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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The American Foreign Policy Debate

Implicit in all of your work is the notion of understanding our foreign policy in the context of a vibrant democracy. And I wonder, as a final question, if you would share with us some of your ideas about how to make the foreign policy debate more vigorous and vital in this country, and to continue the process? In the end we are a democracy, so the people's views do register and do influence the various ideas that shape our policy. But the public seems [to have lost its] understanding of where we are and where we might go.

Again, I compare this to the debate we had in the early years of the Cold War. People talk in retrospect about the bipartisan era, golden age of cooperation. But in 1952, Nixon and Eisenhower were running against containment. Nixon called it "Dean Acheson's cowardly college of communist containment." We didn't make basic decisions like rearming Germany and Japan, and NATO wasn't started, until well into the Cold War.

We should be a little patient with ourselves. We are at the beginning of a long debate. We are not going to settle everything in the next six months, and events are going to shape our future policies as well. That reflection may help people approach all of this in a spirit where it's easier to hear the truth in what the other side is saying. I am worried now about the extent that we already have a tremendously polarized debate, and you have people attributing the worst possible motives to the other side. My view of American history is that most of the time most of the people in our debates are passionately committed to a serious vision of the national interest, and passionately patriotic in the ways that matter most. Sometimes the people who are angriest at each other are, in fact, the most impassioned patriots. It might marginally help our debates if we went into some of them with that understanding about the other side.

It's also helpful to look at American history. We don't do that enough. Even in universities, history of American foreign policy doesn't get anything like the attention it needs.

And at Berkeley.

Well, you can say that; I won't. But it's true that generally in academia, this has been not a favored subject. International relations people are doing theory, international systems, this sort of thing. But the foreign policy of the United States is a major force in the world, for good or for ill, or both, and it needs to be studied more intelligently. The public needs to be brought into that understanding and that debate.

Walter, I want to thank you very much for coming here today. And, again, I want to recommend very highly your new book, which gives us a look not only at the day-to-day events, but beyond that, to look at the historical and other forces that are at work in making our foreign policy: Power, Terror, Peace, and War by Walter Russell Mead. And thank you, again, for joining us.

Well, thank you.

And thank you for joining us for this Conversation with History.

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