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The President’s Foreign Policy Legacy

In advance of last night’s State of the Union, our own Walter Russell Mead wrote about President Obama’s foreign policy legacy for the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI). A taste:

President Obama’s final State of the Union address comes at a time when, for the first time in his administration, the public believes that the nation’s most serious problems involve foreign policy rather than domestic issues, the majority disapproves of the President’s handling of foreign affairs, and 73 percent say they want the next President to take a “different approach” to foreign policy. President Obama, for his part, remains deeply committed to his approach to foreign affairs, is determined to continue on his current course through the end of his mandate, and wants a new kind of foreign policy to be part of the political legacy of his administration. 

This will be an uphill battle. Even Hillary Clinton, the President’s former Secretary of State, has moved to distance herself from some of the President’s signature policies. (She would have been more interventionist in Syria, more patient with Israel, less forthcoming with Russia.) As for the Republicans, Senator Rand Paul was the candidate whose foreign policy views most resemble those of the President, and in large part because of the changes in public sentiment that the President is struggling with, Senator Paul has now been relegated to the second, insignificant tier of Republican hopefuls and dropped from the principal debates.

President Obama and Senator Paul both stand within the Jeffersonian tradition of American foreign policy. This school of thought believes that the principles of the American Revolution fare best when American foreign policy is least active. To actively seek America’s Manifest Destiny through the expansion of America’s global role, Jeffersonians believe, exposes the United States to foreign hostility, endangers civil liberties at home, and entangles the United States with untrustworthy powers who are fundamentally hostile to American ideals. America can best change the world, Jeffersonians believe, by cultivating its own garden and setting an example of democratic prosperity that others will emulate.

We recommend you read the whole thing.

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  • Jim__L

    I’m surprised Mead didn’t quote Harold MacMillan — “Events, dear boy, events”. Events are what exposed Obama’s policies (and to some extent, America’s affinity for those policies) as poor judgement.

    Whatever sort of mess GWB caused by toppling Iraq without clearly understanding that a democratic Iraq would swing Shiite (and therefore towards Iran), that was what Obama had to work with, instead of wish away. You design your policy around the world you have, not the world you want.

    • Andrew Allison

      I agree that Obama is incompetent, but would suggest that President Reagan vitiated “You design your policy around the world you have, not the world you want.” [grin] I find myself thinking that “Let’s make America great again” has something in common with “the Shining City on the Hill.

      • Jim__L

        You can certainly try to make the world you want. You just have to start with the world you have.

  • Gene

    Just as only Nixon could go to China, only a Jacksonian could pull off a Jeffersonian foreign policy.

    • Jim__L

      And only a passionate believer in democracy like John Adams could keep us out of an entangling alliance with Revolutionary France and war with England, as Jefferson wanted.

      Ironies abound, in history.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    In reading the rest of WRM’s article, I see Professor Mead still believes in Obama’s Jeffersonian foreign policy positions, and discounts the gains being made by Russia in the Ukraine and Syria, China on its borders and the South China Sea, North Korea’s nuclear program, Iran’s Shiite Jihadist terrorist promotion and funding, and the rising Sunni Jihadist terrorists from ISIS to Boko Haram, as minor irritants that can’t change the forward progress of American ideals. I on the other hand think all of these actions by America’s enemies are serious setbacks in the world wide implementation of American ideals, and that Obama has done serious damage to the American prestige needed to convince other cultures, that the adoption of American ideals is in their best interest, and has put off the day when all of mankind shares in the benefits of the modern civilization built on those ideals.
    It is said that “it is better to be a live Jackal that ran away than a dead Lion, but it is better to be a Live Lion, and generally a whole hell of alot easier”. With Obama in charge, America has become the “Jackal”, and the next President is going to have to earn back the world’s respect with American “Blood and Treasure”, before America can once again live as a “Lion”.
    Please understand that as a Jacksonian, I don’t want to get involved with untrustworthy nations any more than a Jeffersonian does. But, I see the American Global Trading System as both American Property and our strategy for ramming American Ideals down the rest of humanity’s throat. I also think that American’s have the right and obligation to protect our property and strategy, and Obama’s cowardly retreats and weak behavior have seriously damaged American prestige and made it much harder for America to accomplish this task.

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