18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating. What does it say about the post-9/11 world?,
This review is from: Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (Hardcover)
Mead's Special Providence is at its best in describing the four historical schools of American foreign policy. His framework is apt at explaining the motivations and actions of the major political figures and movements and applies in many cases to domestic policy debates as well. It also rings true with my gut feeling that binary classifications - isolationist/internationalist, hawk/dove, right/left, Democrat/Republican - do not really have a lot of explanatory or predictive power, at least since the end of the Cold War.
His conclusions are also thought provoking though not terribly well developed or convincing. Is the American foreign policy elite really much more out of touch with the American "folk" than it was fifty years ago? Have "Jeffersonian" - constitutionalist, small government - voices really been marginalized since the collapse of the Soviet Union? Does the US democratic system still provide a key advantage over Europe in formulating and executing successful policy? These are all really important questions, but I wish Mead had either left them as such or spent more time arguing his conclusions. The last two chapters are the only weak part of the book.
And, although he can't be faulted for it, I found myself wishing that the book were published later in the George W. Bush administration and, particularly, after September 11. He makes the conventional point that there are different voices in the Bush administration. But, is Bush himself a Hamiltonian (commercialist) in Jacksonian (populist) clothing or the opposite? Also, is our reaction to September 11 the key event that points the way forward for America's post-Cold War role in the world or simply a manifestation of the Jacksonian impulse to fight a total war once provoked?
Despite the weaknesses I noted, the fact that Mead has me thinking about these issues and caring what he would have to say about them shows what a really good bock Special Providence is. I highly recommend it.