'Old Hickory's' ghost hunts bin Laden

By LOU MARANO  |  Dec. 14, 2001 at 10:51 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Are you an American surprised at the satisfaction you are taking in the destruction of the Taliban? Does Osama bin Laden's videotaped gloating set your teeth on edge? Is your heart with U.S. commandos hunting down al Qaida survivors in Afghanistan's caves?

If so, you might be heir to a foreign policy legacy that has lain dormant until the United States was attacked -- that of the implacable Scots-Irish tribalism of Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), "Old Hickory," the brawling, dueling, Indian-fighting, populist seventh president. During the ferocious fighting in the Carolinas at the time of the American Revolution, Jackson -- a 13-year-old soldier -- was captured. A British officer ordered the boy to clean his boots. Jackson refused, and the officer struck him with his sword, wounding the young prisoner in the face and hand.

"I think many of us since Sept. 11 have discovered there's a Jacksonian streak inside us that we hadn't been that aware of," Walter Russell Mead told a forum at the New American Foundation Thursday. In his new book, "Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World," Mead describes Jacksonianism as one of four traditions that have combined to make U.S. foreign policy more successful than is generally believed.

Mead said that when he set out to write a book on U.S. foreign policy, he discovered that almost everything he thought he knew was wrong.

For example, he said it is not true that the American people don't care much about foreign policy. "The election of 2000 was won by Bush on foreign policy grounds," he said. The relatively strong showing of Ralph Nader and the Green Party had to do with the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement. "That was 90,000 votes in Florida," he said.

And because Elian Gonzalez ended up in Cuba, some 60,000 Cuban Americans who had voted for Clinton in 1996 cast ballots for Bush in 2000.

Mead said he discovered that he had also had been wrong in his belief that the United States scarcely had a foreign policy before Pearl Harbor. But when U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan in 1853, he was not "just wandering in the neighborhood," Mead said. Secretary of State Daniel Webster had "sent him there for a reason connected with a very long-term U.S. strategy in the Pacific that was in fact successful."

Mead, a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and a board member of the New America Forum, said that the four big issues of 19th century U.S. politics revolved around foreign policy. Tariffs dealt with the question of how the U.S. economy would be integrated with the global economy. The gold standard vs. the coinage of silver was basically about whether the United States would accept the discipline that a monetary union with Great Britain imposed. And westward expansion is foreign policy by definition, he said.

The reason the South thought it could win the Civil War was because it was confident that a cotton embargo would force Britain into the war on the Confederate side. "The South knew that the North had more men, more money, more machinery, more railroads -- all those boring things that won the war for the North," Mead said. One of Lincoln's main motives for the Emancipation Proclamation was to prevent Britain's alliance with the South.

Robert E. Lee twice took his army into the North in the hope that a Confederate victory there would win European support. "Pickett charged because of foreign policy," the scholar said.

Anther misconception, Mead said, is that the United States lacks the subtlety -- that it is too brash and unsophisticated -- to conduct a successful foreign policy. "But the list of countries that had a better 20th century than we did is actually quite short," Mead said, listing only the Vatican, Sweden and Switzerland.

"The same is true of the 19th century. The U.S. got more out of the Napoleonic Wars than anybody else. ...

"World War I: We came in later than anybody else, we lost far fewer troops, we spent much less money ... (and) had much more influence on the peace than any of the other great powers involved. World War II: more of the same."

In the Cold War, "we forced the Soviet Union to collapse just as George Kennan had argued with his containment strategy."

Instead of asking why U.S. foreign policy is so bad, Mead said, it's better to ask what makes it work while everybody thinks it isn't working. It was in addressing this question that Mead generated his model, or typology, of four divergent foreign policy traditions that articulate distinct visions of the national interest.

Each school has its roots in somewhat different economic, geographic and cultural constituencies, Mead said, although they can overlap and coexist to varying degrees in the same individual over time. "Each of the schools always has some impact. No one is ever totally excluded, and no one ever has it all their own way."

Mead used the analogy of four people fighting for the tiller of the ship of state. No one is ever fully satisfied, but over time the ship's course reflects the national interest better than that set by any single helmsman.

Mead named the schools Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jacksonian and Jeffersonian.

Andrew Hamilton (1755-1804) was the first U.S. Treasury secretary. Mead said Hamilton originated the "realist" view in American foreign affairs. "But like many British realists, it is more focused on economic power as the root of military power and political stability at home." Hamiltonians believe in growing rich through trade and participating in the global economic system through a strong national government dedicated to promoting the interests of large-scale commerce at home and abroad.

Most Hamiltonians were protectionist before World War II but have been free traders since then, Mead said.

Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was the 28th U.S. president, serving from 1913 until 1921. In 1917 he proclaimed American entrance into World War I as a crusade to make the world "safe for democracy." The cornerstone of his efforts to build a postwar peace, the Covenant of the League of Nations, failed in the Senate.

Wilsonians are sometimes accused of being unduly idealistic, but they look at their philosophy as "smart realism," Mead said, characterizing Wilsonianism thus: "We can only be safe in a nuclear age when we are living in a world of peaceful, democratic states that accept the rule of law domestically and internationally. Therefore, we have to advance our democratic principles abroad and work with other countries and the United Nations even if the United Nations gets in the way and causes short-term problems for us. The long-term advantages of strengthening international institutions outweigh any short-term difficulties or complications."

Wilsonianism in the United States didn't start with Wilson, Mead said, citing movements of religious missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Wilsonianism is a grassroots movement that brings women into foreign policy, supports human rights and the rule of law. It is an old and deep element of our polity. By way of example, Mead said that in 1849, the Wilsonians got the United States to send a humanitarian intervention to Rome, when the Roman Republic collapsed, to allow the republican refugees from Giusseppe Mazzini's government to escape the vengeance of the papal soldiery.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third president, left a strong imprint on the republic. As Mead uses the term, Jeffersonianism is the belief that America's defining feature is defending the liberty of its citizens. Since Sept. 11 Jeffersonians have been concerned about the possible loss of civil liberties connected with the counter-terror campaign. They also question whether the United States brought the attacks on itself by support for Israel and Middle Eastern dictatorships.

"Jeffersonians say you should define your interests narrowly and keep your head down," Mead said, because war breeds large government, creates the culture of secrecy and contains the seeds of a self-perpetuating military industrial complex. Mark Twain's opposition to the Philippine-American War was in the Jeffersonian tradition, he said.

Which brings us back to the Jacksonians.

When the United States is attacked, there is an irresistible popular urge to fight back, Mead said. "When all is said and done, the United States is not just a society of merchants, missionaries and constitutional lawyers."

Jacksonians are unilateralists. They do trust the United Nations. Mead said that when the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was defeated in 1999, more than two-thirds of the senators from the northeast and Middle Atlantic states voted in favor, almost two-thirds of the senators from the 11 ex-Confederate states voted against it, and senators from the five Rocky Mountain states voted 9 to 1 against ratification.

"Now, you would find patterns like that ... basically going back to the time those places joined the Union," Mead said.

Although Jacksonianism has its roots in the South, Mead said that Confederate President Jefferson Davis made a fatal mistake in firing the first shot of the Civil War against Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. His secretary of state, Robert Toombs, warned: "You will wantonly strike a hornets nest which extends from mountains to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death."

Jacksonians are not a majority of Americans, but they are a plurality -- the largest single group. Mead explained that because every state has two votes in the Senate and at least one seat in the House, and a minimum of three electoral votes no matter how small its population, the Jacksonian tradition tends to be somewhat over-represented in American politics.

A vote in Wyoming for a Senate candidate has 75 times the weight of a vote in California, he said.

Jacksonians are little understood by the policy elite, Mead said. "In one sense it's good to live in a country when the buildings are attacked, there are people who are willing to run toward the fire.

"I do say to some of my Wilsonian friends and others who are impatient about Jacksonians always saying no to the Kyoto protocol, always not wanting to cooperate with other countries and help the U.N., and so on ... if it weren't for this very strong Jacksonian component, no one internationally would care very much what we thought."

The task, as Mead sees it, is not to crush the Jacksonian beast and drive the Jacksonians out of the policy process, but how to link other concerns with the Jacksonian worldview.

"Because they're not going anywhere," he declared. "Sometimes I say to people, 'I was born in South Carolina. We tried to leave, but y'all wouldn't let us. You insisted that we stay. And so we're here.'"

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