I had an unsettling flashback last week listening to two of the Republican presidential candidates talk about foreign policy. Representative Ron Paul of Texas and former Utah Governor Jon Hunstman espoused isolationist stances that called to mind one of the most preposterous public policy debates in decades.
As I recall, the occasion was a Washington, D.C. event sponsored in the early 1990s by a group of libertarians. A colleague and I were invited to rebut the following proposition: “Resolved, the Constitution of the United States should be amended to prohibit the use of military force for any purpose other than defending the nation’s borders.”
Our side of the debate pointed out that, however superficially appealing such an idea might appear, it was ahistorical, irrational and reckless.
After all, if history teaches us anything, it is that wars happen – as Ronald Reagan put it – not when America is too strong, but when we are too weak. In the run-up to World Wars I and II, we followed more or less the libertarians’ prescription, and disaster ensued.
By contrast, for over six decades, the world has been spared another global conflagration because the United States military has been both formidable and forward-deployed. Do we really want to try our luck and once again indulge in a “come home America” posture?
Now, in fairness, an argument could have been made (and was) in the aftermath of President Reagan’s successful use of all instruments of national power to defeat the Soviet Union in the Cold War, that we were without serious peers or adversaries. Even then, however, the unlikely durability of such an assessment made it a poor basis for U.S. disengagement from the world.
But no one in their right mind would mistake today’s strategic environment as one in which we are unchallenged – or even as one that is stable, let alone tranquil.
Indeed, virtually everywhere one turns, there are rising threats to our interests and security. The Chinese, Muslim Brothers and other Islamists, Russians, Latin American Chavistas, Iranians and North Koreans are among those who increasingly sense weakness on our part. They are responding as thugs everywhere do to such vacuums of power – by becoming more assertive, aggressive and dangerous. Ditto erstwhile “allies” like Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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