This edition of Liberty Law Talk discusses with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens his recent book, America in Retreat. Stephens argues that an America which declines to engage globally with its military is accepting a false promise of peace at the expense of rising disorder. The introduction chapter is entitled “The World’s Policeman” where Stephens quotes President Barack Obama’s proclamation in a 2013 speech: “We should not be the world’s policeman.” Similarly, Rand Paul states that “America’s mission should always be to keep the peace, not police the world.” “This book,” says Stephens, “is my response to that argument.” Our conversation focuses on…
At the height of the Iran Contra scandal in Washington, “Saturday Night Live” had a funny skit about Ronald Reagan. It showed the President’s folksy, out-to-lunch personality to be a façade. Behind closed doors, he was a worker bee, driving younger staff members to exhaustion. Liberals could only entertain such a possibility fictionally. To them, Reagan was a lazy leader, “sleepwalking through history.”
Liberal avoidance of such a possibility tracked back to Dwight David Eisenhower’s 1953-1961 administration. To the liberals of that era, he was a disconnected President, more interested in his golf game than in leading the nation. Worse, he lacked political courage, specifically with regard to halting a rampaging Joe McCarthy.
Acting in the manner of sorcerers’ apprentices over several decades, the makers of U.S. foreign policy have contributed to turning many of the tensions among the world’s peoples into disasters. These American-caused disasters diminish the respect for America upon which our own peace depends. The trouble comes not from any errors of detail, but rather from disregarding the fundamentals of statecraft. The remedy lies in paying attention to them. Herewith, a glance at the U.S. government’s responsibility for the disasters now unfolding along the Islamic State’s bloody edges.
With the Islamic State’s invitation to sympathizers everywhere to join in murdering Americans, U.S. public opinion favors destroying this nefarious force. Accordingly, politicians of both parties—especially those up for election—are competing to see who can issue the most bellicose statements.
But popular sentiment notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe that our ruling class has learned anything new, that it is shedding the ways that have opened hunting season on Americans, or that it is setting about destroying America’s enemies.
Ruling class pundits make much of the fact that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Bahrain, and Jordan have joined the Obama administration’s campaign of bombing the Islamic State. Also noted by the same talking heads is that some 5,000 so-called moderate Syrians are being trained to fight against Islamic State next year. Most admit the obvious: no one can imagine how these air strikes—few, against structures, mostly when these are unoccupied—can inconvenience the Islamic State seriously, never mind destroy. Yes, Sunni Arab counties have decided to take military action against the Sunni Arab Islamic State. But what is consequential about actions that have illusory consequences? What explains our government’s pretense that an alliance to accomplish un-consequential things is itself consequential?
President Barack Obama drew criticism from our ruling class for acknowledging that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for putting an end to the Islamic State that calls for American blood by internetting the beheading of American captives, as well as for his complaisance with China’s harassment of an American aircraft over international waters and with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sooner or later, Obama is sure to order some actions with regard to each of these situations. But even more surely, these will worsen problems rather than fix them because Obama, like the ruling class he represents, does not connect means with ends, wishes with actions.
President Obama’s order for air strikes that are to last “several months” against the northern and eastern edges of the Islamic State In the Levant (ISIL) is a small part of a political effort to promote a “more inclusive” Iraqi government in Baghdad. This undercuts the missions that American air power could accomplish in short order – namely strengthening Kurdistan, America’s only ally in the region beside Israel, and saving the masses of refugees now fleeing ISIL. Nor is it part of any strategy for dealing with ISIL.