Friday, July 29, 2011

The Budget Crisis and American Power

From George Melloan, at Wall Street Journal:
Ronald Reagan famously said that no nation has ever been attacked because it was too strong, but that maxim is often forgotten. This seems to be the case now, as both the White House and some residual isolationists on the right propose measures to withdraw the U.S. from its global security commitments.

Barack Obama's performance as commander in chief leaves much to be desired. A skillful tactician doesn't aid a tenacious enemy (the Taliban) by announcing a timetable for quitting the field. He doesn't enter a war (Libya) and then withdraw as if he were sitting down after throwing out the first baseball. He doesn't damage his credibility by issuing unpersuasive threats (Iran). He doesn't diss a long-time strategic ally (Israel). He doesn't make concessions to "reset" relations with Russia and get nothing in return. And so forth.

America's foreign policy hawks are rightly critical of such conduct. Fearful that the president's uncertain trumpet will embolden enemies and distance friends, they deplore the planned troop drawdown in Afghanistan and other measures to reduce the U.S. military's forward presence. They argue correctly that the U.S. has been the primary architect of a global order that has fostered free commerce and political and social advances of great benefit to the U.S. and the world at large.

But there is one big problem: The U.S. is busted. That's not primarily because of its foreign policy engagements, which have been a good investment. It is mainly because America's political leaders have overburdened the productive sector with social obligations that cannot be fulfilled.

Sadly, when budgets are stretched, U.S. politicians usually don't menace entitlements, which buy votes. Instead they look to cut military and foreign policy expenditures. The consequences are often dire.