The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Four Worldviews

Walter Russell Mead presents a wonderfully detailed examination of the four major visions or worldviews that define every U.S. president.
In general, U.S. presidents see the world through the eyes of four giants: Alexander Hamilton, Woodrow Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. Hamiltonians share the first Treasury secretary's belief that a strong national government and a strong military should pursue a realist global policy and that the government can and should promote economic development and the interests of American business at home and abroad. Wilsonians agree with Hamiltonians on the need for a global foreign policy, but see the promotion of democracy and human rights as the core elements of American grand strategy. Jeffersonians dissent from this globalist consensus; they want the United States to minimize its commitments and, as much as possible, dismantle the national-security state. Jacksonians are today's Fox News watchers. They are populists suspicious of Hamiltonian business links, Wilsonian do-gooding, and Jeffersonian weakness.

In a detailed analysis of these worldviews which is well worth reading in its entirety, Mead suggests that presidents always begin by adopting the world view that is closest to their personal ideology, but are swayed by events into considering worldviews that may be antithetical to their core beliefs.

Mead examines President Obama’s world view:
Like Carter in the 1970s, Obama comes from the old-fashioned Jeffersonian wing of the Democratic Party, and the strategic goal of his foreign policy is to reduce America's costs and risks overseas by limiting U.S. commitments wherever possible. He's a believer in the notion that the United States can best spread democracy and support peace by becoming an example of democracy at home and moderation abroad. More than this, Jeffersonians such as Obama think oversize commitments abroad undermine American democracy at home. Large military budgets divert resources from pressing domestic needs; close association with corrupt and tyrannical foreign regimes involves the United States in dirty and cynical alliances; the swelling national-security state threatens civil liberties and leads to powerful pro-war, pro-engagement lobbies among corporations nourished on grossly swollen federal defense budgets.

But as recent events aptly demonstrate, even a rigid Jeffersonian will be forced to moderate his views by a world that, to be blunt, doesn’t give a damn about any ideology except the one that is closest to home:
Obama may well believe what he said in his inaugural speech -- "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" -- but as any president must he is already making exactly those tradeoffs. Why else refuse to meet the Dalai Lama? Why else pledge support to the corrupt regime of President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan or aid Pakistan despite the dismal track record of both the civil and military arms of the Pakistani government when it comes to transparent use of U.S. resources? Did the administration not renew its efforts to build a relationship with the regime in Tehran even as peaceful democratic protesters were being tortured and raped in its jails? Is Obama not taking "incentives" to Khartoum, a regime that has for more than a decade pursued a policy in Darfur that the U.S. government has labeled genocidal?

As time passes Barack Obama will learn that there are no “false choices” only choices. His job as President of the United States is not to implement transformative change. Rather it is to make choices that ensure that our nation’s domestic policies and geopolitical relationships foster our economic well-being and collective safety. If he does that, and nothing more, it doesn’t much matter whether he’s a Jeffersonian or a Jacksonian. In fact, a little bit of each is not an altogether bad thing to be.