Is the US Pulling Back from the World?

Clearly not, as Steve Saideman rightly notes:

Yes, the US is leaving Afghanistan, but will have a residual force if the Afghans get resolve their election dispute.  Yes, the US has reduced its presence in Europe, closing some bases and bringing tanks back home.

So, is that heaps of disengagement?  Or is this mostly a return to the status quo of 2000.  Except for the US forces in Europe, it is mostly returning to situation normal.  It might feel as if the norm is that the US is perpetually at war all over the world, but that is actually not the case.  The US has been engaged and involved around the world since World War II, and most of the changes are about changes in focus and not a reduction of engagement.


Not to mention:

The defense budget is still far higher than anyone else’s and higher than many others combined.  The US still has 10 or 19 aircraft carriers (depending on how you count), which is about 9/18 more than any other country.  The US is buying a new fleet of attack subs, it is buying more planes, and on and on.

Its diplomats are under-funded as always, but the US has not cut back on the number of embassies in the world (whereas Canada/UK are thinking of sharing space).  The US is engaged in negotiations over the Mideast (which take place and fail on a regular basis), over Iran’s nuclear program, over trade, and on and on.

The whole piece is worth a read.

I am with Steve—the ongoing statements about US withdrawal from the world (or retrenchment, isolationism, etc.) simply makes no sense if one engages in even a basic perusal of the facts.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    Maybe the argument is instead, should the US start disengaging militarily from the world?

    Does not America enjoy tacit control of sky and sea? Does not America spend more on defense than the next 13 countries combined? Does not America have its thumb in the eye of the Middle East, selling advanced weapon systems to Israel, and far worse, the Saudis? All to preserve fat military contract jobs?

    Living in SIlverdale, WA for the last 18 months, where I have a Trident sub base just to the north, and carrier-level drydocks to the south, I see countless high-paid job offerings for defense contractors. The pay ranges outsize similar civilian positions in the Seattle area. Methinks that is the actual apple cart that is being protected from upending. America’s empire must be fed at home and abroad.

    If you are a welder, come to Silverdale, You can start at 100k.

  2. rudderpedals says:

    Many of the criticisms about the supposed disengagement are just symptoms of the myopic view about American influence requiring there be bombs in the air and boots on the ground, always. Since the GWOT’s birth we’ve forgotten that warfighting is just a part of the diplomacy toolkit. Significant yes, decisive at times yes, but not essential for every single problem that comes down the pike.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    We are the dominant power. If our power is seen to be receding it will create a vacuum into which only a handful of countries are capable of moving: China, Russia, Iran.

    We are the man riding a tiger. If we get off the tiger we may end up inside.

    When Rome receded the Goths advanced. When Byzantium receded the Persians and Arabs advanced. When the British Empire receded a host of thugocracies, as well as some perfectly respectable nations advanced, but the whole historical moment was softened by the fact that it was Britain’s child, the US, that chiefly advanced to fill the gap. We don’t have a second US ready to take the reins, just various bad actors. So if we draw back and create a vacuum we will not like the people filling that vacuum.

    We are trapped.

  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @rudderpedals: Significant yes, decisive at times yes, but not essential for every single problem most of the problems that come down the pike.

    FTFY Ernie. Free, just cause I like you.

    @michael reynolds:

    If our power is seen to be receding it will create a vacuum into which only a handful of countries are capable of moving: China, Russia, Iran.

    China has displayed no interest in being a world player, except as a consumer of the world’s resources. Money talks, and they don’t care about anything else. Russia can barely afford laces for their jackboots. They aren’t going anywhere. Iran doesn’t see themselves as anything other than a regional power and they are barely capable of being a regional pain in the arse.

    We don’t have a second US ready to take the reins, just various bad actors.

    If you asked most anyone on the planet, who would be worse than us, I rather suspect most would say, “Nobody.”

  5. rudderpedals says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Ernie?

  6. michael reynolds says:


    That’s nonsense. The rest of the world is too sophisticated to believe that.

  7. Tyrell says:

    Thoughts about this: Eisenhower warned against getting involved in brushfire wars around the world. He also told other countries that nuclear weapons were a viable weapon, while in private said that they could never be used. Other countries were wary of Eisenhower, the “architect” of D Day. Johnson let the domino theory (supported also by other US leaders) dominate his foreign policy. Nixon and Reagan talked tough, but were excellent pragmatists.When presidents inherit wars, it usually ends up a mess (exception Truman). One view has the US actively involved in world affairs, trying to build democracies and spread US influence. The other is to stay out of other countries’ business except for emergencies and some humanitarian aid. Both views have merit.
    Read “Ike’s Bluff”, excellent in view of events today.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    I see no evidence we’re “pulling back from the world” much to a good deal of the world’s chagrin.