Americans used to discuss foreign policy strategy as part of the general policy debate. Some aspects of the argument were easy to predict along ideological lines, and many others were not. The Conservatives were enthusiastic about supporting the Contras, the Liberals less; the liberals were hungry for a panama canal treaty and swift sanctions against apartheid in south africa, the conservatives much less. On the flip side, debates over immigration and free trade used to transcend party lines, as did the long-held argument about balancing priorities in America’s engagement. with China.
This combination of ideological and non-ideological debate on foreign policy ended somewhere in the 1990s and was replaced by a discussion centered entirely on the president’s personality and the people whose politics were organized around his hatred. This has now been the case for four consecutive presidencies and has led to an unusually superficial foreign policy debate in a country that needs a mature approach to world affairs. First the obsessive Clinton haters, then the Bush haters, then the Obama haters, and finally the Trump haters. Foreign policy was an extension of whatever side of the organizing principle you came across.
It had real consequences beyond the cable talk shows and opinion pages. This spawned a predictable series of missteps in the first year of each new administration as the newly empowered foreign policy hands pursued Everything But policies. Anything-But-Clinton for the incoming Bush Jr. crowd, Anything-But-Bush for the new Obama administration, and Anything-But-Obama for Trump.
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