The Obama administration is throwing America’s weight around less and less on the world scene, and many conservatives are saying that America should just mind its own business and avoid, as George Washington recommended, “foreign entanglements.” Is this revival of isolationism a good thing? Consider Michael Gerson’s worries after the jump and see if you agree. Or can we derive principles for when we should and should not get involved in foreign entanglements?
From Michael Gerson:
What foreign policy practitioners politely call the “churn” of events is beginning to look more like chaos. Egypt teeters between the establishment of a democracy and the restoration of the caliphate. Syria melts away as an organized state and perhaps as a geographic fact. Iran is on the verge of building the Shiite bomb and igniting a sectarian nuclear arms race (and you thought a purely ideological nuclear arms race was scary). North Korea continues its bold experiment in proliferation and abnormal psychology.
And beneath it all, some large trends: In the Middle East and North Africa, a combination of economic stagnation, a youth bulge and a sense of historical grievance — all the preconditions for radicalism and terrorism. In Asia, the rapid reversal of 250 years of Western economic and technological predominance, which is raising questions about America’s future military predominance.
Barring the option of utter despair, these challenges would seem to require expanded, sophisticated American engagement to shape an economic and security environment favorable to our long-term interests. Do any of these problems grow easier with time and inattention?
But consider the actual American response: budgetary chaos and military cuts, ideological self-questioning and mixed leadership signals.
The sequestration of the U.S. military budget was a stunning geopolitical development. Defense cuts of this scale and irrationality — shrinking the Marine Corps by 25 percent, reducing the size of the Army by 143,000 soldiers; undermining modernization, training and readiness — were supposed to be unacceptable to Republicans. Until Republicans accepted them with minimal protest. The commander in chief, who supports a different mix of military cuts, did not seem particularly outraged, either. Military leaders are publicly predicting a serious deterioration of capabilities, and one assumes that allies and enemies are listening.
At the same time, politicians have begun an ideological debate on the country’s global role. Elements on the right and left apparently believe that reducing military resources will constrain future interventions. This is perhaps true of a European country. For America, with a set of unavoidable global interests, it doesn’t work this way. Constrained resources generally mean that interventions, when necessary, come at a later time, under less favorable conditions, from a weaker position.
In addition, the Rand Paul right would have America abandon funding for economic development, democracy promotion, global health and education and the stabilization of weak states — the non-military interventions that make military ones less needed in the future. And these conservatives define the war on terrorism, particularly the use of drones, as the leading edge of domestic oppression. A campaign conducted by U.S. intelligence services and military forces with exceptional patience, restraint and care in targeting is vilified for political gain and ideological pleasure. Could there be a more potent symbol of the unlearning of the lessons of 9/11?