Monday, March 20, 2017

"Andrew Jackson" and foreign policy

Seeing Donald Trump's name in the same headline with Andrew Jackson's makes me feel ill and cranky. Which is why I've been posting about it the last few days.

Jarrett Stepman in Trump Should Model His Foreign Policy After Andrew Jackson The National Interest 03/13/2017 talks about how Jackson's one-time historical image has changed in more recent years:

When the Treasury Department announced in 2015 that it was stripping Andrew Jackson’s visage from the front of the $20 bill, almost nobody cared to defend the seventh president.

Jackson was a legendary figure of the nineteenth century, the symbol of an age whose political legacy was often embraced by Americans across the political spectrum. It seemed he was doomed to be forgotten and abandoned.
I'm not impressed by the arguments I've seen from Walter Russell Mead, who Stepman cites, in his characterizations of Jackson's foreign policy.

Mead seems to have created a widespread impression that Jackson's foreign policy was notably hawkish. Quick: name all the wars the US had between 1829-1837, when Jackson was President. Yeah, hard to come up with on a moment's notice. Britannica Online's entry on the Seminole Wars tells us this (internal links omitted):

The Second Seminole War (1835–42) followed the refusal of most Seminoles to abandon the reservation that had been specifically established for them north of Lake Okeechobee and to relocate west of the Mississippi River. Whites coveted this land and sought to oust the Seminoles under the Indian Removal Act. Led by their dynamic chief Osceola, the Seminole warriors hid their families in the Everglades and fought vigorously to defend their homeland, using guerrilla tactics. As many as 2,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in this prolonged fighting, which cost the government between $40,000,000 and $60,000,000. Only after Osceola’s capture while parleying under a flag of truce did Indian resistance decline. With peace, most Seminoles agreed to emigrate.
So that operation spilled over from the Jackson Administration to those of Martin Van Buren (1839-1841), William Henry Harrison (1841) and John Tyler (1841–45).

There was a military incident during the Jackson Administration that seemed insignificant at the time but created a long-lasting issue and became the central issue in a 20th-century war. Felix Weil described it in Argentine Riddle (1944):

The Falkland islands, Las Malvinas, near the southern tip of Argentina, belonged to Spain and became Argentine territory when Argentina broke away from Spain in 1810. Whalers and traders used the islands as a base. In 1831, the governor of the islands seized the ships of some Americans, who called that an act of piracy. In retaliation, Captain Silas Duncan of the United States Navy sloop Lexington landed troops there on December 28, 1831, arrested the authorities and blew up the powder depot. His action was clearly unlawful, as was later established by a Federal court of Massachusetts. The French-Argentine jurist Paul Groussac, from whose documented study of the episode I am relating, states that it has not been proven that the American aggression was directly connected with the British occupation which followed. He means that he did not find documentary evidence, but the Argentines are convinced that, in spite of the Monroe Doctrine, an understanding must have been reached in the matter between the United States and England, since subsequent to the incident the United States government informed the Buenos Aires authorities that it recognized British sovereignty over the islands and on January 1, 1833, H.M.S. Clio took possession of them. Since then, the British have held them. The United States has ever since consistently refused to lend ear to Argentina's plea for indemnification or to let her present her titles to sovereignty · over the islands. Argentina never relinquished her claim. It is emphasized by her current one-peso postage stamp showing the islands as part of Argentina. The deep-rooted feeling about the islands' seizure is evidenced also by the fact that the quite active "Committee for the Reclamation of the Malvinas" whose posters on the subject cover many walls, is composed not only of extreme nationalists, as might be expected, but also of outspoken progressives, such as the Socialist ex-Senator Palacios. The islands themselves are of a doubtful economic value to Argentina, but of a very important strategic value as a navy base to Britain. As usual in questions of that kind, this is an argument which will not silence nationalistic claims. [my emphasis in bold]
Since the discovery in the 1990s of big oil reserves in the territorial water of the Malvinas, the economic value of the islands for Argentina (and Britain) has risen considerably.

(Fun fact: Felix Weil was the prime financial supporter in the 1920s and 1930s of the Institute for Social Research, better known as the Frankfurt School.)

Stepman describes this more constructive accomplishment of Jackson's foreign policy, though it seems to suggest the success of intelligent diplomacy more than any military blustering:

Americans stuck by Jackson through thick and thin because they believed he would always stand up for them. Old Hickory was “one of us,” and never failed to defend the nation he unquestionably knew was the greatest in the world.

One of Jackson’s biggest tests as commander in chief came over American “spoliation” claims against France that dated back to a previous conflict between the two nations. Jackson was able to secure a treaty with France to pay for property damage that had been incurred during the war. This treaty had eluded American presidents for thirty years, and it was a sign of growing respect for American strength and leadership that Jackson had secured it.

However, when France waffled on the deal and threatened to delay payment, Jackson sprang into action and demanded they follow the terms of the treaty. Taken aback by the response of an American president seemingly willing to go to war over a seemingly trivial matter, the French demanded an apology from Jackson.

Old Hickory wouldn’t back down, and delivered a message to Congress calling for immediate military preparation. Though he said he meant no offense to France they would get “no apology.”
It should go without saying, but taking such a stand against France in the 1830s when the United States was far from being a world power is quite a different thing from the world's mightiest nuclear superpower posturing this way in 2017. In Jackson's day, Stepman notes, "Through his actions, Jackson was able to secure more respect from foreign nations which had often treated the new country with contempt."

But Stepman's pitch in his column suggests that there is some kind of easy comparison with Jacksonian foreign policy and what is required for the United States today. In effect, Stepman is making a more clean-shaven pitch for "Andrew Jackson" as a political symbol than that of Steve Bannon. But it's much the same concept.

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