood a state of war to mean the declaration of hostilities between two or more sovereign states. After World War II, however, that clear definition began to break down.
The U.S. itself has played a major role in that breakdown, for not since 1941 has the U.S. Congress declared war against anyone. Korea was called a police action, engaged in with approval by the UN. Vietnam was called a conflict, engaged in on the dubious grounds of the Congressional Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The U.S. invasions of Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti were likewise executive police actions launched in the name, not of U.S. security, but universal human rights. Even the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were not preceded by declarations of war, although they clearly involved U.S. security as well as human rights. Does the existence of transnational, non-state terrorist movements imply that the U.S. and its allies are in a permanent state of something like warfare against people who may be lurking in every country on earth? If so, can the U.S. or any other government claim the right to intervene anywhere according to their traditional right of self-defense? Perhaps a major theme of twenty-first century international relations will be a great global debate over the redefinition of war itself.
Whether the Bush policies were a radical departure from our traditions is also a complicated issue. I believe the Bush Doctrine is rooted to a surprising degree in American traditions. Terrorism against the U.S. homeland is surely a devastating assault against our Exceptionalism, our Unity, Independence, and Liberty at Home, our Freedom to pursue our American Dream. If the Boston Massacre and Britain’s Intolerable Acts demanded an American Declaration of Independence, certainly 9/11 did. The War on Terror as waged by Bush also echoed some themes of Progressive Imperialism and Containment, and it brought to a deafening crescendo the theme of Global Meliorism. The Iraqi occupation has been called Wilsonianism with Guns. It is really Global Meliorism with Guns, which, to me, is the most persuasive analogy between Iraq and Vietnam, and therefore the most troubling as well.
How the Iraqi crusade comes out will be of surpassing importance for the short-range future of American statecraft and the place of the U.S. in the world. State-building, much less democratization, in Iraq and even more in Afghanistan is a fantastic proposition. But if I am wrong, then Bush’s stock may rise in decades to come as Truman’s did, the lessons of 2003-06 will be forgotten, and at some point Americans will over-reach all over again someplace else. Alas, failing to reckon with our own history and those of the countries we presume to invade and redeem is also a venerable U.S. tradition.”