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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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