Thursday, January 12, 2012

Understanding USA's Political spectrum - Part1 - Hamiltonians

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Author: Rudra Devacharya

If we want to analyze the dynamics between ideological groups that determine US foreign policy, let’s begin with a taxonomy based on existing scholarship. A good example would be the ideological classification proposed by Walter Russell Meade. He divides US policy groups into four classes: Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian, based on their broad imperatives. Here are a few articles explaining Meade’s “spectrum” and its four subdivisions from the American point of view:

To be useful to our analysis, we must reconstruct this “spectrum” from an Indian point of view. Here’s an attempt.

In general, Hamiltonians and Wilsonians are the more “outward looking” of the four groups. Jeffersonians and Jacksonians are the more “inward looking.”

Also in general, most of the American public tend to be either Jeffersonian or Jacksonian in their broad geopolitical outlook. The Hamiltonians are mostly represented by a powerful elite of corporate and business interests. The Wilsonian base is a well-entrenched Washington intelligensia with strong influence over institutions like the State Department and the Pentagon (the “babudom” of America.) Wilsonians also dominate American academia and think-tanks.

Let’s look at these four groups one by one.

1) Hamiltonians: named for America’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, this group stands for Economic Expansionism. They support global political and military involvement for the purpose of creating and maintaining a system of trade and commerce dominated by the United States, with an American agenda at the helm.

Bretton Woods was the cradle of the modern Hamiltonian movement. The Marshall Plan, and the Roosevelt-Ibn Saud agreement (which formalized the USD as the currency in which international oil prices would be set) were early initiatives undertaken with Hamiltonian support to establish American economic supremacy.

Domestically, Hamiltonians are backed by big-business corporate interests.In nations where a climate favourable to international commerce exists, Hamiltonians try to further their agenda by political means (through American-dominated institutions such as the World Bank, G8 and WTO.)

In regions where a climate exists that is unfavourable to international commerce, the Hamiltonians are most concerned with making sure nothing happens to threaten the domination of global commerce by the United States. Chiefly, this means using the military, and shoring up military alliances, to ensure America’s energy security… and sometimes, to deny other nations the energy security they would need to compete economically with America. Hamiltonians insist that American foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia focus on enhancing American influence over the oil and mineral resources of those regions.

Hamiltonians with respect to India: Hamiltonians generally ignored the socialist avatar of India as a lost cause, but they have begun to take increasing notice of India since liberalization and economic growth began in the early 1990s.

The most pro-India Hamiltonians would like to shape the rise of India into an economic partner and hedge against other potential economic competitors such as China. This sub-group of Hamiltonians were fully supportive of the India-US Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. They are generally in favour of outsourcing and guest worker programs, as long as American corporations continue to receive growing access to Indian markets.

The least pro-India Hamiltonians, on the other hand, are skeptical about the relatively “slow” rise of India, about the obstacles to economic liberalization posed by the exigencies of India’s democratic system, and instead choose to support China as a relatively “sure bet.” They are the ones who would gladly overlook human-rights abuses or nuclear proliferation by China as long as market access and profit mechanisms remained intact.

As India continues to develop economically, it is likely that of all the four groups, the Hamiltonians will adopt policy attitudes most favourable to India. Along the way, however, there will be hiccups: India refusing to sign the Nuclear Liability Bill (thereby denying access to American energy corporations into the reactor-building market), or India choosing not to opt for an American-made MRCA, will be detrimental to the support we have among the Hamiltonians.

All Hamiltonians are realists for whom the bottom line is all about the money.
They see the maintenance of a running trade deficit with China as the best insurance against an inimical, confrontational US-PRC relationship in other spheres of competition. They figure that as long as China is invested in the economic well-being of the United States, its will to threaten the political interests of the United States will be limited.

Very few US presidents have been overt Hamiltonians, chiefly because being overtly associated with big business interests could be detrimental to the electoral success of a US presidential candidate. However, ALL US Presidents since Ronald Reagan have relied on the support of Hamiltonians to exercise their policy initiatives, and no president since Reagan has managed to enact a policy that was opposed by the Hamiltonians.

The most overtly Hamiltonian president so far might be George H.W. Bush, who actually ran the first Gulf War in such a way that America ended up making a profit! In recent years, meanwhile, some potential and actual Presidential candidates have been openly Hamiltonian, in background as well as in terms of their policy platforms. These include Steve Forbes, Mitt Romney and the mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg, who make no secret of their connection with US corporate interests.

Continued to Part two

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