Thursday, March 13, 2014

Larison on Foreign Adventurism

Daniel Larison comments on the limits of hard power in foreign policy in The American Conservative.

If most Americans are more aware of the limits of power generally and U.S. power in particular, I’d say that is a very sensible reaction to more than a decade of overreach and absurd ideological projects, and a very healthy backlash to the delusions of Bush’s Second Inaugural. The U.S. has suffered from an absurd overconfidence in the efficacy of hard power for more than a decade (and really ever since the Gulf War), and Americans have been recoiling from the costs and failures associated with that. I imagine that many Americans are fatigued by being told constantly how vitally important U.S. “leadership” in the world is, and how imperative it is that the U.S. “act” in response to this or that crisis.

That fatigue is bound to be encouraged when Americans justifiably have little confidence in political and media classes that have presided over a series of major debacles since the start of the century. That makes it much easier to dismiss alarmism from politicians and pundits, including overblown claims about “menaces to civilization,” but that is not the same as ignoring real threats. Because of recent experiences, Americans have much less reason to expect competence from their political leaders. After watching nearly thirteen years of desultory foreign wars, Americans may have reasonably concluded that their leaders have been both too ready to rely on military force as their preferred option while being far too confused about how the military should be properly used. If Americans are now much less willing to be “summoned” by their leaders, it is because they have been so badly and irresponsibly led for so many years.

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