The so-called “war on terror” has ended. By the end of his first week in office, President Barack H. Obama had begun the process of dismantling some of the most notorious “wartime” measures. A few weeks before, recently reappointed Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates had clearly forsaken the contentious label in a post-election essay on U.S. strategy in Foreign Affairs. Gates noted this historic shift in an almost offhanded way: “What is dubbed the war on terror is, in grim reality, a prolonged, worldwide irregular campaign – a struggle between the forces of violent extremism and those of moderation.” At the same time, the Obama administration is taking care to reconfirm its commitment to defending the United States and its interests against the threat of radical Islamists, among others. However, because it is hard to replace something with nothing, this article argues that the President should go further and offer a positive formulation – based on good law as well as sound policy – of how he will lead us to a “future of peace and dignity.” He should restore Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms to a central place in the nation’s grand strategy.
The administration of George W. Bush left the international credibility of the United States in tatters and seriously undermined any U.S. claim to leadership in human rights and the rule of law. The Obama administration can begin to repair the damage wrought by the Bush administration by establishing a healthy new respect for public international law. Reengaging the international community multilaterally to develop international law further would be widely welcomed after eight years of unilateral and dictatorial engagement.
Professor Mark Shulman’s article advocating the adoption of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms as a foundation for U.S. foreign policy is a useful contribution to the contemporary political debate. Indeed, we all might wish that his policy prescriptions would lead to a new age of enlightened internationalism under U.S. influence and leadership. Unfortunately, history does not afford us cause for optimism. In the last 100 years, twice – after both World Wars – the West has hoped for a better world free from want and fear. And yet, those hopes – for the enshrinement of the Four Freedoms in the halls of government around the world – foundered on the rocks of reality when totalitarianism was established in a resurgent Germany under Hitler and in the hegemony of Stalinist Russia during the Cold War.