"Whatever happens in Iraq, retreat from the world is not an option," wrote Financial Times columnist Philip Stephens last weekend.
Why not? Because a world map highlighting those regions where the West's vital resources are located would exactly overlap a map highlighting those regions where state power is crumbling, disease and poverty are pandemic and violence rules.
"The implication of this is obvious," says Stephens.
"We can proudly declare ourselves isolationists, resolve to eschew 'imperialist adventures,' decry liberal interventionists such as Britain's Tony Blair and damn the neoconservatives around U.S. President George W. Bush. But, one way or another, the West cannot avoid getting involved. On this, moral impulse and hard-headed interests are as one."
We are fated to intervene forever. "The reality of interdependence of a world shrunk by globalization cannot be wished away."
Put me down as not so sure. For if America is defeated in Iraq, as we were in Southeast Asia, who will ever again intervene in the Middle East?
As Stephens writes, Europe's "eternal role" seems to be that of the "concerned bystander" to disasters anywhere. And, revisiting the 20th century, the United States did not declare war on the Kaiser's ally Turkey in 1917, despite the Armenian massacres. Nor did we did confront Stalin over genocide in the Ukraine. FDR recognized Stalin's regime as it perpetrated that holocaust. Nor did we intervene to halt Mao's slaughter and starvation of millions of Chinese.
America looked on during Pol Pot's genocide. Clinton stood aside in Rwanda. No one is calling for the 82nd Airborne to be dropped into Darfur.
No matter, says Stephens, the West cannot abide the emerging new world disorder. But, again, that begs the question: Who is going to intervene?
If Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the U.S. investment in blood and treasure, end in defeats, who does Stephens think is going to send troops to rescue imperiled "liberal democratic values"?
In his second inaugural, President Bush declared that America's national goal is now to "support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny on earth."
Are Americans still willing to support that utopian mission with blood and billions of dollars?