Walter Russell Mead Interview (2004): Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

American Grand Strategy in a World at Risk: Conversation with Russell Mead, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, May 10, 2004 by Harry Kreisler

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Foreign Policy after 9/11: Overview

Walter, welcome back to Berkeley.

It's good to be back here.

Good. How has 9/11 changed our country, do you think?

I think it will go down in history as a profound watershed, certainly in our foreign policy, comparable to Pearl Harbor, or comparable to people's realization that in the Soviet Union we faced a serious enemy, and that for a very long time in the future we'll be looking at the war on terror as the central organizing feature of American foreign policy, for better or for worse.

How, in particular, has it changed the foreign policy, putting us in both a defensive and preemptive mode to deal with that?

For people who remember Special Providence, I talked there about how you have periods like the twenties and the thirties, or like the nineties, when America seems a little bit adrift, when there isn't a consensus on what our threats are or what our goals are. I argued in Special Providence that we might drift for some time, until some external event forced a new focus. It seems to me this is what's happened.

We're going to have a long national debate over how to meet the challenge. The Bush set of ideas on where we go is not the only possible response, and you can see already people have come up with very articulate and intellectually serious alternative views, and there's going to be a national political debate over where we head. So it's a little early to say where we're going to come down in all of this.

And you would say that's a good thing, wouldn't you? Because it's in those kind of debates that the various themes and ideas that have shaped foreign policy emerge anew and are rejuvenated.

Exactly. Also, that we're a very complicated country, and it's not that easy to read the national interest. The way that you find out what the national interest is in this instance is through a political process of debate and engagement. The political system gradually points in a given direction, and ultimately, what we've found historically is that that process has in the long-term given us a lot of success in what we do.

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