Since the Founders, Americans have had different approaches to foreign policy — four different approaches named after four statesmen, as Walter Russell Mead explains in his book, Special Providence, and on his blog at The American Interest. They are isolationist to varying degrees, depending on circumstances.
One approach is Hamiltonian, making the world safe for American commerce through global alliances and military power. Another is Wilsonian, relying more on international law and human rights.
George W. Bush started off as a Hamiltonian and after 9/11 added Wilsonian emphases: Military power would be used to serve universal aspirations for freedom.
Iraq and Afghanistan have made these two mostly non-isolationist approaches unattractive to most Americans and most Republicans.
A third approach is Jeffersonian, seeking to avoid war to keep a virtuous America safe from the wiles of the world. Senator Rand Paul takes a Jeffersonian approach, combined with opposition to big government at home.
Until Paul became prominent, most Jeffersonians were leftish Democrats, ever seeking to prevent another Vietnam. They like big government at home, but they join Paul in suspicions about National Security Agency surveillance and air attacks in Syria.
The fourth approach is Jacksonian, named after the victor in the Battle of New Orleans. Jacksonians respond fiercely and with utter determination to attacks on America. Most numerous in the South, they have supplied a large share of America’s soldiers — including to both sides in the Civil War.
In war, Jacksonians insist on the “absolute victory” Roosevelt promised in his Pearl Harbor speech. They are not interested in military involvement in areas where America doesn’t seem threatened or in “unbelievably small” attacks.
All these groups have been dismayed with how American forces have been targeted and attacked by those we have sought to help in the Middle East, except the Jeffersonians, who expected nothing better.
On Syria, Barack Obama seems out of line with all four. Jeffersonians oppose attacks on a country that hasn’t attacked us. Wilsonians oppose attacks without international authorization.
Hamiltonians resent Obama’s willingness to accept sequester-driven cuts in defense spending. Jacksonians see Obama as a leader eager to talk to America’s enemies and reluctant even to utter the word “victory” — their only goal in any conflict.
A successful foreign policy gathers the support of all four tendencies, or at least three. Obama on Syria is something like the opposite.
— Michael Barone is senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner. © 2013 The Washington Examiner. Distributed by Creators.com