Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Tom Wolfe goes geopolitical

Tom Wolfe, most recently in the news for "award-winning" (ahem!) I Am Charlotte Simmons, compares George W. Bush's inaugural address to Teddy Roosevelt, who put forth his own corollary to the Monroe Doctrine to Congress a century ago. (In the Times)

The language in the two addresses is surprisingly similar. But most interesting are the snippets of American history Wolfe pulls out, including this bit:

Theodore Roosevelt's corollary to President James Monroe's famous doctrine of 1823 proclaimed that not only did America have the right, à la Monroe, to block European attempts to re-colonize any of the Western Hemisphere, it also had the right to take over and shape up any nation in the hemisphere guilty of "chronic wrongdoing" or uncivilized behavior that left it "impotent," powerless to defend itself against aggressors from the Other Hemisphere, meaning mainly England, France, Spain, Germany and Italy.

The immediate problem was that the Dominican Republic had just reneged on millions in European loans so flagrantly that an Italian warship had turned up just off the harbor of Santo Domingo. Roosevelt sent the Navy down to frighten off the Italians and all other snarling Europeans. Then the United States took over the Dominican customs operations and debt management and by and by the whole country, eventually sending in the military to run the place. We didn't hesitate to occupy Haiti and Nicaragua, either.

From 1823 to 1904, to 2005. Of course, the Monroe Doctrine, in its specific geographic sense, ceased to be a meaningful term after the invention of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (hemispheres ceased to matter). But Wolfe cites historians who've argued that the doctrine remained alive after all through the 1950s, 70s, and 80s, as the U.S. sponsored paramilitary interventions throughout Latin America to choke the spread of anything that smelled like Communism: everything from the Bay of Pigs, to the Iran-Contra affair, to the assasination of Che Guevara.

Wolfe suggests Bush's mission in Iraq resembles yet another extension of the life of a classic bit of American political philosophy, which has now gone global. But is he right? Isn't this really something quite new, dressed up perhaps in the familiar garb of Liberty, Democracy, and the "Shining City on the Hill"?

I see an assertion of political and military dominance for its own sake, not a defensive geopolitical strategy in a world of competing colonial military powers. The U.S. no longer has competition where war is concerned...


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