In general, U.S. presidents see the world through the eyes of four giants: Alexander Hamilton, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. Hamiltonians share the first Treasury secretary’s belief that a strong national government and a strong military should pursue a realist global policy and that the government can and should promote economic development and the interests of American business at home and abroad. Wilsonians agree with Hamiltonians on the need for a global foreign policy, but see the promotion of democracy and human rights as the core elements of American grand strategy. Jeffersonians dissent from this globalist consensus; they want the United States to minimize its commitments and, as much as possible, dismantle the national-security state. Jacksonians are today’s Fox News watchers. They are populists suspicious of Hamiltonian business links, Wilsonian do-gooding, and Jeffersonian weakness.
Like Carter in the 1970s, Obama comes from the old-fashioned Jeffersonian wing of the Democratic Party, and the strategic goal of his foreign policy is to reduce America’s costs and risks overseas by limiting U.S. commitments wherever possible. He’s a believer in the notion that the United States can best spread democracy and support peace by becoming an example of democracy at home and moderation abroad.
At their best, Jeffersonians provide a necessary element of caution and restraint in U.S. foreign policy, preventing what historian Paul Kennedy calls “imperial overstretch” by ensuring that America’s ends are proportionate to its means. We need this vision today more than ever: If Obama’s foreign policy collapses — whether sunk by Afghanistan or conflicts not yet foreseen — into the incoherence and reversals that ultimately marked Carter’s well-meaning but flawed approach, it will be even more difficult for future presidents to chart a prudent and cautious course through the rough seas ahead.
Since the Christmas Day terror attack (it was 99% successful, by the way), I’ve been having a recurring thought. Has President Obama’s “worldview” been shattered? After all, the election of Obama alone was supposed to endear the world to the USA and cause those pesky “man-made disaster” creators (aka – Islamic Terrorists) to throw up their arms and praise Obama’s name.
But more than one-third of all terrorist plots since 9/11 transpired in 2009 — despite loud chest-thumping about rejecting the idea of a war on terror, reaching out to the Muslim world, and apologizing for purported American sins. A non-impoverished Major Hasan or Mr. Mutallab (or Mr. Atta or KSM) does not fit with the notion that our enemies act out of poverty or oppression or want.
Clearly, Obama fell for his own hype and he has been governing like that for a year. But maybe — just maybe — the 12/25 attack on America has shattered his extreme naivety. Perhaps he will wake from his arrogance and realize that no matter how nice he is, no matter what gestures he gives — America has enemies bent on killing civilians and destroying our way of life.
Perhaps. But I’m not holding my breath.