American Foreign Policy doctrines


Super Tuesday: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will challenge head to head in the race for the White House. Their ideas and their projects show the American electorate division.

Among those who are tired of the liberal Clinton family but concerned about the Wall Street tycoon. More than 300 million Americans are waiting for the result. But it is the whole international community waiting to know what kind of foreign policy America will adopt in the next decades.

Therefore, to understand what will be after next Tuesday, it is useful to know what the main American foreign policy’s schools and doctrines are and which have made the history of the United States of America.

Wilson Vs Roosevelt.

Henry Kissinger, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under President Nixon, in his book “The art of diplomacy, distinguished the two souls of American foreign policy.

According to Kissinger the main distinction concernes the different conception of the US role in the World. Those who see America as the nation’s leader, expecting it to carry out a real “mission” of democracy and peace; those who see the US as a simple State acting in the international community as other actors: a wolf among wolves.

Two presidents embodied this two faces of American foreign policy: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson thought United States had a duty to spread their principles in the world. Roosevelt, getting a nineteenth-century-realpolitik approach, argued that the primacy of national interests is vital, rather than the global leadership. “America first!”, you might say.

Roosevelt was also the father of the “Four Policemen theory”, in charge of saving the equilibrium and world’s peace. Wilson’s World vision, however, is a simple concept: “we want to shape the world in our own image and likeness.” An ambiguous concept, but uncomfortable too. The export of democracy and the will to restore balance in the international system, implementing the theory of the so-called democratic peace, it is the main motivation of the foreign policy, according to the “Wilson’s Democrats”.

Guided by the principle of American exceptionalism, the Idealists / Wilsonians have tried over the years to export abroad the principles of the American Democracy and to create a US-democracy-based World.

Multilateralism Vs Unilateralism

The other key distinction that divides both Wilsonians and Realpolitik’s followers, concerns the way of being in the international arena. Multilateralism, in fact, is likely to act on the basis of agreements with other Countries or under the leadership of international institutions like the UN.

The importance of this kind of institutions is to ensure balance, peace and spread to American democracy. It emerges from the multilateralists’ DNA, especially the most liberals (see, for example Bill Clinton or Barack Obama’s foreign policy). The so-called Liberal Internationalism, however, in the past had had to deal with reality and to accept the principles of Realpolitik, especially after the failure of the League of Nations in the thirties and later, in the years of the Cold War .

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The division between the Wilsonian-multilateralists, that believe in the principles of Liberal Internationalism and the Multilateralist-Realpolitkers, pragmatics in trusting on the international institutions, is still visible.

Unilateralists are firmly convinced of the American supremacy and pushing for solitary actions. No one can say what America should or should not do. So they stand on one side: the Wilsonian-Unilateralist, even Neoconservatives (see Reagan and Bush), willing to intervene in any warfare scenario.

On the other side, the Realpolitikers-unilateralists (or isolationists), more prone to isolationism and firm supporters of the priorities of national interests.

The Jacksonians

Far from any category and yardstick: the Jacksonians. Populist and deeply passionate for weapons, proudly patriotic and short-minded. It’s hard to define their plans of foreign policy and to understand their role in the US political life.

Back to Hillary and Trump

The next will be really a Super Tuesday, not only for the US but for the whole World. Globalization needs a President who can afford one of the most delicate phases after 9/11.

Political scientist John Mearsheimer argued the thesis of the “Back to the future“: a return, after the Cold War, to the old balance of power like in the beginning of twentieth century. Today there is also the uncertainty of the clash of civilizations theorized by Samuel Huntington.

The next President will be ready for this?  What foreign policy is he going to pursue?

Hassner, J. Vaisse, “Washington e il mondo. I dilemmi di una superpotenza”, Bologna, il Mulino, 2004, (ed. or. “Washington et le monde. Dillemmes d’une superpuissance”, Paris, Editions Autrements, collection CERI/Autrement, 2003)


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