Steve Chapman

Her impulse to improve the world at the point of a gun was also on display in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Besides supporting the war resolution, Clinton often sounded like a crusading neoconservative, envisioning that Iraq would be a "model for other Middle Eastern countries" that would "shake the foundations of autocracy."

If Barack Obama is averse to fighting wars to spread democracy or to advance other noble purposes, he hasn't let on. He claims the United States has a "moral obligation" to act against "genocide" in Darfur, and he supports sending NATO forces to stop the bloodshed. One of his chief foreign policy advisers -- until she resigned over calling Clinton a "monster" -- was Samantha Power, a self-described "humanitarian hawk," who excoriated Bill Clinton for ruling out U.S. military action in Rwanda in 1994.

In a recent speech, Obama rejected the idea of cutting back our expansive role in the world. "We can choose the path of disengagment," he scoffed, "and cede our leadership."

Attitudes like that got us involved in the Balkans, where we had no national interest at stake; in Somalia, where we found ourselves fighting a war we didn't anticipate; and in Haiti, where our good intentions accomplished very little. Iraq, where conservatives turned idealistic liberal ideas to their own ends, was the ruinous culmination of that approach.

If there has been a flaw in U.S. foreign policy in recent years, it has not been an excess of disengagement, but the opposite: an irrepressible urge to use force for purposes that do not enhance our security but expose us to needless risk. The result has been that we find ourselves with more enemies, weakened influence, higher costs, greater strains on our military and less safety.

After the Iraq debacle, you would think our leaders would be willing to undertake a fundamental examination of the long-established and broad-based folly that made it possible. Not a chance.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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