Back to Bedrock: The Eight Traditions of American Statecraft

Courtesy Reuters

Do Americans indeed suffer from "conceptual poverty" in their effort to construct a post-Cold War strategy? Actually, no less a student of the United States than Andrei Gromyko once remarked that Americans have "too many doctrines and concepts proclaimed at different times" and so are unable to pursue "a solid, coherent, and consistent policy." Only recall the precepts laid down in Washington's Farewell Address and Jefferson's inaugurals, the speeches of John Quincy Adams, the Monroe Doctrine with its Polk, Olney, and Roosevelt Corollaries, Manifest Destiny, the Open Door, Wilson's Fourteen Points, Franklin Roosevelt's wartime speeches and policies, Containment in all its varieties, Nixon's detente, Carter's Notre Dame speech, Clinton's enlargement, and the Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan Doctrines. Far from hurling the country into a state of anomie, the end of the Cold War has revealed anew the conceptual opulence that has cluttered American thinking throughout this century.

Nor does America suffer, as many pundits assume, from schizophrenia: the dichotomies often drawn between isolationism and internationalism, idealism and realism, are false. The United States has never been isolationist, and none of the above statesmen considered himself either a dopey idealist or a cold-hearted realist. All held that their doctrines were realistic and moral responses to the challenges America faced in their time. What is often seen as a Hegelian clash in the national discourse between theses and antitheses is actually a clash between competing syntheses of what American values and national interests require.

A democracy composed of numerous religious and secular faiths is always at war with itself over matters of right and wrong, prudence and folly. In domestic politics its battleground is the law. In foreign policy the hallowed traditions, the holy writ, instructs the nation.

Americans have a veritable bible of foreign affairs. Its Old Testament, which dominated U.S. diplomacy in the nineteenth century, was designed to deny the world the chance to reshape America, and it canonized the traditions of America's Exceptionalism, Unilateralism, the American System,

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