Tag: restraint

Restraint requires more than “ending endless wars”

Voices calling for restraint in US foreign policy are getting louder. A bipartisan community has grown tired of the tired consensus on America’s role in the world and–thanks partly to the excesses of the Trump Administration–has had some success in shifting policy debates. I am generally sympathetic to this community, but worry that they are focusing too much on “ending endless wars.” We should also encourage a broader sense of humility in America’s foreign policy.

“Restraint” as a viable foreign policy orientation came together in the past few years, although it’s been building for some time. Libertarians like the Cato Institute and academic realists like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have been calling on America to adopt more modest goals for the world; this has been directed at both Republicans (like George W. Bush’s Global War on Terrorism) and Democrats’ interventionist tendencies as part of hawkish liberal internationalism. Peter Beinart, initially a cheerleader for muscular liberalism, later expressed regret.

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Restraint for what purpose?

Restraint in US foreign policy is having a moment. That’s a good thing. But I worry it’s unclear whether restraint is a means or an end, and what that end would be. Without resolving this–preferably in favor of re-imagining a continued US leadership role in the world–current calls for restraint may do more harm than good.

The popularity of restraint in US foreign policy should be making me happy. I went to college in the Bush years, and marched against the Iraq war. After graduating, I joined a group in DC trying to formulate a smart, progressive foreign policy vision. A few years later I resigned in frustration that they accepted the troubling aspects of Obama’s foreign policy–like his expanded drone strikes–and focused mainly on helping Democrats sound tough on foreign policy. I cheered the pushback on US support for the Saudis in Yemen, beginning under Obama and continuing under Trump.

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