Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World
Walter Russell Mead
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From one of our leading experts on foreign policy, a full-scale reinterpretation of America’s dealings—from its earliest days—with the rest of the world.
It is Walter Russell Mead’s thesis that the United States, by any standard, has had a more successful foreign policy than any of the other great powers that we have faced—and faced down. Beginning as an isolated string of settlements at the edge of the known world, this country—in two centuries—drove the French and the Spanish out of North America; forced Britain, then the world’s greatest empire, to respect American interests; dominated coalitions that defeated German and Japanese bids for world power; replaced the tottering British Empire with a more flexible and dynamic global system built on American power; triumphed in the Cold War; and exported its language, culture, currency, and political values throughout the world.
Yet despite, and often because of, this success, both Americans and foreigners over the decades have routinely considered American foreign policy to be amateurish and blundering, a political backwater and an intellectual wasteland.
Now, in this provocative study, Mead revisits our history to counter these appraisals. He attributes this unprecedented success (as well as recurring problems) to the interplay of four schools of thought, each with deep roots in domestic politics and each characterized by a central focus or concern, that have shaped our foreign policy debates since the American Revolution—the Hamiltonian: the protection of commerce; the Jef-
fersonian: the maintenance of our democratic system; the Jacksonian: populist values and military might; and the Wilsonian: moral principle. And he delineates the ways in which they have continually, and for the most part beneficially, informed the intellectual and political bases of our success as a world power. These four schools, says Mead, are as vital today as they were two hundred years ago, and they can and should guide the nation through the challenges ahead.
Special Providence is a brilliant analysis, certain to influence the way America thinks about its national past, its future, and the rest of the world.
to their constituents—all will pay a price for their temerity. Conversely, those who are careful to respect the individual dignity of their subordinates, and can demonstrate a rational basis for their authority—knowledge, talent, experience—will enjoy loyalty and respect in return. Jacksonian Americans are skeptical of authority, but once it is acknowledged as legitimate, the honor code demands that authority, too, receive its due respect. Economic success, when clearly due to hard work, is also
European powers and its hemispheric neighbors, the American government in the nineteenth century took an active role in opening up Asia and Africa to trade. As American whalers and merchants spread out across the world in search of profits and whale oil, diplomats and naval forces followed. Sometimes these visits were peaceful. By the time of the Civil War the United States government had sent official missions to Vietnam, Thailand, the Ottoman Empire, China, Sumatra, Burma, and Japan.49
other, more admirable traits, Wilson unfortunately was afflicted with a despicable racism; he imposed Jim Crow segregation on the District of Columbia and gave a special White House showing of The Birth of a Nation, D. W. Griffith’s apologia for the Ku Klux Klan. He also rejected the Japanese request to include a declaration on racial equality in the Treaty of Versailles. To put this man’s name on a school of thought that has spearheaded the drive against racism at home and imperialism abroad is
foreign investment in six years of war was a staggering blow. The fatal blow was the determined American insistence that Britain would have to give up the right to construct an imperial preference system of tariffs after the war. This was the open door with a vengeance; Britain would have the cost of governing its increasingly restless colonies, but it would be unable to derive any benefit from its possessions. Moreover, without a preferential system, it stood no chance of integrating the “white
made up between 73 and 83 percent of all exports from the United States17 at a time when up to half of the American population worked in farming.18 Access to foreign markets was a requirement for American farmers in remote settlements. So much so that most prominent American political leaders believed that control of New Orleans and its port was essential, not merely to national happiness, but to unity. While Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone roamed the Appalachian wilds, informed opinion in the