The first neoconservative was Theodore Roosevelt. In 1904,when Santo Domingo defaulted on its loans from three great powers in Europe, he sent in the Navy, seized control of the Customs Houses and paid off the debts, preventing the intervention of Europe in the affairs of this hemisphere, chaos, or war.
As PBS put it, "Roosevelt recognized that it had become a very small world, and he was concerned … to prevent chaos or serious instability in any part of the world" that might threaten his own country’s interests. Paul Johnson wrote later, "It was Roosevelt’s view that America had a right, not exactly God-given…to operate as a hemispheric policeman … to uphold democratic republicanism and good government in the interest of all."
The second neoconservative was his fifth cousin Franklin Roosevelt, his protégé and acolyte, who used his post as assistant secretary of the Navy to act as Theodore Roosevelt’s mole in the Wilson administration. He helped push the pacifist president toward armed intervention on behalf of the Allies when World War I arrived in the next decade.
"Franklin had been walking a thin line," Peter Collier and David Horowitz wrote in their Roosevelt history. He passed government secrets on to his cousin, and attended secret meetings of interventionists outside of Washington, working with Adm. Mahan of Britain to form an Anglo-American "special relationship," foreshadowing Franklin Roosevelt’s relationship with Winston Churchill during World War II.
Certainly, Franklin Roosevelt agreed with Theodore Roosevelt’s remarks when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for ending hostilities between Japan and Russia in 1910:
"It would be a masterstroke if those great powers honestly bent on peace would from a League of Peace, not only to keep the peace among themselves but to prevent, by force if necessary, its being broken by others…As things are now, such power…could best be assured by some combination between the great powers. The combination might at first be only to secure peace within certain definite limits…but the ruler or statesman who should bring about such a combination would have earned his place in history…and his title to the gratitude of all mankind."
These words most likely occurred to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the late 1930’s, when Germany, Japan, and Italy grabbed large tracts of land with no one to stop them. And perhaps again in 1942-45, when he started to think of the world to be built when the war ended, and "police power" loomed large in his mind. The United Nations, as planned, had a debating society, and a fairly large number of soft power arms. But the heart of it was the Security Council, whose five permanent members — the United States, Britain, France, China, and the Soviet Union — would take the lead in suppressing any Anschluss-like measures that seemed to be coming their way.
This plan came apart in Truman’s first years, when it became clear that Russia and China had become the real problem, whereas the former Axis powers were becoming our partners. During the Cold War, improvised regional alliances would serve to provide resistance and order. But when that war ended, the West lost its focus, the threats lost coherence, and th UN was no longer our friend. Serving Gerald Ford, Daniel Patrick Moynihan called it ‘A Dangerous Place;’ Jeane Kirkpatrick serving Reagan would second the motion; and Nikki Haley today says the "police" in this case are arresting the victims, and letting assailants go free.
A world with Iran, Korea, and Syria in it is badly in need of the Roosevelts’ vision. But right now, it seems very far away.
Noemie Emery, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."