On September 17, 2014, adjunct professor Dr. Douglas E. Streusand delivered the sixth annual Constitution Day lecture at The Institute of World Politics. Dr. Streusand, an historian and expert in geopolitics who serves as professor of international relations at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, offered evidence from the writings of the American founders that the unique attributes of the US Constitution have shaped the nation’s foreign policy and continue to offer important lessons for examining the role of political principles and institutions in US foreign policy.
Dr. Streusand noted that the US Constitution is the basis of US identity; while other nations derive their sense of self from concepts of ethnicity, language, and religion, the unifying thread of US citizenship is adherence at the level of the individual and of society to the Constitution. Similarly, citizens of the United States hold the founding fathers to be analogous to ancestors, regardless of their biological forebears. He claimed that the Constitution presents a recurring theme of realism, practicality, and compromise: while it is easy to make a statement of rights, it is exceptionally difficult to establish a government capable of maintaining them. The implicit concept of reconciling difficult realities and holding realistic expectations is also apparent in the founders’ insistence on checks and balances in the bicameral legislature and between the legislature and the executive (a system nearly without international parallel).
The founders’ term “experiment” for the US Constitution was no accident, Dr. Streusand said, and the experiment remains ours to maintain. Following from the founders’ interest in and insistence upon constitutional balance is the challenge of maintaining freedom during a longstanding state of war: while recognized by the authors of the Federalist Papers, the reality of such a situation and a practical solution to it have fallen to the present generation of statesmen. He noted that the historical record of republics united primarily for purposes of commerce, without the distinctive constitutional traits of the United States, have tended to be both remarkably violent and relatively short-lived. Dr. Streusand concluded by suggesting that the Hamiltonian strain of thought concerning US foreign policy–a view he characterized as not denying US exceptionalism, but denying that the US is exempt from the exigencies of great power politics–illustrates the crucial role played by the United States in maintaining a balance of power in the world.