Planting the Flag

Empire’s Workshop
Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism
Greg Grandin
Metropolitan Books, $25, 304 pp.

In his second inaugural address, George W. Bush declared that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands, America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.” He then added, “The defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom.”

Author and critic Tom Wolfe saw in this presidential message a pledge to apply the Monroe Doctrine to lands and peoples beyond Latin America. In an op-ed in the New York Times, Wolfe wrote of the benefits our interventions had conferred on “our sanctified Western Hemisphere.” Writing in the context of the Iraq war, he said that many new citizens of our country will agree with “President Bush—and with Theodore Roosevelt—that it is America’s destiny and duty to bring that salvation to all mankind.”

I paid particular attention to Wolfe’s article because I, too, had heard echoes of the Roosevelt Corollary in Bush’s triumphant victory speech. Just as Teddy Roosevelt saw it as his duty to use the Big Stick to restore stability to the tumultuous states of Central America and the Caribbean, Bush came to believe that it was his destiny to oust Saddam Hussein because of his flagrant abuses of power, thus bringing democracy to the Middle East.

Whereas Wolfe welcomed this global mission announced by the president, I feared and mistrusted it. Behind the noble rhetoric of...

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About the Author

Robert E. White, a former United States ambassador to El Salvador and Paraguay, is president of the Center for International Policy.