Any government action should be constrained by moral principles. But the Pentagon exists to protect the American people, and the liberal republic which governs them, not conduct grand “liberal” crusades around the world, no matter how attractive in theory. Thus, support for limited government and individual liberty at home necessitates a commitment to a foreign policy of restraint, even humility, to quote George W. Bush before he gave in to the Dark Side.
The American Conservative
If we have drawn no other liberal internationalist lesson from the Second World War, it is that America should never feel constrained from joining the fight against existential threats even before they reach our shores.
Unfortunately, the history of American foreign policy since World War II offers ample evidence that we have too often not constrained ourselves enough. While we have leapt into overseas adventures that have proven beneficial both to America and those we sought to help, the preponderance of evidence suggests that we should intervene in far fewer situations than our force projection capabilities make possible.
We have made ourselves the adjudicator of domestic squabbles and regional fights that arguably did not need our intervention. We have appointed ourselves the world’s foremost exporter of the one commodity that cannot be exported: democracy. We have embroiled ourselves in conflict without end. And in doing all of the above we have created a military footprint that exceeds our ability to maintain in peace or sustain in war.
The time has come for our foreign policy maturity, a time to recognize that we are incapable of forming the world to our desires using force or its threat, but that at the same time the world has grown too interconnected to allow us to retreat behind two oceans and walled borders.
We need, above all, a foreign policy that is driven by a practical vision of our role in the world that is within our means to sustain indefinitely, and that provides for an active defense against existential threats.
We must, at last, bid farewell to the Wilsonian urge to grand crusades and set ourselves to the task of finding a new grand strategy, to build from that a broader doctrine that will guide American policymaking regardless of whose posterior is warming the big chair at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Precisely what that grand strategy should be is what must animate our debates going forward.