As I noted the last time I took to this platform to express my views on the meaning of President Donald J. Trump for Canada’s relationship with the United States, there were at least a few reasons for optimism, amid the general sense of gloom and doom that descended upon Canadians in the immediate aftermath of the November 2016 election. Chief among those reasons was my expectation that, just as earlier Canadian forebodings about Ronald Reagan’s meaning for Canada and its relationship with its great neighbour to the south would turn out to be wildly misplaced in the years following the November 1980 American election, so too might the most recent bout of national neuralgia disappear, once Canadians got to know more about the new president, and grew, if not to like him more, then at least to dislike him a bit less.
How did this happen? Donald Trump—a real estate mogul with a television show and no political experience—is America’s forty-fifth president. “Those that did not foresee” his ascendancy “are going to find it hard to discipline themselves to a balanced projection of his forthcoming first term,” Jonathan Haslam declared in a recent ISSF/H-Diplo essay. I’m in that group; maybe you are too. Polls aside, no major newspaper or magazine endorsed Trump’s candidacy, and a big chunk of the Republican Party establishment actively resisted his nomination. The GOP’s previous standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, said Trump was a charlatan, and Speaker Paul Ryan kept the candidate at arm’s length throughout 2016. Neither George W. Bush nor George H.W. Bush supported Trump, and President Barack Obama campaigned against the GOP nominee while enjoying an approval rate that hovered near 60%. Trump’s victory was unexpected because it was improbable.
In Conservative Internationalism: Armed Diplomacy under Jefferson, Polk, Truman, and Reagan, Henry Nau has written a book that will undoubtedly provoke impassioned debate among political scientists and historians. Despite all that has been written about the grand traditions of American foreign relations, Nau argues that scholars have thus far failed to acknowledge the distinctive tradition of what he calls “conservative internationalism.” In his view, conservative internationalism is a hybrid tradition that “mixes in different ways America’s responsibility to reform world affairs stressed by liberal internationalism, America’s power to maintain global stability emphasized by realism, and America’s respect for national sovereignty preferred by nationalism” (2). Nau’s purpose in identifying and explicating the conservative internationalist tradition, of course, goes far beyond simple classification. In his view, the conservative internationalist tradition has been quite successful in the past and continues to offer valuable insights into contemporary American foreign policy.
Debates over the origins of the Cold War have long been a staple of graduate and undergraduate courses on historiography. Tracing the shifting interpretations of such an important era demonstrates how the writing of history influences and is influenced by the periods in which the history is written. The result has been a familiar tripartite division straight out of Hegel, as Traditionalist certainty inspired Revisionist critique, which in turn spawned a Post-Revisionist effort to harmonize the two that has created new opportunities for creative disagreement in succeeding generations.