Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


Bush Fails History... Jefferson Predicted Iraq

Bush Fails History...Jefferson Predicted Iraq

by Thom Hartmann

Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon thought they could bomb Vietnam into accepting democracy. George W. Bush thinks he can do it with Iraq.

But the first American president to consider how best to grow democracies - Thomas Jefferson - had some very different thoughts on the issue. LBJ and Bush would have done well to listen to his thoughtful words in a letter he wrote on February 14, 1815, to his old friend in France, the Marquis de Lafayette.

Discussing the French Revolution, the Terror that followed, and the reign of Napoleon, Jefferson noted that building democracy is an organic process: The democracy movement in the colonies had been fermenting for a century prior to Jefferson's birth.

"A full measure of liberty is not now perhaps to be expected by your nation," Jefferson wrote, about the democracy movement within France, "nor am I confident they are prepared to preserve it. More than a generation will be requisite, under the administration of reasonable laws favoring the progress of knowledge in the general mass of the people, and their habituation to an independent security of person and property, before they will be capable of estimating the value of freedom, and the necessity of a sacred adherence to the principles on which it rests for preservation."

He added that it's nearly impossible to force democracy on a people, and the consequences of trying could be disastrous. "Instead of that liberty which takes root and growth in the progress of reason, if recovered by mere force or accident, it becomes, with an unprepared people, a tyranny still, of the many, the few, or the one."

Lafayette, at the time of the French Revolution (1789), had expressed his concerns to Jefferson that the movement for democracy wasn't sufficiently widespread among the average people in France to take hold as it had in America, and they should thus make the transition via a constitutional monarchy much like today's United Kingdom. At the time, Jefferson had disagreed with his friend, but in this 1815 letter, he noted: "And I found you were right.... Unfortunately, some of the most honest and enlightened of our patriotic friends...did not weigh the hazards of a transition from one form of government to another."

Many in the revolutionary movement of France of that era opposed Lafayette's deliberate and careful push for an organic democracy, rather than a sudden lurch. "You differed from them," Jefferson noted. "You were for stopping there, and for securing the Constitution which the National Assembly had obtained. Here, too, you were right; and from this fatal error of the republicans, from their separation from yourself and the constitutionalists, in their councils, flowed all the subsequent sufferings and crimes of the French nation."

The lack of a truly widespread, average-citizen-based movement for democracy in France, Lafayette had privately argued to Jefferson two decades earlier, could simply lead to a transition from the tyranny of the king to another, perhaps worse, form of tyranny. While Jefferson had, at first, embraced the French revolution, in his letter to Lafayette he confessed that he had now come to agree that without a broader base of support, a sudden change of government was a disaster, and the primary beneficiaries would only be war profiteers and the rich, Frenchmen who were so opposed to democracy that they could even be called foreigners.

Thus, Jefferson wrote, "The foreigner gained time to anarchize by gold the government he could not overthrow by arms, to crush in their own councils the genuine republicans... and to turn the machine of Jacobinism from the change to the destruction of order; and, in the end, the limited monarchy they had secured was exchanged for the unprincipled and bloody tyranny of Robespierre, and the equally unprincipled and maniac tyranny of Bonaparte."

Comparing France to America, Jefferson noted how - unlike France - we had overthrown an external occupier all by ourselves. For American colonists, the repression and occupation of the English in the Colonies "has helped rather than hurt us, by arousing the general indignation of our country, and by marking to the world of Europe the vandalism and brutal character of the English government. It has merely served to immortalize their infamy."

And now Arab leaders like Egypt's Mubarak say that, across the Arab world, our infamy is being immortalized by Bush's unprovoked invasion and occupation of oil-rich Iraq. America, Mubarak says, faces "a hatred never equaled" in the Middle East, even as Iraq totters on the edge of civil war.

It's as if the cycles of history are repeating themselves, and Iraq may now suffer the Terrors that racked France in the 19th Century.

When John Adams wrote to Jefferson on July 13, 1813 about a French politician, he could just as easily have been speaking of George W. Bush: "In plain truth, I was astonished at the grossness of his ignorance of government and history."

Adams added, speaking of those who think they can create empire and have a stable rule purely by military force, "Napoleon has lately invented a word which perfectly expresses my opinion, at that time and ever since. He calls the project Ideology; and... it was all madness."

But like Iraq with Saddam, Jefferson wrote that true democracy would take time in France because the overthrow of a tyrant had been done so hastily. "You are now rid of him, and I sincerely wish you may continue so. But this may depend on the wisdom and moderation of the restored dynasty. It is for them now to read a lesson in the fatal errors of the republicans; to be contented with a certain portion of power, secured by formal compact with the nation, rather than, grasping at more, hazard all upon uncertainty, and risk meeting the fate of their predecessor...."

As we "hazard all upon uncertainty" in the Middle East, Iraq is proving the prescience of our greatest presidents yet again. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said on September 22, 1936, "In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed, it must be achieved."

If only George W. Bush had paid attention during his study of history at Yale...


Thom Hartmann (thom at is an award-winning best-selling author and the host of a nationally syndicated daily talk radio show. His most recent book is titled "We The People: A Call To Take Back America," and his newest book, based on Jefferson's writings, "A Return To Democracy: Reviving Jefferson's Dream," will be released on July 4th by Random House/Crown. This article was also Published on Wednesday, April 21, 2004 by

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news