The President Falls Through the Ice
Longtime readers will know that I divide American foreign policy into four schools of thought. Hamiltonians (well represented among the old Republican foreign policy establishment) want the United States to follow the trail blazed by Great Britain in its day: to build a global commercial and security system based on sea power and technological leadership, maintaining a balance of power in key geopolitical theaters and seeking to attract rivals or potential rivals like China into our system as, in Robert Zoellick’s phrase, “responsible stakeholders.” Wilsonians also want the United States to build a world order, but to anchor it in liberal human rights practices and international law rather than in the economic and security frameworks that Hamiltonians prefer.
There are two other schools that are home-focused rather than globalist. They are less interested in changing the world around the United States than in keeping the United States safe from the world. Jeffersonians have historically sought to avoid war and foreign entanglements at all costs; Jacksonians have been suspicious of foreign adventures, but strongly believe in national defense and support a strong military and want decisive action against any threat to the United States, its honor, or its treaty allies.
Meade goes on to explain how these for world views interacted in the recent policy discussion. He shows how poorly the current administration understands different points of view. The whole affair was a disaster, but Meade does include this hopeful observation.
Those who don’t understand American politics very well, unfortunately including some of our adversaries and rivals overseas, will conclude that America has become a weak nation. That is not quite accurate; President Obama has become a weak president in international politics at least for now, but another leader would be able to revive public support for a more ambitious foreign policy just as Ronald Reagan was able to call on political energies that President Carter could not.