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Week in Review


Syria continued to draw the world’s focus this week. Vladimir Putin penned an op-ed on the situation in the New York Times, Barack Obama interrupted Tuesday night primetime TV to once again make his case for action in Syria to the American people, and WRM wrote an essay looking into why the President has failed so abysmally to get public opinion and Congressional support behind him:

Longtime readers will know that I divide American foreign policy into four schools of thought. Hamiltonians (well represented among the old Republican foreign policy establishment) want the United States to follow the trail blazed by Great Britain in its day: to build a global commercial and security system based on sea power and technological leadership, maintaining a balance of power in key geopolitical theaters and seeking to attract rivals or potential rivals like China into our system as, in Robert Zoellick’s phrase, “responsible stakeholders.” Wilsonians also want the United States to build a world order, but to anchor it in liberal human rights practices and international law rather than in the economic and security frameworks that Hamiltonians prefer. Those two globalist schools dominate the foreign policy establishment’s thought about the world we live in, and have done so since the 1940s.

There are two other schools that are home-focused rather than globalist. They are less interested in changing the world around the United States than in keeping the United States safe from the world. Jeffersonians have historically sought to avoid war and foreign entanglements at all costs; Jacksonians have been suspicious of foreign adventures, but strongly believe in national defense and support a strong military and want decisive action against any threat to the United States, its honor, or its treaty allies. Jeffersonians are generally opposed to almost any war other than a war of self defense following a direct enemy attack; Jacksonians aren’t interested in global transformation but will generally back robust American responses to anything they see as a security threat or a threat to America’s honor and reputation abroad.

Like many liberal Democrats, President Obama is trying to combine two schools of American foreign policy thought: much like Jimmy Carter, he believes that America needs a “progressive” foreign policy. In practice, that means he is trying to combine the cool headed, realist, low key foreign policy approach of the Jeffersonian school with the global transformation agenda of Woodrow Wilson. It didn’t work for Jimmy Carter and so far it doesn’t seem to be doing President Obama much good either. Mixing the introverted realism of low-risk, low engagement Jeffersonian foreign policy with the inspiring Wilsonian quest to transform the world is hard to do under the best of circumstances; President Obama’s circumstances are not the best.

India’s controversial regional governor Narendra Modi was officially selected by his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as its candidate for prime minister, but while Modi’s star was rising, the BJP fanned the flames of communal violence in Uttar Pradesh. Asia’s naval build-up continued, with China turning to private investors to help fund bigger, more menacing warships. A full year after the Japanese government purchased the Senkaku islands, the conflict continued to roil Japan and China. We were reminded that these tensions also carry economic implications, as Japanese companies are increasingly snubbing China and turning instead to Southeast Asia (and potentially India as well). More bad news for China: it’s stumbling on its rocky road to extract its world-highest reserves of shale oil and gas.

The UK’s National Health Service is in shambles, as new findings suggested that patients in British hospitals are 45 percent more likely to die than patients in American hospitals, and five times more likely to die from pneumonia. Farther east, Poland is desperate to rid itself of its dependency on Russian gas, as it prepares to start importing Qatari LNG that’s 40 to 50 percent more expensive than Russia’s. Brussels heeded the results of a new study that showed the pernicious effects of biofuels mandates on global food prices, voting to nearly halve its biofuels targets.

We saw more cracks in our country’s higher education this week, with one study finding that tenured professors were actually worse instructors than visiting professors. Even more worrying, a new report found that four in ten college grads don’t need a college degree for the work they do. But it wouldn’t be a Week in Review without some encouraging examples of higher education reforms: a new team-based online course is pushing the boundaries of MOOCs, while Google jumped on the MOOC bandwagon by pledging to build the “Youtube for MOOCs.” Outside of higher ed, there were signs that America’s neglect of its young men, specifically its failure to address the gender gap in education, may be hurting its international competitiveness.

In healthcare news, a Wonkblog piece pointed out that Obamacare won’t come even close to achieving one of its key goals: universal access to care. And while some of Obamacare’s technical glitches were fixed this week, plenty of larger questions remain. It’s not surprising, then, that public and union support for the ACA is plummeting. And if a new report by the Institute for Medicine is to be believed, an impending cancer crisis is putting a deadline on meaningful health care reform.

[Photo courtesy Getty Images]

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