- US Foreign Policy and Democracy Promotion: From Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama ed. by Michael Cox, Timothy J. Lynch, and Nicolas Bouchet
This edited volume in the Routledge Studies in US Foreign Policy series tracks democracy promotion in U.S. policy, covering every president from Theodore Roosevelt on. Many chapters were first presented as papers at a 2010 conference on “US Presidents and Democracy” at the University of London’s Institute for the Study of the Americas, but most have been updated to extend into 2012. They gather a posse of younger British scholars around three senior U.S. academics: Henry Nau of George Washington University and Stanford University’s Hoover Institution (who discusses Ronald Reagan), Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (covering Barack Obama), and Tony Smith of Tufts University, whose survey [End Page 289] introduction carries forward the arguments in the book he cowrote with Richard C. Leone, America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994, updated in 2012), the volume that inspired serious post–Cold War scholarship on the topic.
Taken together, the essays provide the basis for a sophisticated understanding of where democracy promotion fits in U.S. foreign policy as it has evolved over the past century plus. The book does not focus solely on the Cold War, when national security and economic factors were often higher priorities in shaping U.S. foreign policy. Only after the Cold War ended could democracy promotion achieve the status it now enjoys. Yet from Harry Truman to Reagan, the promotion of democracy was an important part of the way the United States approached the Cold War, and the studies included here allow readers to understand how promoting democracy outside U.S. borders emerged and grew, across the whole range of modern U.S. presidencies, into the salient component of U.S. foreign policy it has become.
The editors emphasize three points about their collection. First, most chapters feature original research, mainly in public papers of the presidents and their administrations. Tony McCulloch’s chapter on Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, is basically a meticulous pursuit of his thought and policy through his public statements, as he swung toward advocating defense of the European democracies as critical to U.S. national security. Adam Quinn’s study of Theodore Roosevelt is based more on secondary sources, but it gives a fascinating glimpse of how he shifted U.S. policy from traditional respect for Westphalian sovereignty toward value-based intervention abroad (although Roosevelt’s “value” was “civilization” rather than “democracy”).
Second, the book shows us that the dilemma of how to balance considerations of national security, free-market economics, and democracy promotion is not new. The book offers a running record of how U.S. leaders have grappled with these issues almost from the beginning. The mixes may vary, but presidents have always needed to juggle concepts of economic interdependence, multilateral institutions, U.S. leadership, and “democratic peace” (the idea that democracies rarely fight each other and that peace is assured if they can band together) in evolving circumstances.
Third, as an antidote to much current academic fashion, the book refocuses attention on the roles of presidents in the U.S. political system. It shows they still matter in the making of their administrations’ policies.
The book also does some other things well. Chapter after chapter shows how the United States has promoted democracy in some places rather than others because of competing priorities, and how definitions can shift along the way. Under Truman, defending democracy came to merge with fighting Communism (discussed by Martin Folly); under Bill Clinton, promoting democracy in Russia came to mean supporting Boris Yeltsin (discussed by Nicolas Bouchet); under George W. Bush, “democracy” almost disappeared in favor of “freedom” (covered by Timothy J. Lynch). Chapter after chapter shows how domestic priorities shaped the role(s) of democracy promotion in overall foreign policy. Jimmy Carter’s promotion of human...