John Quincy Adams famously said that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.” A diplomat, secretary of state, as well as the sixth president, Adams is often described as a “realist,” and as the founder of American foreign policy realism. But did his own policy choices square with that doctrine of restraint? Recently, President Obama has described his own views in explicitly realist terms; Hillary Clinton is widely viewed as a more ardent believer in the active use of American power; and the Republican candidates seem more eager to build walls than to engage the outside world.
On April 11, the Brookings Project on International Order and Strategy (IOS) hosted a discussion between Brookings Senior Fellow Robert Kagan and James Traub, columnist and contributor at foreignpolicy.com, lecturer of foreign policy at New York University, and now the author of the new book, “John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit” (Basic Books, 2016). Kagan and Traub debated whether Adams was a foreign policy realist and whether his approach to foreign policy can still inform the policy choices facing the United States today. Brookings Fellow Thomas Wright, director of IOS, moderated the discussion.