Advanced Search
John Lewis Gaddis
John Lewis Gaddis
Surprise, Security, and the American Experience
ISBN: 0674011740
Surprise, Security, and the American Experience
—from the publisher's website

September 11, 2001, distinguished Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis argues, was not the first time a surprise attack shattered American assumptions about national security and reshaped American grand strategy. We've been there before, and have responded each time by dramatically expanding our security responsibilities.

The pattern began in 1814, when the British attacked Washington, burning the White House and the Capitol. This early violation of homeland security gave rise to a strategy of unilateralism and preemption, best articulated by John Quincy Adams, aimed at maintaining strength beyond challenge throughout the North American continent. It remained in place for over a century. Only when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 did the inadequacies of this strategy become evident: as a consequence, the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt devised a new grand strategy of cooperation with allies on an intercontinental scale to defeat authoritarianism. That strategy defined the American approach throughout World War II and the Cold War.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11, Gaddis writes, made it clear that this strategy was now insufficient to ensure American security. The Bush administration has, therefore, devised a new grand strategy whose foundations lie in the nineteenth-century tradition of unilateralism, preemption, and hegemony, projected this time on a global scale. How successful it will be in the face of twenty-first-century challenges is the question that confronts us. This provocative book, informed by the experiences of the past but focused on the present and the future, is one of the first attempts by a major scholar of grand strategy and international relations to provide an answer.

Surprise, Security, and the American Experience
Program Air Date: May 16, 2004

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: John Lewis Gaddis, author of "Surprise, Security and the American Experience," if someone picks up this small, 150-page book, what`s in it?
JOHN LEWIS GADDIS, AUTHOR, "SURPRISE, SECURITY AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE": Well, I think there`s some history in it. I think there are some current events in it. And there`s some thinking about the future in it. And I hope that there`s some connection between these things because it`s intended to be a book about September 11. It`s also intended to be a book about previous American experiences with surprise attack, of which there have been a couple. But it`s also an effort to try to think through where we go from here to the future.
LAMB: Where were you September the 11th?
GADDIS: I was where I described in the first chapter of this book, I was giving a Ph.D. oral examination at Yale. And we had just gone into the examination room when the word came that something had happened at the Trade Center. Our student was a Vietnamese-American student who had fled Vietnam a quarter century earlier with her family, and it`s her most critical moment of her entire graduate career. So three of us are in the room with her, sequestered, in the period between 9:30 and 11:30 on that morning, not wanting to tell her what had happened, sneaking out to try to get information ourselves about what had happened. She did fine, and she passed. And we told her at 11:30 what had happened, and she said, Oh, I knew. I just didn`t want to upset the three of you. So that`s where I was on September 11.
LAMB: What was your reaction to all that? Did that mean much to you?
GADDIS: It was extraordinarily frustrating, in one sense, to know that something disastrous was happening outside, not to know the scale of it, not to know how big it was or where else the hijackers -- we didn`t even know they were hijackers for sure, at that point, and to have to concentrate on doing a Ph.D. exam.

But I think it also was very important to concentrate on that because it was important to finish that up, even though we knew we were coming out of that examination room into a different world. And almost -- the whole event kind of symbolized September 11 for me because there was the absolute shock and abnormality of the event, but this was combined with the sense that life has to go on and one has to try to reconstruct normality in this process. And both of these things were happening on that morning with this one event.
LAMB: As you thought back on it, did it have any impact on you that this was a Vietnamese-American?
GADDIS: Absolutely, because of the tie-in with the history. The tie-in with the hope that this country has for people who were born overseas, grew up overseas and wanted to come to this country, was very much in my mind. And I say at the end of the book that, in a way, that`s what the hijackers were after. They were trying to destroy that hope that the country stands for. So there really was a connection, in that sense, in my mind.
LAMB: What was the Ph.D. candidate`s thesis about?
GADDIS: Her thesis is on the international history of the Vietnam war in the last five years of it. And she`s fluent in Vietnamese, so she was able to use Vietnamese sources, American sources, British sources. So it will be an international history of the diplomacy surrounding the end of the Vietnam war from roughly the time Nixon came in to the Paris peace settlement.
LAMB: It`s almost 30 years. How old is this woman?
GADDIS: She is about 30 or so.
LAMB: The lecture series that...
LAMB: ... that this book came from, how did that happen?
GADDIS: The lecture series is the Joanna Jackson Goldman lecture series at the New York Public Library. And this came about really -- the series had been in the works before, but the -- but my particular series of lectures took place on the one-year anniversary of September 11, so it was September, 2002. And the assignment was simply reflect on this, with no further instructions, but flesh it out so that it`s three 50-minute lectures. So that`s where the book came from. And sometimes, I`ve found in the past that, actually, the obligation to write a set of lectures is a pretty good way to write a book because it forces you to concentrate, it gives you a deadline, it even gives awe structure. And knowing that I had three lectures determined, in some ways, how I organized this book, I`m sure.
LAMB: The 19th, 20th and 21st century?
GADDIS: Well, it came out neater than I thought it would, actually. I didn`t have that in mind at the beginning, but the more I began to think about this and the more I began to think about the previous episodes with surprise attack in American history -- one of which, obviously, is Pearl Harbor, and one of which, lesser known, is the British attack on Washington in 1814 -- it just broke down rather neatly into 19th century, 20th century and 21st century experiences.
LAMB: What was 1814, and why is it little known?
GADDIS: 1814 is the tail end of the war of 1812, which we and the British blundered into as a kind of almost aftereffect of the Napoleonic wars in Europe. And what happens in August, 1814, is that a British fleet sails up Chesapeake Bay and they lands, and their troops march across and besiege the city of Washington, but not for very long because the city of Washington was not at all well defended under those circumstances. The government flees, President Madison, and the Capitol and the White House are burned.

And this particularly struck me, knowing what we know about flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. There`s speculation as to what the targets of that flight were, but the consensus is it was probably one of those two buildings.

So in a curious way, we came full circle with that surprise attack of 1814, which almost everybody has forgotten about unless you listen to "The Star Spangled Banner," which, of course, was written as a way of commemorating that. And particularly, if you go beyond the first verse, which is the only one that`s ever sung, and begin to go into the second and third verses, you begin to get lurid accounts of how the Americans felt at this first great violation of homeland security. And it`s probably a good thing that these verses are not sung frequently these days, but they offer a good window into the mind of Americans at that point and into the sense of vulnerability and almost panic that we had as a result of that event.
LAMB: How many people were killed?
GADDIS: Not very many. The casualties were quite small. It`s nothing like the level of Pearl Harbor or September 11. And the British leave the city after a couple of days. They don`t occupy the city at all. But it was more the national humiliation. It was more of the sense that here we had achieved independence from Britain back some decades earlier, and all of a sudden, it`s clear that a British fleet can simply land with impunity, march in and destroy, burn, the national capital, that we had no defenses, we had no strategy.

And my argument, not totally original with me -- others have made the same argument -- is that that episode forced us to concentrate on grand strategy and on national defense really for the first time because we`d had the luxury of living apart from the rest of the world and not having to think very much about those things. And my argument is that the grand strategy, particularly the grand strategy of John Quincy Adams, who was secretary of state in the Monroe administration immediately following, and later himself became president -- that the strategy that emerged from this event really is the first American grand strategy and one that continued to inform American policy really all the way up into well into the 20th century.
LAMB: How long did it take Washington and the White House and the Capitol to get back to normal?
GADDIS: Some time, because the buildings had to be rebuilt. I mean, the White House was burned to the ground. The Capitol was burned. The early Library of Congress was burned, the books. Many of Jefferson`s books then came here in the aftermath of that.
LAMB: He was still alive?
GADDIS: Yes. Sure. So it took a while to rebuild it. But everything happened more slowly and at a more leisurely pace in the early 19th century. So it is not a matter of there being a sense of immediate national crisis or panic to the extent that there was with Pearl Harbor or with September 11. But there was, though -- there was simply a sense that the country was vulnerable, the country could not automatically take security for granted and it had to have a strategy.
LAMB: Was there an 1814 commission?
GADDIS: Never, as far as I know.
LAMB: I mean, is there a difference between what we`re doing now and what they were doing back then as to looking into this from an intelligence standpoint?
GADDIS: To my knowledge, there was not such a commission because, in some ways, this was -- this was a military attack. And of course, once the forces land, once the ships sail into Chesapeake Bay, you can pretty well assume they`re going to go for Washington. So there was not the same -- there were not the same investigations of this, and it was not the same complete bolt out of the blue that Pearl Harbor and September 11 were. But it was a violation of homeland security, and that, I think, is the common thread that links these two things.
LAMB: What did the government do? What did John Quincy Adams do?
GADDIS: Well, what happened was that the Madison administration leaves office in 1817, the Monroe administration comes in. John Quincy Adams, who is himself in Europe at the time that these events occur, becomes secretary of state. And it`s under Adams that the thinking that leads to this new grand strategy begins to emerge. And it has several different dimensions. I mean, one was a rapprochement with the British themselves to try to smooth over these differences, which was not difficult to do in the aftermath of the end of the Napoleonic war in 1815. The whole geopolitical situation changes, as a result of that.

But another element was that the sense of insecurity which had been made manifest in August of 1814, the sense that you can`t take security for granted, that stays there. And it`s an increasingly important issue as the American frontier expands. And what Adams confronts shortly after taking office is a situation in which raids take place from Florida, owned by Spain at the time, across the border into Georgia -- Indians, escaped slaves and some British agents who were playing an ambiguous role down there.

General Andrew Jackson takes his forces, crosses the border and simply wipes them out, doesn`t just retaliate but preempts, in the sense of wiping them out. He was almost cashiered by the Monroe administration because he acted on his own, without orders from Washington. But it`s Adams who comes to his defense, and he comes to his defense in one of the most famous diplomatic notes of the early 19th century, which is a note to the Spanish, essentially saying, You have a failed state on our border. It is the source of anarchy and insecurity to us. We have the right, under these circumstances, to preempt you. And ultimately, if you want to solve this problem, you must either impose order in that possession of yours or you must cede it to the United States. And this, of course, is what, in the end -- in fact, fairly quickly -- happened.

So this is the first American doctrine of preemption, that where insecurity exists along your borders, you have the right to go in and use force to keep that from harming your security. And I think it all grows out of the sense of heightened insecurity that followed from the original attack on Washington and becomes the basis of the way we dealt with insecurity along our borders for the next 100 years or so. So it`s important in that regard.
LAMB: You said that this is a series of three lectures, 50 minutes long, at the New York library. But you`re a man that, I think, lives in New Haven and teaches at Yale, and the book is published by Harvard. Explain how all this came about.
GADDIS: Well, this is less intricate than it might seem. There simply was the arrangement with the lecture series that the lectures would become a book, that the book would be published by Harvard, and the arrangement is that whoever gives these lectures in the future, the book is to be published -- the books are to be published by Harvard. So there was no great conspiracy to try to somehow achieve a meeting of minds within the Ivy League or something like this on that. That was just the contractual arrangements for the series.
LAMB: How long have you been at Yale?
GADDIS: I`ve been at Yale now for seven years. I came in 1997.
LAMB: And teach what?
GADDIS: All kinds of things. Too much. I teach cold war history, which is a huge class at Yale which normally enrolls about 500 students. I teach grand strategy with my colleagues, Paul Kennedy (ph) and Charlie Hill (ph), which is a seminar, a leadership seminar aimed at training the next generation of leaders. I teach a course in biography, which is great fun. It`s a junior seminar in biography limited to 15 students.

One of my other projects is I am the authorized George Kennan biographer and have been for some 22 years now. So I`m interested in biography and have a great deal of fun teaching this seminar, which consists of really nothing more complicated than that we read biographies, good ones and bad ones, and talk about what we like and what we don`t like about them.
LAMB: How did you become the authorized George Kennan biographer?
GADDIS: That`s a very good question. I...
LAMB: And who is he, by the way?
GADDIS: George Kennan, of course, is the architect of the American strategy of containment in the cold war, and perhaps with Henry Kissinger, one of the two most influential grand strategists of the entire cold war period for the United States. And as a cold war historian, which I`ve always been, I had in various books written about Kennan and had interviewed Kennan in connection with other projects. And after several contacts and several kind things that he had said about books that I had written that had referred to him, the subject came up of a biography, and I asked him if anyone was doing one. He said, I think not quite honestly, It had never occurred to me that anyone would want to do one. But now that you have mentioned it, maybe we should talk about it.

So it is really a Boswell-Johnson relationship, in the sense that I have access to Kennan, to his papers, to all of this, have done loot of interviews with him, but the book is not to appear in his lifetime and he has agreed not to read it, so I have the independence of being able to say whatever I wish to say on this. He was 78 when we made this deal. He just celebrated his 100th birthday. So my relationship with Kennan has gone on longer than Boswell`s relationship with Johnson went on, at this point.
LAMB: Why does he not want to read it?
GADDIS: This was something that both of us concluded, although it took us about six months of delicate negotiation to realize that we both wanted the same thing. A biographer has got to have independence. You can`t write a good biography if you are constantly worrying about what the subject of your biography is going to think about what you`re writing. And if you just have this image of the subject of your biography looking over your shoulder as you write, it`s not going to be good. And Kennan`s, in his -- Kennan`s second career after leaving the State Department was that of historian. He`s a profoundly accomplished historian, and he understood very well, without my having to tell him, the need for this independence on the part of a biographer. And he has respected that scrupulously all the way through this long relationship.
LAMB: And where does he live today?
GADDIS: He lives in Princeton.
LAMB: How`s his health?
GADDIS: For someone who is 100 years old, pretty good.
LAMB: We don`t see him anymore.
GADDIS: He`s mostly at home, but there were a whole series of birthday celebrations in Princeton back in February, and he did come out and go down to the Institute for Advanced Study, where he worked for years. So he`s still very much in touch with what`s going on.
LAMB: Before we live George Kennan, give us just a brief sketch, for those who may never have heard of him -- what is his legacy, in general?
GADDIS: I would say his legacy is to have devised the strategy that won the cold war, basically, because this is the strategy of containment. If you think about it, the idea that one nation could confront another nation over as many issues as we confronted the Soviet Union, over as many years as we did so, without having to go to war, on the one hand, or without caving in and surrendering, on the other -- I mean, the idea of finding a third way between these unpleasant extremes has rarely been done in history. Indeed, it`s very hard to think of any other long-term confrontation between two great nations that did not either end in appeasement or in war.

And it seems to me containment, which is not exclusively Kennan`s idea, but it was Kennan who best articulated it -- containment marked out a third path, which was one of building Western defenses, particularly with the Marshall plan, also later with NATO, creating a resilient, dynamic West which would simply be able to hold the line over a long period of time and take advantage of the fact that there were a lot of internal contradictions in the Soviet system, which to Kennan were apparent even as early as the 1940s, that would, in the end,. cause the emergence of a Soviet leader who would one day say simply, The system is not working and it has to be changed. So it was almost as if Kennan, back in the late 1940s, is anticipating Gorbachev in the mid-1980s.
LAMB: And who did he work for where he laid out this strategy?
GADDIS: He was working within the Truman administration at this time. This is 1946, 1947. Most famously, he was working with General George Marshall when Marshall becomes secretary of state in 1947. Marshall made Kennan the first director of the policy planning staff at the State Department, and the policy planning staff under Kennan really turned out the classic statements of the containment strategy that are still read today and still taught today.
LAMB: I hope Dr. Kennan doesn`t think this is an indelicate question, but when you first met him at age 78 and you were going to become his biographer, did you think you were going to have to wait 22 years?
GADDIS: No, of course not!

GADDIS: Neither one of us thought that this relationship would go on as long as it has, and it`s become the subject of jokes between us because he regularly calls up and apologizes for delaying the book.
LAMB: Have you got it written?
GADDIS: No. It`s not even written yet because I want to do this all at one time. There are still documents that are coming out, particularly family documents. There have been a lot of other books to write in between. A lot of things have happened, like the end of the cold war, for example. So I have in mind, at some point, simply setting aside two or three years and writing this all at one time because I think, to be good, again, a book like this has to be written all at one time. It cannot just be set aside and then returned to later on.
LAMB: Back to your first lecture, which was about the 19th century, and you talk about John Quincy Adams. And we`ve heard a lot -- I mean, I think George Bush`s father calls him Quincy.

LAMB: There`s the parallel between the father and the son being president. But you also say there`s a relationship between what John Quincy Adams thought and what George W. Bush thinks.
GADDIS: I think there is, in this sense. I don`t mean to claim that George W. Bush has been reading up on John Quincy Adams. That`s not what I`m saying. But if you had to characterize the John Quincy Adams strategy in three words, one of them would be preemption, for the reasons that I mentioned earlier. One of them I think would be unilateralism, the idea that we don`t form binding alliances with European powers, and that was certainly implied in the Monroe doctrine, which is Adams`s doctrine. And one is hegemony, which Adams meant hegemony over the North American continent.
LAMB: What`s that word mean?
GADDIS: It simply means we are going to be more powerful than anybody else, to put it in the terms that the Bush administration uses now, strength beyond challenge. And this was very much Adams`s aspiration for the United States within the North American continent, that we would not welcome the creation of a balance of power on the North American continent of the kind that had dominated Europe for so long because that led to wars and catastrophe, and so on. So Adams had very much the view that the United States must be the dominant power on the North American continent.

And being an Adams, he lays this out most clearly in a letter to his mom, Abigail, in 1811, where he -- Dear Mother, the United States must dominate the North American continent. And this was the nature of the Adams family, that questions of grand strategy were discussed in this way among them.
LAMB: Where does this strategy come from that we`re living through today?
GADDIS: The strategy today, it seems to me, comes from several different things. It obviously comes from the shock of September 11, which called into question the strategy that won the cold war, the strategy of containment and deterrence. And the Bush administration has been quite explicit in saying while these ideas are not dead, those techniques are still applicable, they are not enough. We must have the capacity to preempt those who would launch attacks of the kind that took place on September 11.

It comes partially out of a sense of shock and surprise, which is not, in its own way, surprising because I think that`s where grand strategies tend to emerge. That`s what I`m arguing about the Quincy-Adams strategy coming out of the shock of 1814. And surely, the Franklin Roosevelt strategy of building alliances, working within coalitions but projecting, really, a global reach of power, comes out of the shock of Pearl Harbor in 1941. So I think surprises like this give rise or tend to give rise to new grand strategies.

When these things tend to happen, I think that there is sometimes an almost automatic or unthinking instinct to look back or to feel back -- I think it`s more a matter of feeling than looking -- to feel what is the American character, what has been the American response in periods of crisis? And one of the things I`m trying to argue is that the American response to surprise attack is not to run and hide. The American response, generally, is to expand the sphere of interests and the sphere of responsibilities, rather than to contract them. So just as we expanded those spheres of responsibility to include the whole North American continent in the aftermath of the war of 1812, so we do this on a global scale in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, to the extent of building coalitions and alliances that could defeat the authoritarians, the fascists first and then later the Soviet Union and its allies in the cold war.

Now we have extended it further because the Bush doctrine no longer is content with simply building balances of power or building coalitions, but it`s just saying we actually have to intervene in the internal affairs of certain states where those states may be breeding terrorists. So this goes beyond sovereignty into something new. It is really to make the assertion that the internal situation in a country halfway around the world from us, and seemingly extremely remote from us, can produce a situation which creates the vital -- the most dangerous prospects for American security. And of course, that`s what happened with Afghanistan, of all places, where the Taliban and Usama bin Laden cooked up this attack.
LAMB: Have you ever met George Bush?
GADDIS: I have not met the current George Bush. I have met the other George Bush.
LAMB: Where do you find yourself, looking at this from your own vantage point, saying -- is this is a good idea, what he`s doing?
GADDIS: I think the strategy itself, which was most clearly laid out in the national strategy statement of September, 2002, makes a lot of sense because I do take very seriously the new kind of danger that confronts us. The fact that just this small gang starting from caves in Afghanistan were able to organize an attack that did so much damage, that killed more people than Pearl Harbor did, indicates a new kind of vulnerability that not just we but the entire world now confronts, whether from weapons of mass destruction or what we saw on September 11, which was just instruments of conventional life used for the purpose of mass destruction -- box cutters and airplanes. I think that`s a new situation which really does require a new strategy. And I think there`s little question that where you confront that kind of danger, preemption is the option that you have to think about.

I don`t think this means a repudiation of containment and deterrence. And the Bush strategy statement has been pretty explicit, that you still want to practice those strategies when you`re dealing with states. But the problem is, states are no longer the only problem we face. Non-state actors, gangs, are the problem, as well. And to try to contain someone who is invisible or to try to deter somebody who is prepared to commit suicide doesn`t make much sense. So something more is needed, and that`s been the argument of the administration.
LAMB: In your book, you suggest that the foreign policy of Bill Clinton was like Coolidge or Harding.
GADDIS: Well, yes, in the sense that, like Coolidge and Harding, the Clinton administration was a post-war administration -- Harding and Coolidge, of course, in power in the immediate aftermath of World War I, seemingly a great victory for the United States, Clinton in power in the immediate aftermath of the end of the cold war. And there was a sense in both decades, the 1920s and the 1990s, that we did not confront any serious security threats because our great enemies had been defeated in the wars that were just over.

It was a sense that history was on our side, that historical trends were moving in directions favorable to us, and that you could take a relatively relaxed view of national security, which certainly, Harding and Coolidge did. And I think Clinton did, too, certainly, in the early first term, and to some extent, in the second term, the assumption simply that the irreversible global trends that are out there are toward the democratization of the world, toward the marketization of the world, the world is now safe both for democracy and capitalism, and therefore, you can focus on domestic issues, you can focus on humanitarian issues, but national security is not a huge threat. I think that was the idea that was out there.

By the time Clinton left office, there had been enough terrorist attacks -- there had been the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, there`d been Khobar Towers in 1996, there`d been the attack on the Cole in 2000 -- that this was beginning to be rethought. And it was Bill Clinton who authorized the Hart-Rudman commission -- this is the national commission chaired by former senators Warren Rudman and Gary Hart which began its work back in the late `90s, and actually came up with the best prediction of what was going to happen in their final report, which was published in March of 2001, saying that we were indeed vulnerable to this kind of attack.

So I don`t say the Clinton administration was totally asleep at the switch or complacent on this, but I do say that their chief priority, particularly in the first administration, was domestic. I do say that there was no grand strategy that emerged in the Clinton administration that would address these kinds of issues that now preoccupy us. And I would also say that is not very surprising, because there was no great shock to generate such a grand strategy. And, of course, it required the shock of Pearl Harbor to generate that back in the 1940s, through the Harding, Coolidge, Hoover and first two Roosevelt terms, without really rethinking the situation that confronted us then, which was that new developments in Naval and air technology meant that oceans were no longer -- we could no longer count on oceans and distance for protection.

It was not until that became clear at Pearl Harbor that we really began to focus on the implications of that. So there is an analogy there, I think, to September 11.
LAMB: In that Hart-Rudman report in the early part of 2001, this is before September the 11th...
LAMB: Their first recommendation, if I remember correctly, is to create a Department of Homeland Security.
GADDIS: That`s right.
LAMB: How often in our past have we had people predict what is going to happen? And I think they also predicted about possibly airplanes flying into buildings.
GADDIS: They didn`t specifically predict airplanes flying into buildings, as I recall it. But what they did say is that we face the danger of attacks on American soil that could produce casualties in the thousands or even tens of thousands. They said that this could happen over the next 25 years. They didn`t say it`s going to happen within the next four months or five months.

So it was a general warning. It was not a specific warning. But it certainly was a sufficient warning that I think there was plenty of good reason to take it very seriously.

Whether that would have happen, whether it would have been taken seriously, whether the Bush administration really would have come up with a strategy in response to this or really would have created a Department of Homeland Security in the absence of the September 11 attack, I`m not at all sure. Remember, the Bush administration actually for a while opposed the idea of a Department of Homeland Security and had to be persuaded that this was necessary.

So, there was a degree of complacency there, too. But I think this is quite natural, because part of the problem here is that it is awfully difficult for anybody to anticipate something that has never before happened. And that is what September 11 was, just as Pearl Harbor also was. Nothing like that had ever happened before. Nobody had ever used aircraft carriers and fighter planes to launch a long range attack of the kind that the Japanese did at Pearl Harbor. Nobody had ever used airplanes and box cutters to fly them into buildings before September 11.

So I don`t fault people for -- in either administration -- for not foreseeing this specific thing, because it is almost impossible to foresee something that has never happened before.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier Boswell and Johnson. Who was Samuel Johnson?
GADDIS: Well, Samuel Johnson was the great -- you can put it -- the great man of English letters in the late 18th century, the author of Johnson`s great dictionary, critic of plays, and the most wonderful conversationalist, apparently, of his age, although much of what we know about those conversations comes from James Boswell, who simply followed him around and took notes for a period of 20 years or so. And then he wound up writing the first great biography in Western literature, his "Life of Johnson." So that was -- that`s the classic relationship between a biographer and the subject of a biography.
LAMB: You have a quote in the book from Samuel Johnson. I got the impression as I was reading that you enjoyed putting this quote in there. And I`ll read it. This is Samuel Johnson, quote, "Depend on it, sir. When a man knows that he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
GADDIS: And I think that`s a good strategic principle because it illustrates what I was saying about minds not concentrating when there does not seem to be a clear threat. But the presence of a threat, the existence of a clear and present danger does tend to concentrate minds. I don`t think it even has to be a surprise attack for that to happen. There was no surprise attack in the aftermath of World War II. And yet, the clear and present danger that was posed by the Soviet Union and where the Soviet Union wound up at the end of World War II, in occupation of half of Europe, was a sufficient motive for concentrating minds that a very creative period in American grand strategy emerged from that, the doctrine of containment, the doctrine of the Marshall Plan, NATO. So it takes a crisis sometimes to concentrate minds. It`s very hard to get minds to concentrate when things seem to be normal, and that`s unfortunate. And it can be dangerous. But I think it`s a fact of life.
LAMB: You write and mention a lot about historians in the book. Who are historians that you read all the time? Who are the ones that have made the biggest impact on you?
GADDIS: That`s a good question. I would say the great classical historians, have been very much influenced certainly by Gibbon and "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire," but I`m particularly interested in Gibbon because Kennan was so influenced by Gibbon. Kennan would say that the single greatest influence on his life was reading "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" as a foreign service officer in World War II, having to fly across the Atlantic. It took 24 hours to fly across the Atlantic and back in those days. You had to have something big to read, and so he brought "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and this very much shaped his thinking about strategy.

My own thinking is very much shaped in part by the books that we read in the course that I co-teach at Yale with my colleagues, Paul Kennedy (ph) and Charlie Hill (ph), which are the great classics of grand strategies, Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War has an enormous influence, not just on thinking about strategy, but thinking about history as well.

Certainly, for us, Machiavelli, though not a historian, surely is important in terms of how one thinks about history.

Perhaps for me, most -- most influential has been Clausewitz and his great book "On War," which is a complicated, dense and uncompleted work, which nonetheless offers all kinds of rewards every time I go back to it. And particularly every time I teach it, I will have a student who will see something different in it that I haven`t seen before. So it`s an endlessly fruitful book to keep coming back to in this regard.

Certainly -- and Kissinger on Metternich, Kissinger`s "World Restored," which he wrote as a young man in the `50s about the aftermath of the Napoleonic war, has been extremely influential with me in how I think about the balance of power, but more particularly how I think about state craft in general, as well as being a wonderful guide to Kissinger`s own performance as a statesman when he came into that capacity in the -- in the 1970s.
LAMB: Where did you originally get interested in even getting into this profession?
GADDIS: Well, as a graduate student in Texas, in ....
LAMB: Where?
GADDIS: In the 1960s, in the University of Texas in Austin. After having failed to be good at a lot of other things, like pre-med, like running the ranch, like running the drugstore in a small town, like not at all being interested in being a librarian, which is what my mom wanted me to do, and like simply having taken a fair number of history courses and decided that was the only thing left. And then having one professor at a critical moment, senior year of college.
LAMB: University of Texas?
GADDIS: Yeah. Call me in and say the paper you have written for me, which was actually on Elizabethan England`s trade with Russia in the 16th century, it had nothing to do with the Cold War, this paper could be published. And I never published it, but the fact that he called me in and said that made me decide to go to graduate school.
LAMB: What was his name?
GADDIS: His name was Dan Lindbergh (ph), and he taught Tudor history. And he is still around, I believe, University of Minnesota now.
LAMB: And where did you go to the grad -- to the grad school?
GADDIS: I -- because it was too late to apply anywhere else, I just stayed right there and went all the way through at Texas.
LAMB: Got your Ph.D. there?
GADDIS: I did.
LAMB: And what was your dissertation in?
GADDIS: The dissertation actually turned out to be on the origins of the Cold War. And this was the late 1960s, and this was the period when the American documents on the beginning of the Cold War were just beginning to be declassified at that point. And I knew that I wanted to work on something where I was going to have a steady flow of fresh documents along the way. I knew I didn`t want to do something that other historians had exhausted. And it seemed a pretty good bet that the Cold War was going to be a major topic and that we would continue to have documents coming available.

So it really dealt with the 1941 to 1947 period, the origins of the Cold War and the extent to which the origins of the Cold War were embedded in the diplomacy of World War II. And then I had been doing Cold War history off and on for ever since.
LAMB: And where were you? You have been at Yale for seven years, where were you before that?
GADDIS: I was most of -- almost all of this time at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. A wonderful, not very widely known place. I was there for 28 years teaching history. With a generous leave policy on the part of that university that allowed me to go to several other interesting places for a year or two years at a time. So two years teaching at the U.S. Naval War College in the 1970s, an extraordinarily important experience for me, in terms of getting interested in strategy as well as diplomatic history. A year of teaching at the University of Helsinki in the early `80s. A semester at Princeton. Two semesters at -- two years at Oxford.

So there have been opportunities to go off and teach and sample other places along the way. But I was really quite happy at Ohio for a long time and then just -- out of the blue, Yale called up. And that seemed like a good idea. So I have been there ever since.
LAMB: Go to the current situation, call it the Bush doctrine or the grand strategy of today. Who do you think is the architect of it? And how much did history play in the decision as to what we`re doing right now in the world?
GADDIS: I think there are several architects of the Bush grand strategy, and I would surely name -- the people who are most often named, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle in this regard. I would say that you can see elements of the current Bush grand strategy in the first Bush administration just beginning to show up. There was the famous Wolfowitz defense posture statement of 1991 or 1992, which laid out some of these ideas, that now that the Cold War is over, the United States must maintain strength beyond challenge.

But none of this was taken terribly seriously, and certainly none of it became the basis for coherent grand strategy, it seems to me, until the events of September 11. My sources in the administration tell me that they already had it in the works. The statement of grand strategy, because such statements are actually mandated by law. The Goldwater-Nichols Act, going back to 1986, mandates that administrations report on national security strategy.

But this has been very much a perfunctory exercise until this administration. And they had such a report under way that was going to try to move in new directions, but it was just under way and then they were hit with September 11. So that was an extremely powerful impetus to pull the new strategy together.
LAMB: Will we someday, like you are with George Kennan, be studying Paul Wolfowitz?
GADDIS: I think only indirectly, because I don`t think Paul Wolfowitz had the same dominant influence on the shaping of the strategy, that`s where some of the ideas start, but other people were influential as well. And in the actual preparation of the strategy, Condi Rice was quite important, because it was happening under her direction as well.
LAMB: Two things you -- well, one thing you mention, one you write about.
LAMB: One is the doctrine of preemption.
LAMB: ... and the other one is axis of evil. As we -- we think we know that David Frum wrote those words. You don`t -- I don`t think you like that phrase.
GADDIS: Well, it seems to me that the national strategy statement that came out in September of 2002 talking about the need to deal with both terrorists and tyrants, putting them on an equal basis, articulating the doctrine of preemption, showing how that related to containment and deterrence and aligning all of this with a long-term strategy of trying to address the causes of terrorism by actually promoting democracy throughout the world. That was the essence of the September 2002 document.

I think the axis of evil speech got off track. I think the axis of evil speech confused the issue, because it seemed to lump North Korea and Iran and Iraq all together, when in fact the policy of the administration has been to have really quite different policies toward these three countries. We have been negotiating with Iran, and in some cases cooperating with Iran on intelligence matters. We have been surely seeking to contain, but not preempt North Korea. And then we preempted in Iraq. We preempted Saddam Hussein. So it seems to me these were very different approaches to these countries, and I think the axis of evil idea was simply not a serious idea. I think it was a speechwriter who got out of control. That happens.
LAMB: How often -- and we`re in the middle of a presidential campaign -- how often, coming at it from a historic -- historian`s standpoint -- do you hear people supporting presidents and candidates just because they`re loyal to them and they`re in that party when those people really aren`t leading from the traditional positions you would think a conservative would be in, a Republican or a Democrat?
GADDIS: I think there is some of that, I think this happens. It seems to me that the party lines, and particularly the idea of what is a liberal and what is a conservative now in foreign policy has become blurred. If you were just to explain to a man from Mars what kind of a policy would it be to say that the United States must literally seek to make the world safe for democracy, you would say that`s Wilsonian liberalism, right? But it`s also Bush neoconservatism right now, and the neoconservatives are drawing on the role of ideas and ideals. They are drawing on the Wilsonian legacy.

This is no new thing. This really began to happen, I think, with Ronald Reagan, who was taking conservatism in the direction of moving just beyond cold-blooded realism but looking at the role of ideas, the importance of human rights. The importance of pushing democracy, even in areas that had previously been thought inhospitable to it. Like Eastern Europe, like the Soviet Union.

So the current Bush administration is very much in this Reagan tradition, and the Reagan tradition has been one of moving conservatism in Wilsonian directions. And in the process, this has scooped up a lot of people who started out as Democrats, but who have -- many of the neoconservatives actually started out as Henry Jackson Democrats, who`ve come out -- and some still consider themselves Democrats -- but they`re very much more aligned with the Republican Party in terms of where it is today than they are with the Democratic Party.
LAMB: If the president called you to the Oval Office and said, professor, I know you`ve looked at history, what mistakes can I make right now that will mess all this up, what would you tell him?
GADDIS: Well, I think they`re making some in Iraq right now. I mean, it seems to me that the strategy -- the overall strategy -- made a lot of sense. And I supported the decision to go into Iraq. But it seems to me there -- there was a lot more planning of the military exercise, how do you take Iraq, than there was the question of what do you do with it once you have it? And I think their performance there has been really quite ragged.

I think their performance on multilateralism has been ineffective. They themselves said in the national strategy statement that if this preemption doctrine is going to work, it`s got to have multilateral support, it can`t be a unilateral act by the United States. Unilateralism is only a last resort, they said, and yet, very quickly we moved into what was virtually a unilateral preemptive act. And of course, they ran into a lot of difficulties with the French and others in the U.N.

They also let themselves get locked into a pretty rigid timetable, I think, where they felt they had to move by a certain date, and that closed off giving more time to the inspectors, that closed off giving more time for diplomacy to work.

We are paying the price for that to a considerable extent now.

I think what I would say is basically two things. One is to acknowledge some mistakes, and it strikes me that one of the things this administration finds it most difficult to do is to acknowledge mistakes. Great strategists in the past have done this. Churchill did it. Roosevelt did it. To acknowledge a mistake is to leave one optimistic that the problem might be fixed. To fail to acknowledge a mistake leaves one rather pessimistic, because it might appear that the administration is not aware that there`s a problem. And there are some. So I think admitting mistakes would be a place to start.

The second thing I would say is that whatever you may think of the decision to go into Iraq, the situation that confronts us now provides the opportunity for a multilateral consensus. Because I don`t know anybody who wants us to fail in Iraq at this point, at least anybody among the great powers, among our allies. The only people who want us to fail are the terrorists themselves.

But on this point, there is clearly a consensus among the French and the Germans and the Spanish that were we to pull out now or were we to be forced out, this would be a disaster. John Kerry says the same thing. That offers the basis, I think, for a consensus. It offers the basis for a new approach, in which the United States could admit that some errors have been made, but it could also stress the point that an enormous common interest exists out there, and really that the opportunity does exist to move back to the multilateral concept, which the administration itself talked about in its own strategy statement two years ago.
LAMB: We`re in the 21st century and you`re a lecturer at the New York Library. By the way, how big a crowd did you have?
GADDIS: Oh, there were a couple of hundred people.
LAMB: Did they all come to each one?
GADDIS: Well, some came just to all three, and others came in and out.
LAMB: And when did you give these?
GADDIS: There were back in September of 2002.
LAMB: You talked about how democracies don`t have control of the movement of people anymore like they used to, and you list cheap air travel, liberal immigration policy, fax machines, cell phones, satellite television, transmitters and the Internet. Talk a little more about that.
GADDIS: Well, all I was trying to say here was that the things that we often consider to be good things, and they are in many ways, almost always will have some downsides. And this is true of things like self-determination. That`s a great idea. But, of course, self-determination as practiced in former Yugoslavia led to horrendous violence as that state began to break up in the early 1990s.

We tend to think of globalization as a great idea. But globalization has plenty of downsides, because it leaves so many people behind. And what I meant in this case was that the open society, which we all applaud our ability to cross borders and to communicate freely and to be able to fax and e-mail messages, and so on, around the world, which we value a great deal, has also had a downside because the terrorists of September 11 took advantage of this easy access to this country. They took advantage of the ability to move money easily around without controls. They certainly took advantage of liberal immigration policies. They took advantage of the Internet and e-mail.

So there`s nothing new in this. Whenever progress occurs, there`s going to be a downside. The invention of the automobile was progress, but the downside was people killed each other in automobiles.

So I think anybody thinking about long-term trends has got to get beyond just the romantic assumption that these are automatically and in all respects going to be good, because there will be downsides to them. And this is one area where it seems to me we could think ahead and try to foresee what those downsides might be to a greater extent than we have.
LAMB: You know a lot about George Kennan and how he thinks now, and obviously, you studied a lot about FDR. If those two men were in control today, given what you know about them, what would be different?
GADDIS: Well, FDR was an extremely capable but deceptive strategist. With FDR, it was no intellect. FDR made C`s at Harvard. FDR was said to have a fly-paper mind, which was incapable of focusing on anything any more than about two minutes. FDR gave conflicting instructions to his advisers and often had them working at odds with each other. From an administrative management point of view, his running of the presidency and particularly of American grand strategy looks chaotic.

And yet, as the British historian G.P. Taylor (ph) said at one point, of the three great World War II leaders, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin -- Roosevelt was the only one who knew what he was doing because he made the U.S. the greatest power in the world at almost no cost, and certainly at very little cost compared to the costs that the other great powers had to pay in World War II.

Is George W. Bush that kind of strategist? I don`t know. It`s too early to say. I think his performance in the immediate aftermath of September 11, the decision to go into Afghanistan, which was an astonishing decision at the time, because Afghanistan was supposed to be the graveyard of invaders. This had happened to the British twice and to the Russians. So this was an enormously courageous decision to go into Afghanistan, and that was successful in terms of what it was intended to do.

I think the speed with which the administration came up with the new strategy and the sweep and scope of the new strategy, the fact that the new strategy addresses both short term concerns and long-term concerns was impressive.

At the same time, it seems to me that more recently and particularly in dealing with the crisis that has developed in Iraq, the Bush leadership has been a good deal less effectual. I just don`t see Bush leading in the way that it seems to me he should be doing. I think he should be saying, this is going to be tough, this is going to require sacrifices. This is going to require reassessing the things that have gone wrong and trying to fix them. It`s going to require trying to rebuild relationships with allies and with other great powers. It`s going to require the specification of an end point, what does this strategy actually lead to, to whom do we transfer power in Iraq? And how does it -- how do we sustain it at a time when the American military are stretched terribly, terribly thin?

These are things that are not being discussed. I think that it`s not a matter of the overall strategy being down the tubes by any means. I think that the overall strategy makes a lot of sense, and I think if John Kerry becomes president next November, he will have to acknowledge this and will probably find himself confronting some of the same realities that inform the Bush grand strategy.

I think the Bush failings are more in the area of the immediate Iraq situation, how they have handled that. The failure to find the weapons of mass destruction, the fudging of intelligence that I don`t doubt did take place to some extent. The failure to have a clear plan for what we do on the ground, the failure to acknowledge these errors to a greater extent. These I think are the failings.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. A small book, 150 pages, three lectures, "Surprise, Security and the American Experience," John Lewis Gaddis, professor at Yale. We thank you very much.
GADDIS: Thank you, sir.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.