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SPECIAL PROVIDENCE by Walter Russell Mead

SPECIAL PROVIDENCE

American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World

By Walter Russell Mead

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-41230-1
Publisher: Knopf

A political scientist (Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition, not reviewed) proposes that four “schools” compete for dominance in American foreign policy.

Mead names these schools after four highly recognizable American personalities: Hamilton, Wilson, Jefferson, and Jackson. But before his detailed description and analysis of each, he assails Americans (and their diplomats) for a shallow understanding of the history of US foreign policy. Despite the pervasive perception of America as a sort of Mr. Magoo—a purblind blunderer who somehow succeeds in spite of himself—it’s clear, Mead asserts, the country has become the richest, most powerful nation in the history of the world. So we must be doing something right, in spite of obvious blunders like the Bay of Pigs and the Vietnam War. Mead devotes a substantial chapter to each school. Hamiltonians tend to focus on money issues, believing a strong economy is the best foundation for a strong democracy. Wilsonians have a missionary zeal that leads them to pursue peace and advocate human rights. Jeffersonians (whom, near the end, Mead aligns himself with) see the American democracy as fragile and tend to “Speak softly, and carry the smallest possible stick.” Jacksonians, the most bellicose and pragmatic of the four, are the hawks in the American aviary, animated by a deep sense of honor and religious belief. At the close there are a couple of strong chapters about the need for a comprehensive post–Cold War strategy that includes a US gyroscope. We should be asking ourselves, Mead argues, “What kind of hegemony . . . we want, and why.” His prose may seem driven by a traditional sentence outline from English 101, but he displays a serrated wit and an abundant supply of apt analogies.

A clear, crisp analysis, refreshingly free of jargon and cant. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)