The Carter Syndrome
Barack Obama might yet revolutionize
Neither a cold-blooded realist nor a bleeding-heart idealist, Barack Obama has a split personality when it comes to foreign policy. So do most
Obama's long deliberation over the war in Afghanistan is a case study in presidential schizophrenia: After 94 days of internal discussion and debate, he ended up splitting the difference -- rushing in more troops as his generals wanted, while calling for their departure to begin in July 2011 as his liberal base demanded. It was a sober compromise that suggests a man struggling to reconcile his worldview with the weight of inherited problems. Like many of his predecessors, Obama is not only buffeted by strong political headwinds, but also pulled in opposing directions by two of the major schools of thought that have guided American foreign-policy debates since colonial times.
Moderate Republicans tend to be Hamiltonians. Move right toward the Sarah Palin range of the party and the Jacksonian influence grows. Centrist Democrats tend to be interventionist-minded Wilsonians, while on the left and the dovish side they are increasingly Jeffersonian, more interested in improving American democracy at home than exporting it abroad.
Some presidents build coalitions; others stay close to one favorite school. As the Cold War ended, George H.W. Bush's administration steered a largely Hamiltonian course, and many of those Hamiltonians later dissented from his son's war in
More recently, George W. Bush's presidency was defined by an effort to bring Jacksonians and Wilsonians into a coalition; the political failure of Bush's ambitious approach created the context that made the Obama presidency possible.
(Excerpts from Foreign Policy Magazine, 2010 Jan. Feb. Issue)