Monday, October 15, 2007

The Restraint Doctrine

If you read one 6500+ word essay on the future of American foreign policy this week, make sure it's the one written by Barry Posen in the latest issue of the American Interest. To put it briefly, Posen spends the first half of the essay examining America's role in the post-Cold War world and arrives at an interesting, fairly convincing, and certainly not uncontroversial conclusion:

The activist U.S. grand strategy currently preferred by the national security establishment in both parties thus has a classically tragic quality about it. Enabled by its great power, and fearful of the negative energies and possibilities engendered by globalization, the United States has tried to get its arms around the problem: It has essentially sought more control. But the very act of seeking more control injects negative energy into global politics as quickly as it finds enemies to vanquish. It prompts states to balance against U.S. power however they can, and it prompts peoples to imagine that the United States is the source of all their troubles.

Iraq should therefore be seen not as a singular debacle, but as a harbinger of costs to come. There is enough capacity and motivation out in the world to increase significantly the costs of any U.S. effort to manage global politics directly. Public support for this policy may wane before profligacy so diminishes U.S. power that it becomes unsustainable. But it would be unwise to count on it.

(emphasis added)

Posen then devotes the second half of the essay to arguing that a future American foreign policy based on more restraint and selective engagement in the world's trouble spots will be more advantageous to the nation than a continued doctrine of 'interventionism."

The whole thing is a brilliant read, and so are the responses to the piece that AI included. Walter Russell Mead's take is particularly interesting and seems to me to be demonstrative of many of the principles laid out by Posen while disagreeing with his conclusions.

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