Four Approaches to Foreign Policy

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I went to a talk early in November by a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Walter Russell Mead. With regard to foreign policy, he sorts Americans into four types: Wilsonians, Hamiltonians, Jeffersonians, and Jacksonians. These four, he says, appear and reappear throughout our his- tory, and are all at play now in this fight against Islamic terrorists.

The Wilsonians believe in an international order based on law. They favor multilateralism, nation-building, human rights, and high-minded intervention. They would make the anti-terror crusade into a war for international law. Clinton was a Wilsonian.

The Hamiltonians believe in pursuing national interests, including economic interests, sometimes through multilateral coalitions and sometimes not. Whatever works. They believe in international order based on a balance of power. Bush is a Hamiltonian.

The Jeffersonians believe in defending the home territory against clear and present threats, and worry that militarism will reduce domestic liberty. They aren’t interested in international order. Nor do they focus on national honor, and tend to be more critical of their own country’s acts abroad. After Sept. 11 the Jeffersonians were the ones -asking what America had done to provoke such an attack.

The Jacksonians are believers in national honor, courage, and the well-being of the majority. They are pro-military, populist, unilateralist, and individualist. They are not interested in international law or of “blaming America first” for breaking it. They do not seek out foreign wars, but if they’re in one, they want to win it. They opposed the war on Serbia – a Wilsonian war – but were willing to commit ground troops once we were in it. They are 100% behind the attacks on Afghanistan. John McCain might be called a higher Jacksonian, with the lower variety being the man with a flag sticker on his truck.

Libertarians are Jeffersonians – in theory. Judging from what Liberty has published in its last two issues, there is a strong Jacksonian strain in them – much more than there would be in left-wing Jeffersonians. There is a bit of Hamilton, too. Not much of Wilson.

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