Interventionist Diplomacy

CHAPTER 20:  “The Strength of a Giant”: America as Hyperpower, 1992-2007

“After another period of stumbling and uncertainty, the new Republican administration of George W. Bush, son of the former president, would use the opportunity created by the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to effect the most revolutionary changes in U.S. foreign policy since the Truman Doctrine of 1947.” –George Herring, From Colony to Superpower, p. 938

Discussion Questions

  • In his final chapter, Herring repeatedly condemns the Bush Administration with a series of harsh judgments about its hubris following the 9-11 attacks.  According to Herring’s narrative, what were the worst foreign policy and national security decisions made by the Bush team during their Global War on Terror (GWOT)?
  • Herring wrote his assessment of the Bush years prior to publication of his book in  2008.  From the perspective of 2022, do the policy changes he describes still seem as “revolutionary” as they appeared to him?


Madeleine Albright (1937-

“More important in terms of precedent –and policy– was the replacement of [Secretary of State Warren] Christopher with UN ambassador Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state.  The daughter of a Czech diplomat who escaped both the Nazi invasion and the Communist takeover, Albright claimed to know the meaning of Munich firsthand.  The United States, in her view, must take responsibility for upholding world order.  She was consistently the most hawkish of Clinton’s advisers.  ‘What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about,’ she once berated [General Colin] Powell, ‘if we can’t use it?’  Described as the ‘ultimate independent woman,’ she had raised three daughters before launching a career.  She bristled when reporters wrote about her appearance.  Effective on television and in public, she won points at the White House during the 1996 campaign by telling an appreciative Cuban-American audience in Miami’s Orange Bowl that the shooting down of civilian aircraft by Fidel Castro’s pilots was ‘not cojones but cowardice.’ By sheer force of personality, she became a key player, especially with regard to the Balkans.” (Herring, chap. 20, p. 932)

The Bush 41 Team


The Bush 43 Team

Bush, Cheney, Rummy

From L to R: Don Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney

The younger Bush gave little hint in his campaign of what was to come…. He distanced himself from the Wilsonian idealist label he sought to pin on the Democrats and especially his opponent, Vice President Al Gore, expressing his disdain for humanitarian interventions and ‘nation-building.’ (p. 938)

Gloomy in outlook and countenance, conservative in his politics, secretive almost to the point of being sinister, Cheney sought to restore to the presidency the power he believed had been lost through Watergate.  He would become the most powerful vice president ever. (p. 938-9)

The dynamic, hard-driving Rumsfeld was a master of bureaucratic warfare.  The two men had been deeply disturbed by U.S. failure in Vietnam, the denouement of which they had witnessed from the Ford White House.  They had opposed Kissinger’s policy of detente.  They believed the United States must maintain absolute military supremacy and use its power to promote its own interests, not permitting the niceties of diplomacy or the scruples of allies to get in the way.” (p. 939)


Secretary of State Colin Powell at the UN in 2003

Although uneasy with the results and certain he was being used by the White House, the secretary played the dutiful soldier.  His seventy-five-minute speech on February 5, 2003, complete with photographs, recordings, and even a small vial dramatically displayed to show how little anthrax it would take to cause enormous loss of life, warned of the ‘sinister nexus’ between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda and detailed evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (much of it dubious and soon discredited).  (p. 951)


White House lawyer, John Yoo, one of the authors of the “Torture Memos” in 2002

The U.S. image was further tarnished by spring 2004 revelations of abuse of enemy detainees, especially at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison…Prisoners were left naked and chained to cells, piled naked on top of each other, made to wear women’s underwear, and forced to simulate sex acts.  They were tortured in interrogation.  The practices at Abu Ghraib violated a long U.S. tradition of humane treatment of prisoners.” (p. 955)

Bush and Rice

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice with President George W. Bush

Given the new foreign policy lineup and her especially close relationship with Bush, Rice emerged as a major player.  Amidst the wreckage of Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s soaring second inaugural commitment to spread democracy and end tyranny in the world never got off the ground. On the contrary, elections in Palestine and Lebanon produced victories for Hamas and Hezbollah, militant movements tied closely to Iran.  With ‘Madame Rice,’ as the president called her, in the lead, the United States set out to repair the damage to relations with the European allies done in the first term.  Over loud protests from neo-cons like [John] Bolton, the administration reopened negotiations with North Korea and made concessions that permitted a fragile agreement to halt its nuclear program. (p. 959)