Friday, September 5, 2014

American Foreign Policy and Andrew Jackson

American Foreign Policy and Andrew Jackson
P. Schultz
September 5, 2014

Here is a response I wrote to a friend based on a link he sent, an article by Peter Beinart entitled “Pursuing ISIS to the Gates of Hell.” Here is the link:

Here is my response to Beinart:

“Well, first, I love the way some people, usually academics, create categories, usually multiple [because that proves how smart they are], that they then use to analyze stuff. Of course, they are often unaware that their alleged complexity is really a way of obscuring what might be called the obvious. I think Beinart has managed to do this here. Also, with his four categories, he can pretend to have "discovered" something "new" that is taking place, viz., the rising of "Jacksonianism," as he calls it, as our "new" foreign policy. I wish to say that I don't see anything "new" here as one could have heard the same rhetoric about, say, Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh, as one is hearing now about ISIS. It is all smoke and mirrors which serves to fortify the prevailing ideology of "leadership" and "power," especially military power. If it weren't so dangerous, it would be silly. 

“Second: "Jacksonianism" as described by Beinart resembles what Jackson was about as much as I resemble a young man. Here is Beinart:  "It refers to the peculiar combination of jingoism and isolationism forged on the American frontier. Bill O’Reilly is a Jacksonian. Jacksonians don’t want to fashion other countries in America’s image. They don’t care about fattening corporate bottom lines. But if you mess with them—violate their honor—they’ll pursue you to the gates of hell." 

            “I really don't even know where to start on this. Jackson waged a "war" on the national government, by some assessments an even more aggressive war on that government than Jefferson did. Why? Because he knew that such a government was the seedbed of an inegalitarian society, based on a growing economy that would benefit the few at the expense of the many. He tried to disempower the national bureaucracy by means of what is now known as the "spoils system." He set up a "kitchen cabinet" in order to disempower the formal cabinet. And he, with Van Buren's help, established a presidential nominating system, national presidential nominating conventions, that produced (a) party men for presidents and (b), not accidentally, mediocrities for president. The primary criterion for the presidency became party loyalty, not national reputation, not military glory, and certainly not charisma. Party loyalists are less dangerous than those men motivated by overweening ambition, men like those Hamilton looked to to fill the presidency, men characterized by "a love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds."  

“How would such presidents conduct foreign policy? Well, not jingoistically. And not to reap the glory that comes from democratizing the world. [Here Beinart is accurate about Jackson not wanting "to fashion other countries in America's image."] Rather, they would practice a mundane foreign policy, which is not to say "isolationist." A mundane foreign policy would strike most today as merely "weak," and of course viewed in light of our prevailing ideology, it is weak. [Of course, my analysis is abstracting from the slavery issue, which makes it less than persuasive. Witness James K. Polk's war with Mexico, a war that was undertaken in part to try to create more slave states and, thereby, protect that institution against attacks upon it.] 

“Anyway, Beinart wants to make a point which I think needs to be made. However, he should do so in a way that does not obscure the consensus that underlies our current foreign policy and in a way that does not distort our history.” 

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