Shielding the Republic: Barack Obama and the Jeffersonian Tradition of American Foreign Policy

Author name: 
Clarke, M
Ricketts, A
Journal title: 
Diplomacy and Statecraft

President Barack Obama’s foreign policy has confounded critics from both the left and right in American politics. This analysis argues that this is because Obama’s foreign policy exhibits affinities with the least prominent of the four traditions of American foreign policy identified by Walter Russell Mead: the Jeffersonian tradition. In contrast to the more prominent Wilsonian and Hamiltonian traditions, the Jeffersonian tradition exhibits more introverted tendencies that seek to perfect and protect rather than export the virtues of the Republic. The Jeffersonian understanding of foreign policy is, in Walter Lippman’s phrase, primarily the “shield of the republic.” This analysis tracks the influence and implications of this perspective through examination of the Obama Administration’s approach to two prominent foreign policy challenges after 2008: intervention in Libya and the ongoing Syrian crisis.

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