James R. Holmes. Theodore Roosevelt and World Order: Police Power in International Relations. Washington: Potomac Books, 2006. 328 pp. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57488-883-6.
Reviewed by Emilian R. Kavalski (Department of Political Science, University of Alberta, Canada)
Published on H-USA (May, 2006)
The American Promotion of World Order
Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the subsequent "war on terror," copious amounts of ink have been squandered on the predilection of the United States to wield its power alone in the international arena. Such analyses of American interventions and unilateralism have largely tended to explain it as a novel phenomenon, which detracts from established practices of transatlantic cooperation. This conclusion rests on the post-war pattern of international relations, which locked the United States in various institutional frameworks for the protection of Western Europe. Yet, even during the Cold War, the willingness of Washington to cooperate with its partners did not extend to out-of-Europe areas. It could be argued that, at least since the Suez crisis, the United States has reasserted that it would not tolerate the expansionist tendencies of European countries and, instead, maintains the freedom and independence of its foreign policy.
James Holmes's book, therefore, is a timely reminder that the origins of the two dominant tendencies of current U.S. foreign policy--preemption and unilateralism--can be traced to the ideas and the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. In this respect, it is surprising that so few contributions to the expanding literature on post-Cold War interventions have attempted a macrohistorical analysis of the relevance of past experience to current practices. Holmes's main contribution is filling this lacuna. It is precisely his serious treatment of historical precedence that makes this volume worthwhile. At the same time, Holmes makes a convincing argument that the history of American interventionism can be instructive both in terms of understanding and explaining its contemporary incidence as well as illuminating the current and prospective strategies for preemption and state-building.
In Theodore Roosevelt, Holmes finds a good candidate for bringing historical content to the discourse about U.S. strategic doctrine. Holmes suggests that Theodore Roosevelt not only injected a fresh perspective on the international use of American power in the early-twentieth century, but he also wrote extensively on the interaction between diplomacy and the recourse to military force. As it happens, Holmes ascertains that Theodore Roosevelt's perspective on the conduct of foreign relations was underwritten by his "domestic outlook" (p. 131). As a former New York City police commissioner, New York state legislator, and U.S. Civil Service Commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt became accustomed to using state power to preserve order and superintend the public welfare. This experience informed his foreign policy stance, which asserted the right of the United States, as the most advanced republic of the "New World," to perform police duties within its own neighborhood. Thus, by qualifying the Monroe Doctrine, Theodore Roosevelt insisted on the quasi-legal right of the United States to protect the citizens of states, which have failed egregiously in their duties.
According to Holmes, the cornerstones of Theodore Roosevelt's philosophy are: the preservation of public order; the mediation among competing actors; and the invitation of social reform through legislation and regulation (p. 9). Such pragmatism has underwritten Theodore Roosevelt's belief that only an active and responsible government can dispense its duty to preserve peace both at home and abroad. In this context, the notion of "police power" reflected the right of various levels of government "to suppress criminal conduct," "to protect the public interest," and "to ensure public welfare" (p. 132). In its application to world affairs, police power implied the use of military force in the cases where the enforcement of international regulations by other means has failed; it also implied that there is no other way to maintain order and ensure improvement in the conditions of existence of citizens of foreign countries (pp. 203-220). Theodore Roosevelt justified both the domestic and international application of the concept of "police power" along the lines of the alleged progressive moral mission of the United States in the world.
It is an advantage of Holmes's volume that he has contextualized his analysis of Theodore Roosevelt's gumption with six well-researched case studies of the extension of U.S. police power in the early twentieth century: the Philippines; Cuba, Venezuela, Panama, Santo Domingo, and Morocco. More than anything else, these case studies (probably inadvertently) construct a coherent picture of the long history and experience of the U.S. Army in pacifying, policing, and establishing civilian administrations in fractured states. However, Holmes asserts that it was only World War II and the military occupation of Germany and Japan that spurred "the army to codify the lessons it had learned during the Roosevelt presidency" (p. 211). One wonders whether these are being heeded by the current administration.
Holmes's volume is a thought-provoking study of Theodore Roosevelt, his presidency, and, in particular, his foreign policy. Furthermore, it makes a convincing argument that it is a macrohistorical mode of analysis that is more likely to uncover the conceptual fog surrounding the notions and practices of recent American interventions and the United States partiality towards unilateral foreign policy. It is expected that Holmes's study would attract the attention of both scholars and policymakers working in the fields of American history and international politics. At the same time, it is likely to become the main reference source on the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and his contribution to U.S. foreign-policy-making.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Emilian R. Kavalski. Review of Holmes, James R., Theodore Roosevelt and World Order: Police Power in International Relations.
H-USA, H-Net Reviews.
Copyright © 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the Reviews editorial staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.