Korean independence was guaranteed by treaty but, TR thought, "Korea was itself helpless to enforce the treaty, and it was out of the question to suppose that any other nation ... would attempt to do for the Koreans what they were utterly unable to do for themselves."
Roosevelt understood the mechanics of world power, yet, as Kissinger puts it, his successor Wilson "grasped the mainsprings of American motivation ... Whatever the realities and the lessons of power, the American people's abiding conviction has been that its exceptional character resides in the practice and procreation of freedom."
Wilson instinctively understood that to overcome American isolationism he would have to appeal to its belief in the exceptional nature of its ideals. Step by step, he led America into World War I by denying selfish interests and affirming its ideals.
However, he took altruism to its logical extreme by declaring that our purpose was to make the world safe for democracy, which implied that we would be the world's permanent defender of freedom everywhere, all the time.
In the first decade of this century, a group of conservative intellectuals, the neo-conservatives or neocons, such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney, came to dominate George W. Bush's foreign policy.
They combined the worst elements of Roosevelt's power politics and Wilsonian idealism into the theory of pre-emptive power, military strikes against any bad guy who might, just might, one day, in the dim future, attack us.
This is how President Bush explained pre-emptive power: "I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
Thus began the crusade to rid the world of Iraq's demonic weapons, which did not exist, and to free the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein, which has finally come to a chaotic end without any true democracy there.
An opportunity to define how to use the best of Roosevelt's pragmatism and Wilsonian idealism passed in the Hagel hearings because U.S. senators, like small-time demagogues, insisted on hectoring a passive nominee.
Ayers is publisher emeritus of the Anniston Star.