POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Over There!

by David Trumbull

August 12, 2005

Flipping through a recent issue of National Review a "pull quote" grabbed me:

"The Bush doctrine is informed more by Thucydides than by Woodrow Wilson."

This of course is why one reads NR. It's about the only popular American news and opinion journal that assumes that a non-specialist reader knows who Thucydides was and why his book written 2,436 years ago is a good place to begin if you want to understand why America is fighting in the Middle East.

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991 I employed my spare moments re-reading Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War. I avoided mainstream media reports of the conflict. Read Thucydides the Athenian and Xenophon the Spartan and in a conversation about the war in Iraq you'll hold your own against someone who gets his news from CCN or the Boston Globe.

The NR author, Dr. Mackubin Thomas Owens, turns out to be local, an Associate Dean at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. His article is actually a review of a book, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, by another local author, Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University.

I gather from the review that Mr. Bacevich believes that President Bush is falling into the error of Woodrow Wilson, whose grandiose plans to "Make The World Safe for Democracy" utterly failed to stem the rise of the most anti-democratic and murderous regimes the world has known. It's a fair charge and one that many conservatives fear may prove to be true. Dr. Owens, however, with the broad historical perspective we might expect from the faculty of the Naval War College, reminds us that: "Thucydides pointed out that an important goal of both Athens and Sparta was to establish and support regimes similar to their own... The implication is clear: The security of a state is enhanced when it is surrounded by others that share its principles and interests."

President Bush and his advisors, rather than repeating mistakes of the twentieth century, are drawing on the deep wells of Western culture and military history.

Our mission in Iraq is clear. We're hunting down the terrorists. We're helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We're advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability, and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren. ... And as we pursue the terrorists, our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own. Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down."

--President George W. Bush
June 28, 2005

David Trumbull is the chairman of the Boston Ward Three Republican Committee; he may be contacted at (617) 742-6881 or Boston's Ward Three includes the North End, West End, part of Beacon Hill, downtown, waterfront, Chinatown, and part of the South End.