Over at Hot Air, Noah Rothman asks a question:
The proliferation of crises around the globe has, for the most part, been met with a yawn from the political class. Americans, they say, are tired of being the world’s policeman. Most media and political elite believe Americans are happy to let the world can sort out it affairs for now.
They are not entirely wrong. “Americans in large numbers want the U.S. to reduce its role in world affairs even as a showdown with Russia over Ukraine preoccupies Washington,” an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in April found. “In a marked change from past decades, nearly half of those surveyed want the U.S. to be less active on the global stage, with fewer than one-fifth calling for more active engagement—an anti-interventionist current that sweeps across party lines.”
Americans got what they asked for, and Washington retreated from the world stage even as the war in Ukraine grew more violent, Iraq and Syria witnessed the rise of ISIS, and violence in a series of Central American nations precipitated an exodus of migrants who streamed across America’s southern border.
While Americans may have welcomed the dual policies of disengagement and retrenchment, they sure don’t seem to like the results of those policies. Another NBC News/WSJ poll released on Tuesday indicates that Americans are not happy with the level of disengagement displayed by the American government in the face of a number of pressing threats to global security.
When it comes to using our military as part of our foreign policy America has been consistently inconsistent. 100 years ago World War I was starting up and we wanted nothing to do with it. Then a few years later we changed our minds and decided to go “over there” and kick ass and take names.
The experience was so ugly we retreated from the world and studiously ignored the gathering storm clouds in Europe and Asia until almost 1942, then suddenly we transformed ourselves into a military superpower while defeating Germany and Japan.
Determined not to make the same mistake we had made after World War I we became the World’s Policeman for the next couple decades. But our enthusiasm began to wane and by the 70’s were were once again retreated from the world. We have managed to flip-flop two or three more times since then.
A lot of this has to do with the limits of power.
Talleyrand famously observed that “The only thing you cannot do with a bayonet is sit on it.” As we have once again proven in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can use your army to invade a country but you can’t “win hearts and minds” with military force.
The best example of this is Iraq. The first time we went to war in Iraq we didn’t try to do too much. We drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait and severely degraded it’s capabilities. Then we stopped. It was a quick and relatively painless (for us) affair. It was also very effective at eliminating Saddam Hussein as a regional threat.
The second time we tried “nation building” and it turned into a clusterfuck. So we gave that up and came home and things got even worse. Not only that, but Russia and Iran have been emboldened and now the whole world is closer to World War III than at any time since 1962.
On the other hand, take a look at Gaza. Israel attacked to destroy Hamas’ tunnels and stocks of weapons, but they stopped short of trying to reoccupy Palestinian territory. Bibi Netanyahu understands the limits of power.
If we don’t lead, someone else will. Part of what makes America exceptional is that we really don’t want the job. America needs to flex her muscles around the world, but at the same time we need a foreign policy that recognizes the limits of power.
As Al Capone once said, “You can get more with a gun and a smile than with just a smile.”