Strength through Squabbling ; A History of American Foreign Policy through Four Competing Factions

Article excerpt

If you've suddenly become interested in US foreign policy - say by the cataclysm of Sept. 11 - and wanted to do some serious reading to understand the US in its historical relationship with the wider world, there's no better place to start than this book by Walter Russell Mead.

"Special Providence" is not only a treasure trove of information put together in an engaging writing style. The book takes a unique look at the formation of policy. Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes that throughout most of our history at least four identifiable factions have been at work, each having some voice in the formation of policy. He names these factions after four US presidents, although the descriptions don't fit every one of their actions:

* The Hamiltonians, who from the beginning wanted to use foreign policy to aid in making the nation a viable and then strong international economic power.

* The Wilsonians, including many who came before Wilson, who also had an international outlook, but one that was attuned to spreading American democratic ideals and building international institutions to support them.

* The Jeffersonians, who also believed in democratic ideals, but believed it was enough to support them at home. In fact, the Jeffersonians feared that trying to engage the rest of the world, even for benevolent purposes, would involve the raising of large armies, burdensome taxation to support the armies, and the possible loss of liberties at home.

* The Jacksonians, the most ignored group and yet probably the largest in the nation. Jacksonian democracy was the nation's first populist movement, and the Jacksonians did not fear the use of government power to help the average American prosper. But their interests were more local. The heirs of the Scots-Irish of the hills of western Virginia, they eventually came to include much of heartland America and, today, encompass much of the working middle class. They had and have a high sense of individual responsibility, of independence, loyalty, and honor. It is when this sense of honor is trespassed upon that they are quick to bear arms. …