Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Foreign policy democrat style

Some of the leading Democratic foreign policy lights (and some Republican ones too) gathered in Princeton last weekend to talk about American foreign policy and Democrat alternatives to the Bush doctrine. Suzanne Nossel has the highlights which are worth reading.

Foreign policy is a gigantic subject and it is difficult to know where to begin. Many writers, especially the popular ones, are heavily biased in their presentation. For a great grounding in American foreign policy, I recommend Special Providence. The author, Walter Russell Mead, lays out an approach to post-Cold War policy. One of his arguments is that the US has a rich foreign policy tradition that predates the Cold War. Another is that four schools have influenced and constrained American policy. These schools rise and fall over time, but most have supporters at any given time.

Hamiltonian. The Hamiltonian school seeks to build American economic power. They push for expanded trade and international agreements, like the WTO, which will lead to more economic growth. They are hesitant to use force as it will limit growth.

Wilsonian. The Wilsonians seek to improve the world. This can take peaceful forms or more aggressive ones. Both the Peace Corps and the invasion of Iraq spring from this basic desire to improve the state of the world.

Jacksonian. The Jacksonians are populists who believe that any threat to national security should be dealt with immediately and severely. Once a threat is eliminated the US should withdraw.

Jeffersonian. The Jeffersonians argue that American democracy is fragile and be corrupted by international involvement. As such they seek to avoid any unnecessary international engagements of any kind.

Today, the Wilsonian and Jacksonian trends are dominant. Bush 1 and Clinton were more of a Hamiltonian and Wilsonian mix. The Iraq debacle may see a rise of Jeffersonian power. I have simplified Mead's model and I recommend this book to those seeking to better understand the sources of American policy. Mead's style is a little on the academic side, which may turn off some readers. For those people, I would recommend H.W. Brands' What America Owes the World. Brands's model is more simplistic, but his approach is more accessible. He follows individuals and their influence on policy. Best thing is to read both, but if you have to choose one, read Mead.

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