USS Clueless - Jacksonian foreign policy

Stardate 20020811.0544

(On Screen): For about the fifth time in a week, I have written a longish response to a reader and then decided that it would make a good post instead. (It's a way of leveraging my time, I guess; it gives me the liberty of spending a long time on response to a letter.)

Dave from the UK discovered my site a couple of days ago and wrote to me about it. I answered some of his questions, and noted how he seemed puzzled by some of what Americans do. So I pointed him to Walter Russell Mead's brilliant article describing the influence of Jacksonianism on American foreign policy. Dave responded to that with an attempt to claim that it seemed to him that it should be in the interests of Jacksonians to support world government and the world rule of law, and he didn't understand their (our) deep antipathy to it.

I suppose I should mention in passing that I don't totally align with pure Jacksonianism as described by Mead. For one thing, it relies heavily on a strong religious tradition and I'm an atheist. But I identify much more strongly with the Jacksonian policy than I do with any of the other three that Mead describes (Wilsonian, Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian). So quoting Dave and interspersing my responses:

There is a particular....attitude that Mr Mead attributes to the Jacksonian party in his piece which seems to be more dogma than sense. The assumption that any attempt to establish an international framework is doomed to failure. This is a nihilistic argument. Later in the piece Mr Mead cites the post WW2 reconstruction of W.Germany and Japan as being within the Jacksonian tradition and positive for the common good. This I accept and agree with.

I had always thought that the small government, free-enterprise tradition, of the United States was its greatest strength. "The business of America is business" and for immigrants willing to work the streets can be paved with gold BUT. Free enterprise requires regulation and rule of law to work. Without it all transactions are COD and so all economies limited to the high street.

For the Jacksonian party to be able to prosper and thrive in their individual and self-sufficient tradition then, on a national and international level they must accept a degree of regulation and rule of common law for free trade to function correctly.

Economically crippled post WW1 Germany led to WW2. Economically viable and INTERNATIONALLY LINKED post WW2 W.Germany made the concept of a war with its trading partners unthinkable.

It isn't really dogma, it's just realism. Jacksonians know that there are really nasty people out there and know that it isn't possible to avoid dealing with them. There have always been nasty people and there always will be in the future. Jacksonian foreign policy is crafted to succeed even when other people are pricks.

Jacksonians don't consider the pacification of Germany to be the result of law or diplomacy. They think that it's the result of American military occupation. To put it simply, European peace was made possible by an American threat of war, fifty years of occupation by several American divisions and other military assets. That was the critical difference between 1920 and 1946; in 1920 American Wilsonians tried using diplomacy and the concept of international law and cooperation and friendship and trust, and failed. In 1946, American Jacksonians used military power instead, and succeeded.

George Marshall epitomizes the Jacksonian approach to things. During WWII, as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marshall as top military officer of the US led us to total victory over Germany, Italy and Japan. After the war, as Secretary of State, Marshall as the top diplomatic officer of the US led us to lasting peace and friendship with those same nations. He was resolute in war, and forgiving and generous in peace, and won both the war and the peace. But he didn't become friendly and generous to Germany, Italy and Japan until after they had been totally defeated.

And a thousand years of Western European war was ended by American military occupation. (Which is why Jacksonians find European preaching against our military might to be ironic and deeply hypocritical. Europe has disarmed and ceased to rely on military power, but it was only capable of doing so because of American military strength. Europeans didn't need armies to threaten each other because they were all being threatened by us as a neutral outsider.)

Jacksonians do not think that international frameworks and international cooperation are impossible or unnecessary. But Jacksonians believe that such frameworks should be limited, concentrated, and closely monitored. Cooperation is possible without trust if it is backed with vigilance and the will to retaliate for cheating. (Retaliation can take many forms, of course; it's not exclusively military.)

And to Jacksonians, trust is foolhardy. There are a lot of good people out there, but there are also a lot of bastards, and if you turn your back someone will stab you in it. "Trust, but verify" is a purely Jacksonian watchword. Those who act honorably will be treated honorably, but those who cheat will be crushed.

This is, however, totally opposite to the more utopian vision of Wilsonians and some Europeans, of a new international order based not on vigilance and retaliation but rather on good will and cooperation and friendship. Were that possible, the result would be wonde

Captured by MemoWeb from on 9/16/2004