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Nearly 15 years ago, Walter Russell Meade wrote a famous essay about the Jacksonian Tradition in American Foreign Policy. A key point in it is that much if the American electorate views foreign policy primarily as a matter of honor. Those countries who comport themselves honorably are to be left alone, or worked with as appropriate. Trade agreements and peace treaties are all wonderful things, and even wars are not necessarily bad — honest disagreements require a frank airing of the issues — but in the end, honorable nations shake hands, sign the peace, and live by it. Dishonorable nations are to be left alone to rot unless they directly threaten us, at which point they are to be obliterated. As Meade put it:
Once the United States extends a security guarantee or makes a promise, we are required to honor that promise come what may. Jacksonian opinion, which in the nature of things had little faith that South Vietnam could build democracy or that there was anything concrete there of interest to the average American, was steadfast in support of the war — though not of the strategy — because we had given our word to defend South Vietnam. During this year’s war in Kosovo, Jacksonian opinion was resolutely against it to begin with. However, once U.S. honor was engaged, Jacksonians began to urge a stronger warfighting strategy including the use of ground troops. It is a bad thing to fight an unnecessary war, but it is inexcusable and dishonorable to lose one once it has begun.