Searching for Mr. Wilson

Posted: Dec 20, 2004 12:00 AM

Now, as George W. Bush's first term is ending and his second is about to begin, is a good time to examine his foreign policy under the lens of scholar Walter Russell Mead's splendid 2001 book, "Special Providence." Mead describes four "contrasting, competing voices and values" that have contributed to American foreign policy over the years, each named after a major statesman. How well is Bush doing on each?

 Start with the Jacksonian tradition, which, Mead writes, "represents a deeply embedded, widely spread populist and popular culture of honor, independence, courage and military pride among the American people."

 Bush's bold response to Sept. 11, his decisions to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq -- not every president would have done those things, but Andrew Jackson would have. Yet Bush apparently did order the pullback from Fallujah last April -- probably a mistake and, if so, probably rectified by November's offensive there. He has not settled on a confrontational approach to Iran and Syria, even as they interfere in Iraq, as the recent U.S. News cover story documented. And he has refrained from a Jacksonian approach to North Korea.

 Bush's Jacksonianism has led to collateral successes -- Libya's retreat from its nuclear weapons program, an apparent Saudi crackdown on terrorism (no telling how effective it has been), and the recent friendly moves toward Israel by Egypt and other Arab nations. To an unknowable extent, our Iraq policy has gotten Arabs and Iranians contemplating the possibilities of freedom and democracy.

 Mead's second tradition, Hamiltonianism, "sees the first task of the American government as promoting the health of American enterprise at home and abroad."

 He has proved he's pro-business at home. But when it comes to the abroad part, Bush hasn't shown himself to be enthusiastically subscribed to the vision of Alexander Hamilton. He seems to have little interest in international finance and has made few appointments from the financial community.

 But he has given free rein to Special Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, who has done outstanding work in negotiating free-trade agreements with various countries and in reviving negotiations on the Doha round of talks designed to reduce multilateral trade barriers. More progress is likely if Bush can keep Zoellick, or if he can find someone similarly talented.

 Thomas Jefferson's tradition, in Mead's view, "has consistently looked for the least costly and dangerous method of defending American independence, while counseling against attempts to impose American values on other countries." This ain't George W. Bush. In fact, Jeffersonians in the career ranks of the State Department and CIA tried to defeat Bush with well-timed leaks to sympathetic reporters. CIA Director Porter Goss seems determined to get career officers under control. It's not clear whether Condoleezza Rice will do so at State.

 Mead's Wilsonians believe that the United States "has both a moral and a practical duty to spread its values through the world." George W. Bush did not campaign as a Wilsonian in 2000, but he became one after Sept. 11. His continued insistence that freedom is a universal yearning recalls the rhetoric of Woodrow Wilson himself.

 But institutionally, the first Bush term has fallen far short in promoting its values. Few appointees abroad have effectively countered the fashionable anti-Americanism of European elites and media. Efforts to create favorable media outlets in the Arab world have been limited. There has been nothing like the broad-scale creation of pro-American cultural institutions in the early years of the Cold War.

 There seems to be no counterpart in the Islamic world of the Reagan administration's covert programs encouraging peaceful regime change in Eastern Europe. The administration sometimes seems to discourage, more than encourage, the efforts of evangelical Christian and Jewish organizations to spotlight religious persecution of Christians and others.

 In his first term, Bush proved to be a successful Jacksonian and Hamiltonian president. In his second term, will he prove to be a successful Wilsonian, as well?