Intervention as Far as the Eye Can See
Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan argue that, contrary to conventional wisdom that the messes in Iraq and Afghanistan will make it incredibly unlikely that an American president will dispatch the military overseas anytime soon, there is a bipartisan consensus for interventionism.
Despite the difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, America remains the world’s dominant military power, spends half a trillion dollars a year on defense and faces no peer strong enough to deter it if it chooses to act. Between 1989 and 2001, Americans intervened with significant military force on eight occasions — once every 18 months. This interventionism has been bipartisan — four interventions were launched by Republican administrations, four by Democratic administrations. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the situations in which an American president may have to use force have only grown, whether it is to respond to terrorist threats, to curb weapons proliferation, to prevent genocide or other human rights violations, or to respond to more traditional forms of aggression.
While I opposed virtually all of those missions, I fear Daalder and Kagan are right. The “Do Something Syndrome” has almost certainly not been killed off by the Iraq disaster and our gigantic standing military is the only feasible means by which presidents can respond to most of those problems. That, even though the military has shown time and again that it is an ineffective tool for those missions and we’ve made essentially no progress over the past decade and a half at transforming it into SysAdmin Force.
Daalder and Kagan believe that the key, then, is to figure out how to pick and choose missions and achieve domestic and international legitimacy. They put forth some good, if hardly novel, arguments along those lines. It seems to me, though, that breaking the cycle of intervention and failure would be more desirable.