March 22, 2004

The Lull Before the Storm

Michael Totten's published a thoughtful analysis of the four faces of American foreign policy in Are the Jacksonians Sated? at Tech Central.

President Bush's Middle East strategy is Wilsonian idealism in Jacksonian costume. Rhetorical flourishes like "good riddance" and "dead or alive" play well among Jacksonians, even as it drives more genteel Wilsonians and Jeffersonians to distraction.

Jacksonianism is the most publicly reviled of the four traditions. It often comes across as simple-minded, crude, and even brutish to Americans who adhere to one of the other three. It's the Jacksonian tradition European elites have in mind when they carp about gun-boat diplomacy and cowboy unilateralism. Yet without the Jacksonian spirit, America would not have defeated Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, or the Soviet Union. We would not be a super-power at all. It's understandable why so many intellectuals scoff at Jacksonian attitudes as crude and unsophisticated. But Jacksonians aren't supposed to be society's brain. They are its muscle and it guts.

Mead says their support in foreign policy is absolutely crucial.

"The United States cannot wage a major international war without Jacksonian support; once engaged, politicians cannot safely end the war except on Jacksonian terms."

Presidents Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson offended Jacksonians with their half-measures against Iran and North Vietnam. Jacksonians punished George McGovern's anti-war presidential campaign in 1972 by re-electing Richard Nixon in a landslide. The first President Bush lost a great deal of Jacksonian respect when he left Saddam Hussein in power after the Gulf War.

Now that Saddam Hussein and the Taliban have been routed, the Jacksonians have mellowed. There isn't much of a push to open another front in a third country. They will remain mostly satisfied unless and until another violent event riles them up again. It could be another attack on America or one of our allies. Perhaps the wrong regime will acquire nuclear weapons. Maybe a moderate Muslim government will be overthrown by Islamofascist insurgents.
... snip....
Dovish Wilsonians will have as hard a time winning the Terror War as they'll have winning the hearts and minds of Jacksonians. The armies of a terror-sponsoring state can be contained easily enough. But terrorists themselves can't be contained or deterred. UN resolutions will have no effect whatever on the fascistic political ideologies running rampant in the Middle East that spawn the terror threat in the first place.

If the dovish Wilsonians carry the argument in the short run, it will only take that much longer for Middle Eastern countries (aside from Iraq) to get the reform they need -- not only for their sake, but for ours. The terror culture in Syria, the West Bank, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan will continue to fester and even grow. The threat to America and our allies will not abate. Then Al Qaeda or some other terrorist gang will hit us again.

They will probably hit us again either way. Lord knows they're trying. When it happens, Jacksonian rage will crush the dovish wing of Wilsonianism no matter who sits in the White House.

Enjoy the lull while it lasts. It's the calm before the second storm.

The entire essay is worth reading as is the longer and more persuasive work by Walter R. Mead, The Jacksonian Tradition.

Posted by Vanderleun at March 22, 2004 1:01 PM | TrackBack
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